Obviously there’s a contradiction in my title. There can’t be more than one greatest musical composition ever written. My purpose is to list music so good that while you’re listening to it, it seems to be without peer – at least until you happen on the next greatest work.

My plan for this series is to post an excerpt that I think deserves the praise outlined in the paragraph above. I will try to stay away from the music that everyone is already familiar with, and thus choose pieces that are somewhat less known.

The first in this series is the quintet from Act 1of Rossini’s Matilde di Shabran. I wrote about this opera six years ago. Composed in 1820 for Rome and then revised the following year for Naples, it is the last of the composer’s semiseria operas. A semiseria opera is one that contains both comic and serious components.

Matilde is a bloated work that is Wagnerian in length. As Rossini said of Wagner’s works, it has its moments but it also has its half hours. You’re only likely to encounter it at the Rossini Festival in the composer’s natal city – Pesaro. You can read all about the opera here.

The quintet which is my subject is about 14 minutes long. It starts with a solo introduction by the tenor. He’s in love for the first time. The other four singers comment with amusement at his predicament. This first part is lovely, but what puts the number into the musical stratosphere is the boffo comic ending which likely exceeds any similar writing by the masters of this style – ie, Rossini himself and Donizetti. The conclusion is a multi-stage rocket.

Juan Diego Flórez is the tenor. The other performers are Olga Peretyatko, Anna Goryachova, Marco Filippo Romano, and Nicola Alaimo. This is taken from a live performance at Pesaro in 2012. That everyone stayed together is itself a feat. Just when you think that every ounce of musical invention has been exhausted, Rossini comes up with more. The man was a miracle. Dallo stupore oppresso