SCHWARTZ'S GUIDE TO UNDERRATED MASTERPIECES
(Handel - Josten)
(Mac Dowell - Nielsen)
(Aram KHACHATURIAN - Witold LUTOSLAWSKI)
Not a composer I'm wild about normally. Aside from the popular piano
concerto, I do like his Symphony No. 3, which features 15 (!)
trumpets and is probably his most adventurous bit of writing. It got him
into trouble with the Soviet authorities in the famous censure which
You might think him a composer insensitive to bombast,
but I'd recommend a charming, lyrical trio for clarinet,
violin, and piano.
He doesn't seem to have written that much. An American
serialist. Every work is incredibly strong and well-made.
In this, he reminds me of Carl Ruggles.
However, try the Toccata. Mester and the Louisville Orchestra
Another person who doesn't deserve his critical drubbings.
He has suffered mainly because he wasn't
Bartók and he was
musically pretty conservative. Of course, conservative
doesn't necessarily mean rotten. The big orchestral works
everyone knows I won't talk about. Here, however, you might try
the sort-of Hindemithian
Concerto for Orchestra, written late in Kodály's
career. The chamber music is uneven. I'm no fan of the string
quartets. However, the Duo for violin and cello is pretty
interesting, and the Sonata for solo cello IMNSHO the
Bach and AS GOOD. Go figure.
For me, the strongest part of Kodály's output is the choral
music. There's a lot of it. Again, the pieces everyone
knows for chorus and orchestra I'll skip here. However, I
want to mention the delightful, folk-based Matra Pictures,
Songs from Karad, and the powerful Jesus and the Traders,
all for unaccompanied voices.
Some have called him the "next big discovery from France." A man, even
in France, whose compositions have been until recently obscure, he
nevertheless wrote a huge amount. I've made some headway. The
Seven Stars Symphony is not about Betelgeuse, but about movie
stars (he was mad for films).
Each movement depicts a different star: Emil Jannings,
Marlene Dietrich, Chaplin, Clara Bow (you now know when
this was written), and Lillian Harvey (who? this was his
favorite. In fact, he became rather obsessive about her).
What's the music like? Try to imagine
Satie with a lot more technique
and a complete mastery over large designs. The 5 Chorales de
Moyen-Âge and the Partita have been recorded by
Mester and the Louisville Orchestra. These show the influence of
Finally, Les Bandar-Log, depicting the monkeys of Kipling's
Jungle Book, is both an
outrageous parody of various 20th-century styles and a very
beautiful, tightly-written work. The piano music is a bit
uneven, unless you like
orientalism (I don't). It ranges from the plodding to the throwaway.
I stress that this is just what I've heard. Again, I have a lot yet
to go through.
People generally know the violin concerto. I'd like to
recommend the short and exciting cello concerto, the lush
String Quartet No. 2 in E-flat, and the powerful
Symphony in F#, which won the support of Bruno Walter.
Also, I admit it, I really like the movie music. Try the two
Gerhardt CDs on BMG (them again!).
A composer's composer. He started out in the
wing of Twenties German-Austrian music and ended up in the
Schoenberg camp. The
musical personality is very cool. Don't look for anything so
vulgar as a climax.
However, the music is wonderfully well made and full of interest.
There are no hits. Try the opera Jonny spielt auf, the
Santa Fe Timetable (he sets a railroad timetable for
unaccompanied chorus), and the harp sonata. The harp is not a
chromatic instrument by nature, and thus you would think unsuited
to a serial composer. But this one works, and results in one of
the most original pieces for the instrument ever written. I
imagine it must be a bear to play, and the harpists may have to
rest their feet afterwards. The harp sonority softens the
dissonance, as well as makes the dissonances clearer. How that
happens, I don't know.
An American composer who died young. I've heard a few pieces.
Most of them are okay. The one that gets my adrenalin pumping
is the Good Soldier Schweik Suite. It sort of combines
It's a cousin to the
Kleine Dreigroschenopermusik, but rhythmically livelier.
A major minor composer who writes very attractive music.
His music is like what Scandanavian music sounds like in
your expectations and imagination. For beauty on a small
scale, try the concertinos (he wrote 12, one for almost
every instrument of the standard orchestra), the Liten
Serenad, and the Pastoralsvit. The three symphonies are
worth your time, as long as you're not expecting
Beethoven to show up.
My favorite work, full of gorgeous
melody, cleanly worked out, is The Disguised God
(Forkklådd Gud) for soprano, baritone, chorus,
speaker, and orchestra.
Wrote over 2,000 works. There has never been a complete
Lassus edition. He worked in every style of the Renaissance:
Flemish church music, Italian madrigal, French chanson.
The masses don't do much for me. The real interest lies in
the motets (one of the great motet writers) and in the secular
pieces. People point out his attention to finding musical
equivalents for the imagery in the text. Since you're
not likely to catch this during a first run-through, I would
also like to point out that the music also makes a direct,
visceral connection. For the daredevils among you, try the
early Prophetiae Sibyllarum, in which he experiments with
harmonies for the only time.
Another forgotten American composer. And he's based in New
York, too. Puts a unique spin on neo-classicism. Dramatic,
rhythmically-charged music. Get anything you can.
The British tend to focus on the artists killed in World War I
-- Owen, Butterworth, Brooke. World War II as well claimed
its share of promising talent. Walter Leigh died in North Africa.
His idiom is neo-classic, a bit more oriented toward the European
continent than was usual for a British composer of the time.
Everything I've heard of his is wonderfully witty. Works include
a Concertino for Harpsichord,. the overture Agincourt,
incidental music to Aristophanes's Frogs and A Midsummer
Night's Dream, and Music for Strings.
The British music scene reminds me of a castle on a hill against
the sky. You're so taken by the castle, you don't really see its
surroundings. The Brits have tended to have one feudal figure
dominating all the others of his time:
Tippett. All these artists
have very fine contemporaries, far less well-known. Leighton, like
many other British composers who came to notice after World
War II, faced the problem of what to do next. Vaughan Williams,
Walton, and Britten were successfully cultivating their own gardens.
Tippett was traveling his idiosyncratic and essentially unrepeatable
path. Some younger composers -- like
Arnold -- found themselves
comfortable near the Walton beds. Others became more
internationally-minded. Leighton himself became intrigued by the
music of Messiaen, although he never really copied. Leighton's
music is meditative and intellectually patrician. If it has a
fault, it keeps too much its emotional distance, at least in the
earlier music. However, as he ages, the music becomes more and more
passionate, until the Symphony No. 3 "Laudes musicae",
which blazes with warmth. I also recommend the church music and
the suite Veris gratia for cello and orchestra.
Liszt wrote so much that it's relatively easy to find something
few have heard. Try the Malediction, an early, wild piece
for piano and strings -- sort of a precursor of the Totentanz.
I prefer the precursor.
- I'm currently up in the air about him. I find him enormously
uneven, as opposed to someone like William Alwyn, stylistically
much the same but a lot sharper. Some of his symphonic
movements make a huge impact; others seem like his horse has
pulled up lame and he's flailing away, simply trying to get
to the end. Also, his
Tchaikovsky borrowings annoy me.
20th-century post-WWII Pole. His big "hit" is the Concerto for
Orchestra, probably his most accessible large-scale piece. I'd
also recommend the very charming Variations on a Theme by Paganini
(yes, THAT theme) for 2 pianos, the violin concerto, and Funeral
Games. I like Dohnanyi and the Cleveland for the Concerto
for Orchestra and Funeral Games. His early music owes a
a lot to Bartók.
His later music is absolutely his own. One of the great
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