SCHWARTZ'S GUIDE TO UNDERRATED MASTERPIECES
(Mac Dowell - Nielsen)
(Rachmaninoff - Ruggles)
Carl ORFF - Henry PURCELL
Another composer done dirty. I've heard so many nasty and/or snide
remarks, probably the worst of which was "Hitler's favorite modern
composer." This, of course, has nothing to do with the music.
People accuse him of ripping off
Stravinsky's Les Noces.
This is true, but that's a long list of thieves. As Eliot once said,
"Minor poets borrow. Great poets steal." (I may not have that last
quote exactly right, but you get the idea). Walter Legge considered
Orff one of the all-time great
melodists. His orchestration is imaginative. Hell, he's exciting,
and he pulls off some fairly difficult feats. Catulli Carmina
for most of its length is interesting music for unaccompanied chorus.
Trionfi di Afrodite deepens the Burana idiom and for sheer beauty
is hard to beat. The operas Die Kluge and Der Mond
redefine opera as well as move you with a subtle minimum of means.
The Schulwerk, if you can get hold of it, though intended as
pedagogy, contains much beautiful music.
In my day, he was considered THE great composer before Bach. That's
changed, of course, because we know so much more Renaissance music.
There are lots of great composers before Bach, most of whom are still
beyond the general public's ken. I really don't see how you can go
wrong with a Palestrina piece. I haven't heard one that wasn't
flat-out beautiful. Missa Papae Marcelli gets recorded (his
"hit"), but there's so much more. Try the Missa Hodie Christus
natus est, the unbelievably heartbreaking Improperia, and
the settings from the Song of Songs.
Alice. I used to sing in choirs (you couldn't tell, right?) and
I happen to love Black spirituals, some of the finest matching of
words to music. Arrangements of spirituals constitute a whole
sub-genre of choral music. There are many classic composers:
William Levi Dawson, H. T. Burleigh, Hall Johnson, and Alice
Parker -- all of whom are well worth your time. Parker's specialty
is to combine the sounds of the Southern rural Black church with
canonic techniques. She collaborated on some with Robert Shaw who
came out with 2 classic albums of spirituals, Deep River and
I'm Going To Sing, now, damnit, NLA. Parker, however, has
more than one string to her bow. Musical Heritage came out with
two song cycles with chamber group -- Echoes from the Hills
and Songs for Eve -- and Sacred Symphonies, a set of
I'm just getting into Parry, now that the major orchestral works
are finally being released. George Bernard Shaw took a nasty
swipe which doesn't seem deserved, but which probably pushed
Parry to the back of the bus. Blest Pair of Sirens and
Jerusalem are his "hits," and deservedly so. He has a gift
for writing a Big Tune. "Nobilimente" always seemed to me to apply
better to Parry than to Elgar
(Elgar's personality is far more dark). Try one of the symphonies.
If you want to know where early
comes from, this is the place.
A 20th-century German composer known for his choral music. Takes
off from Hindemith. I
like the sound and recommend the Te Deum.
A 20th-century Swedish symphonist known mainly to record collectors.
I don't know about masterpieces, but I do like his work. This is also
my feeling about Havergal Brian. Try the Barefoot Songs, and
the 2nd and 7th symphonies.
Oh boy. Anything, just anything. A major symphonist. A major
American composer who wrote in all forms excluding opera.
Primarily an instrumental composer with a very cool neo-classic
style. None of the
sophistication and brittleness. More Romantic than
primary note sounded by his musical personality is "Power in
reserve." Special favorites include all the symphonies, all
the string quartets, the piano quintet, the flute sonata,
Tunbridge Fair for band, and a rare choral piece Psalm
and Prayer of David.
Quincy, of Yale. A pupil of
Bloch's and known for his
string quartets, he arrived at no readily-identifiable style
and went through several styles. My favorite piece is the
New England Episodes, kind of
but beautiful on its own.
For reasons too long to go into here, I regard him as one of the
three greatest artistic figures of the post-Romantic era, not so
much for the quality of his work, but because of his aesthetic
view. Not that the work is shabby, by any means. By now, most
critics regard him as the greatest French composer of his
generation, one of the best song writers ever, and a religious
composer in the front rank. It's hard to say what's not
well-known. I have his complete songs, comparable in stature to
complete chamber music is wonderful. For those who haven't the
dough to indulge in complete sets, try Chansons galliardes,
Fraîcheur et le feu, Tel jour telle nuit, the
sonatas for flute, clarinet, 2 pianos, brass trio, and oboe, and
the Suite française for chamber orchestra. Of the
religious music, the brightly-colored Gloria has been recorded
Surpassing that, however, is the lesser-known Stabat mater,
absolutely shattering. Avoid Ozawa's performance: he hasn't a
clue as to how the music should go. The Litanies à la
Vièrge noire is an early piece, austere and powerful. Of
the unaccompanied choral music, get anything: he's a choral
master. Highlights include the Mass in G and the motets for
Christmas, "a time of Penitence," and diverse. Of the
orchestral music, the following deserve to be much better known:
Les animaux models, Aubade for piano and 13 instruments, and
the concerti for piano and two pianos.
Other than his beautiful setting of "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen,"
largely unknown. Try the Musae Sioniae. David Munrow led a
Let's stick to the obscure. The late Sinfonia concertante for
cello and orchestra is for me the greatest of his concerti.
Piano Sonata No. 8 deepens the idiom of the better-known
No. 7. To get your adrenalin pumping into high, the
barbaric They Are Seven can't be beat. The Classical and
fifth symphonies are popular, but his greatest symphony is for
me the sixth, which I find akin to
Outside of Dido and Aeneas, this composer is still the
province of specialists. What a pity. I really know
only the magnificent choral music. I've been looking
for a recording of the "Welcome Odes" for years. Try
the Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary.
Write to author Steve Schwartz
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