SCHWARTZ'S GUIDE TO UNDERRATED MASTERPIECES
(Rachmaninoff - Ruggles)
(Tallis - Toch)
(Erik SATIE - Karol SZYMANOWSKI)
The music for piano and 2 pianos is fairly well known among
collectors, as are perhaps 3 orchestral works. To me, the greatest
thing he ever did was the "symphonic drama," Socrate,
settings from several dialogues of Plato. It's an odd choice of
texts, but what else would you expect?
Virgil Thomson loved this
work. The sardonic, flippant Satie is totally absent, his place
taken by an almost unrecognizable figure of great simplicity and
Domenico. Since he shows up on student recitals all the time,
you can't really call him overlooked. But consider this: he
wrote hundreds of sonatas. I haven't heard them all, but I've
never heard one that wasn't a masterpiece of invention. If you
don't know him at all, by all means rush out and buy the Horowitz
CD -- one of the all-time classic recordings.
Alessandro. Known as an early opera composer. I can't say I want
to hear again the one opera I've come across, but with the
exceptions of Purcell and
Handel, I'm not big on any
opera before Mozart, including Monteverdi's. On the other hand,
his St. Cecilia Mass of 1720, is a work that ranks with
Vivaldi's sacred music. This
could be a classical music hit, I'm convinced, if it were done more
A respectable choral composer, but a wonderful instrumental
composer, pre-Bach. There's an almost Romantic depth of introspection
and melancholy in the music. Try the suites for mixed instruments.
Oddly enough, Verklärte Nacht does nothing for me. It
always struck me as late 19th-century noodling around. Other
than that, nothing is particularly well-known, over 40 years
after his death. Let me recommend Stuff You Wouldn't Think You'd
Like. The second string quartet, with an added soprano in the
last two movements, is a transitional work from late Romanticism
to free atonality and to serialism. You can actually recognize
themes. Friede auf Erden is a choral piece which exists
in two forms: a cappella and with a chamber ensemble doubling
the parts. I prefer the latter. This glorious work borrows from
the Missa Solemnis Credo for its climax. The lush Suite
for String Orchestra is completely tonal.
Weihnachtmusik 1921 is an almost
Brahmsian meditation on the
chorale "Josef lieber, Josef mein." The powerful Piano Concerto
is to me one of the greatest written for the instrument.
Unfortunately, the best performance I ever heard was two students
practicing a 2-piano version. The Gould performance conducted by
Craft is a shambles, because Craft and the orchestra have no idea
what to do. Finally, Schoenberg is one of the very greatest choral
composers. Try his last works, Dreimal tausend Jahre and
De profundis, as well as the gorgeous 6 Pieces for Male
The late piano music is definitely overlooked. Get the piano
sonatas and the "Wanderer" fantasy. These are the only piano
works of their time in the same rank as
Beethoven's, and yet you'd
never mistake them.
With the exception of the New England Triptych, little
known, yet acknowledged as a great American composer. It was
kind of funny when the Kennedy Center honored him, because they
seemed to play only one piece. The symphonies form the cornerstone
of his rep. The Violin Concerto is a knockout. The choral
music is absolutely individual. Try the Carols of Death
or the late On Freedom's Ground, for chorus and orchestra.
How many know the piano music, other than the character pieces?
This is Schumann very few hear. I recommend the Op. 72
fugues, the magnificent C-major fantasy, the Variations on a
Theme of Clara Wieck, and (for 2 pianos) the 6 Études
in Canon. For vocal quartet and piano, the Spanisches
Liederspiel is absolutely gorgeous -- Schumann at the top of
his form. Szenen aus Goethes Faust to my ears shows Schumann
travelling Wagner's early
road. Finally, the
Konzertstück for 4 horns and orchestra -- the sound of
the 4 horns is all by itself exciting.
Georg. Not even a post-Romantic, but a Romantic who hung on until
the 1950s. Primarily a choral composer. Lush, rich harmonies.
The orchestral music leaves me cold. To me, a lot of thrashing
around. However, the piano music ranks with Chopin's. Highlights
for me include the 0p. 42 Études and sonatas
4 and 9.
Not Pete, but Ruth Crawford. She didn't write much, but each work
imaginatively works through its problems. The String Quartet
gets recorded most.
A Hungarian who became part of the British music scene. Those
looking for another Bartók
will be disappointed. The folk elements aren't there. His music
sounds more influenced by
Stravinsky and the French.
Try the lovely 4 French Songs for voice and guitar, the
clarinet concertino, and (just came out on MHS) Serenade for
2 clarinets, 2 bassoon, and 2 horns.
One of the great contrapuntalists. Pupil of Heinrich Isaac. I've
seen only one album (NLA) devoted to his work, performed by
Greenberg and the N.Y. Pro Musica. Nowadays, he shows up in
anthologies. I've never heard a bad piece.
Black Maskers Suite is the piece that comes closest to
popularity, but none of this composer's work has really made it to
the repertory. The Black Maskers is sort of an American
equivalent to the early Stravinsky
ballets and also shows the influence of his teacher,
Bloch. After a brief flirtation
with neo-classicism (especially the First Symphony), became
a serialist. This is knotty stuff at first, but it's also some of
the most Romantic-inspired music of this century. Try the Second
Symphony and the monumental When lilacs last in the dooryard
bloom'd, if you can find them.
He's finally been raised to major symphonist and chamber composer.
Here, I'll plug one work: the Execution of Stepan Razin.
Very powerful, looks toward the Symphony No. 13.
I fall in and out with this music. Right now, I'm in. However,
one piece which never disappoints me is Kullervo, his
first major work for chorus and orchestra. It's the same sort
of story as Mahler's Klagende
except a little more Tennessee Williams-y. Must have been something
in the Zeitgeist's air. Hard-hitting and barbaric, you probably
won't even recognize it as Sibelius. Neither did he. At one
point, he disowned it. He made a mistake.
A composer on the brink of recognition, who would have been a
major figure had his output been larger. Everything you love
Scandanavian music for. The 2 fantasies for piano beat
Rachmaninoff at his own
game. The Second Symphony should be a repertory piece.
Tuneful, and every note counts.
Halsey. Known best for his critical study of
Bartók (and it really
is a critical study rather than an "everything is a masterpiece"
one). He's not all that influenced by Bartók, however. A
very cool musical personality, all in all. Nevertheless, the work
soars. Try the Clarinet Concerto, the Sinfonia Breve,
the sonatas for brass instruments, and the magnificent Sonata
for solo violin.
Sticking to the lesser-known Strauss, we find that most of the
operas after Rosenkavalier are still under a bushel. The
Oboe Concerto is great Strauss. I like it better than even
the horn concerti. Its scale, for once, is intimate.
I like everything by Stravinsky I've ever heard, including juvenalia,
and I've heard almost everything. Outside the Big 3 ballets and
Symphony of Psalms, he is spottily treated. Let me give
you what are for me the masterpiece masterpieces. Agon
is his first major work using serial technique, and you'd never
know it. It still sounds like Stravinsky. The Concerto for
2 piano soli and the Sonata for 2 pianos are both
highpoints of the entire literature. The Violin Concerto
is one of my all-time favorites. Dumbarton Oaks Concerto
is Stravinsky's 'take' on the Brandenburgs -- taut, springy music.
The Duo Concertant for violin and piano -- at turns powerful
and lively -- successfully re-imagines the violin. The Octet
strikes me as one of the greatest of all chamber works. The
monumental oratorio Oedipus Rex I've known for over 30
years; it just gets better. The complete Pulcinella just
happens to be my favorite Stravinsky ballet. Requiem Canticles
for chorus and orchestra is my favorite late work: delicate and
moving. The three instrumental symphonies are all worth your
time. Symphony No. 1 stands solidly in the tradition
of the Russian Five. Symphony in 3 Movements goes back to
the idiom of Le Sacre. Symphony in C re-inhabits
the emotional world of
No. 40. Finally, the 3 Mouvements de Petroushka for
solo piano is not only a great virtuoso display but great
music. I love the Pollini recording.
Known mainly as Dvorák's son-in-law, but a composer not at
all a clone. Fantasy in g for violin and orchestra is a
work full of what people love Romantic music for. Meditation
on St. Wenceslas for string quartet is heart-breakingly
lovely, in a way similar to
Despite the nice references in music books, not enough people know
Sullivan sans Gilbert. Julian Lloyd Webber recorded what purported
to be the Cello Concerto, but I don't believe it. The
orchestration was too clumsy, the composition too inept for
Sullivan. I wasn't surprised to learn that the score had been
lost and that this was a reconstruction (presumably from the
entrails of animals). For one of the finest symphonies outside
the mainstream, try his "Irish" Symphony in e. Obviously
influenced by Mendelssohn,
it's better than at least three Mendelssohn symphonies. I rank it
at the level of Schumann's
A Spaniard living in the U.S. strongly influenced by
Stravinsky. Spanish fire
and a tight grip on form. I like everything I've heard. Try the
Piano Concerto and the String Quartet.
3 periods: 1) Richard Strauss;
2) Richard Strauss and Claude
Debussy look at pictures of the Orient; 3) Polish nationalism
and modernism. The only part of his work I can stand is the
third period. The rest of it is what I call "Mata Hari" music
-- a lot of wallowing in sound to no purpose (I feel the same
about Scriabin's orchestral
stuff). I don't thrill to "King Roger" or the first 3 symphonies.
However, the last period alone makes him a master. The 2 violin
concerti are individual in idiom and gorgeous. I like them better
even than the Bartók
Stravinsky. The ballet
Harnasie reminds me of Bartók's Cantata profana
-- breathlessly exciting. The two string quartets are subtle
masterpieces. Stabat mater for chorus and orchestra is to
me the greatest thing he wrote. The musical language is absolutely
his own (he died before he could repeat) and has a strange beauty,
at once ravishing and austere. Symphony No. 4 for piano
and orchestra, while not up to that mark, nevertheless gets
your pulse going.
Write to author Steve Schwartz
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