SCHWARTZ'S GUIDE TO UNDERRATED MASTERPIECES
(Cage - Elgar)
(Handel - Josten)
(Manual de FALLA - Ivor GURNEY)
Excepting El Amor Brujo, everything is overlooked. I just don't understand
it. I would have thought he'd be very, very popular. Just about every
work communicates, grabs you in some way. If I have preferences, they go
to the later Falla, where he drops the Franco-Iberian impressionism of
Debussy for an idiom influenced
by Stravinsky. High on my list is
El Retablo de Maese Pedro, an opera for giant puppets (!), based on
an episode in Don Quixote. I find it similar in emotional tone to
Pulcinella, the Stravinsky
ballet for singers. For Rubenstein, he wrote a masterpiece for solo piano,
the Fantasia Betica.
MHS has a stirring performance by Gregory Allen on CD and I believe a
performance by De Larrocha on LP/cassette. Aside from early piano suites,
the only major work by Falla that leaves me cold is his opera La Vida
Breve. It's dramatic and well-written, but has no musical fire. If you
don't know this composer, any orchestral piece you will likely enjoy.
To my mind, a born chamber composer. The Requiem deservedly gets
recorded all the time, but how many know the piano quintets, piano quartets,
violin sonata, cello sonatas, and piano trio?
Copland describing Fauré's
music, speaks of "his delicacy ... his imperturbable calm. ... those aware
of musical refinements cannot help but admire the transparent texture, the
clarity of thought, the well-shaped proportions. Together they constitute
a kind of Fauré magic ... difficult to analyze but lovely to hear."
I keep wondering where musically he comes from. He seems to have invented
an idiom and the influences are so sublimated and to be invisible to me.
I love the incredibly subtle shifts of harmony, totally unexpected and
exquisite. Art-song groupies know at least some of the songs. I
recommend, for an ear opening, ALL the songs, including the cycle La
bonne chanson. MHS came out with a complete set on LP. For those of you
who can find them, try Norrington's recordings of Caligula,
Cantique de Jean Racine, and Promethée.
American neo-classicist who died relatively young. One of our most
distinguished choral writers -- Hour-Glass Suite, Choral
New Yorker. Orchestrally, no less distinguished. His Toccata
Concertante sets the world on fire and, I believe, beats
Stravinsky at his own game. The
Serious Song and the Symphony mark his movement from
Schoenberg, although the clarity
of texture is far greater in Fine than in Schoenberg. No out-and-out
major hit (he died too young and was extremely self-critical about his
output), but "what there is, is cherché."
Better-known now than 20 years ago, although he died in the '50s. Other
than the Clarinet Concerto, not recorded except on the British
labels Anglophiles sweep through the record bins for. Kind of a British
Fauré, except not a formidable
chamber composer. My favorite work remains the first one I heard,
Dies Natalis, to prose meditations and poems of the Metaphysical poet
Traherne. Others: Let Us Garlands Bring (splendid settings of
Shakespeare lyrics), Intimations of Immortality (I would say a
tour de force, except it sounds absolutely unforced),
2 Milton Sonnets (a profound setting of "On His Blindness"),
Farewell to Arms, and In terra pax.
Every note Lukas Foss writes comes from one of the most musical composers
since Mozart, yet I can't claim that I enjoy the pieces since the '60s. I
certainly keep listening, and one day I might crack them. The early stuff
sings: Behold I Build an House, Psalms, Song of Songs,
oboe concerto, The Prairie, A Parable of Death, and the short
opera The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
Not César (a composer I can't stand), but Melchior, a Renaissance
German. Try the madrigals and the settings from The Song of Songs.
There's a hand-painted quality to them, and yet they are paradoxically
Giovanni. Let me second the recommendations already made. If you're in
the mood to wallow in splendor, you've come to the right place.
Jacobus Gallus, a.k.a. Jakob Handl. I never hear large works, only
something that appears as part of Renaissance collections, fugitive
pieces. Very heavily based in folk song, but a man who knows his
contrapuntal business. Everything I've heard has been choral. The
music is lovely and direct in its impact.
One of my top 5 favorite composers. He gets a raw deal from the "serious"
world. How can an American say ANY Gershwin is obscure? Hell, I own
even "Blue Monday," an early one-act opera. Porgy it ain't, and you
can save money here. On the other hand, I want to recommend two
performances: Larry Golub (piano) and Mitch Miller (you read right)
performing Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, and American in
Paris. To me, these are the only performances I've heard that start to
do justice to the scores. The musicians, for once, sound as if they've done
more than slap on the usual dash of paint, that they may have even practiced
their parts. My favorite complete Porgy -- and I have them all -- is
Simon Rattle's. By the way, I came across a fantastic article on
Gershwin's musical reputation, which I'd be willing to e-mail to
individual members. If interested, e-mail me
Stravinsky once asked what would
have happened, had music followed Gesualdo's example. It was startling
stuff when it began to get out into the general market after WW II.
Now, however, its novelty has dimmed somewhat now that we know of the
Renaissance mannerist school of composers, including Marenzio and early
Lassus and Monteverdi. Still,
Gesualdo has lost none of his ability to lift your eyebrows back over
your ears. The madrigals and motets are filled harmonic stabs of pain
and ear-twisting progressions. As most of you know, Gesualdo killed his
wife. Tilson Thomas, as an assistant conductor asked to put together a
children's concert with a "theme," came up with "Great Criminals of
Music" (including Gesualdo and Hummel).
In the '60s, the operas got the critics to listen, but most of Ginastera's
music has slipped below public consciousness. He's sort of an Argentinian
Bartók. The same energy, the
same fascination with dance rhythms and counterpoint. I like it all,
EXCEPT the operas, which I find overblown rags of Twenties' expressionism.
He always seems on the verge of breaking through to the level of
Copland or, maybe,
Schuman. Never does. For sheer
bounce, he's hard to beat. Recommended bouncers: Columbia,
Vivaldi Gallery, Fall River Legend, Symphonette
No. 2. Spirituals for Orchestra and American Salute
are probably the works most available.
Anything. Get anything. Horribly underrated, because a miniaturist of
genius (funny how this has never stopped the critics from noticing
Webern). THE major setter of
British folk music, much as I admire
Britten. London has re-released
a classic recording conducted by Britten. Buy it. For the truly
adventurous (Auden-Kallman, Rake's Progress), try The Warriors
and Lincolnshire Posy (version for wind ensemble).
Offertorium for violin and orchestra. To me, a masterpiece of the 20th
century. An advanced idiom, and yet the ending reminds me of the Death
of Boris in Mussorgsky's opera.
Every period has its clichés. Our avant-garde has certain melodic
twists that, to put it charitably, you may have heard before.
Gubaidulina's music (I've heard two pieces) seems free of it. She has
A poet and songwriter. Contemporary with
Peter Warlock, but, if you can
believe it, darker in mood. The extended song cycles for voice and
string quartet -- "Ludlow and Teme" and "Western Playland" -- have not
yet received decent recordings and stray songs show up on collections
of British art song. Pick up one of the collections.
Write to author Steve Schwartz
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