(Mac Dowell - Nielsen)     (Rachmaninoff - Ruggles)      contents
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 mini-cantatas. Slightly Hindemithian.

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 Vaughan Williams 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 Stravinsky sophistication and brittleness. More Romantic than Hindemith. The 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 Piston-ish, 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 Fauré's. The 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 several times. 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 magnificent performance.

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 Shostakovich's darker moods.

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.

previous    next      contents

Write to author Steve Schwartz

back to Unknown Composers main page