SCHWARTZ'S GUIDE TO UNDERRATED MASTERPIECES
(Falla - Gurney)
(Khachaturian - Lutoslawski)
(G.F. HANDEL - Werner JOSTEN)
The operas are performed but still obscure. Try Giulio
Caesar. Of the oratorios, try the monumental Israel in
Egypt. Stunning choruses. "Dixit Dominus" is one of those
pieces that almost do the impossible: make you forget
"The Ways of Zion Do Mourn" -- an ode on the death of Queen
Caroline -- is truly noble. I haven't
said anything about the instrumental music because I figure
it's not overlooked. Besides, I want to use the space to
plug Harry Christopher's recording of the complete
Chandos Anthems -- one masterpiece after another.
For years, I just wasn't sure about his music. Was it too
"nice"? At his best when he's quiet. His loud passages can
become hectoring. On the other hand, an original voice. You
identify a Hanson piece within two measures. Symphonies 1 and
2 are known. Number 6 is my favorite. Other things to try:
Four Psalms for baritone and string sextet,
Concerto da camera,
Piano Concerto, Lament for Beowulf (genuinely powerful),
Merry Mount (suite and selections from the opera), Mosaics
(brilliant orchestration), and the string quartets (the
symphonies on a smaller scale, which helps tone down the
Another American composer not
Schuman, and therefore in eclipse.
I like everything
I've heard, except for the Symphony No. 4 "Folk-song".
Lou, from California. Influenced by Asian music, he comes closest to
Hovhaness, but on the other
hand you'd never confuse their works. Try the symphonies.
An American composer and conductor long resident in England, where
he became more a part of the British music scene. Herrmann has an
odd style, based on a unique, immediately-identifiable sense of
harmony. He can get more out of two chords than any other composer
I know. One of the outstanding film composers, he worked with
Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons),
Hitchcock (Vertigo, Marnie, North by Northwest,
Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much), Truffaut
(Fahrenheit 451), DePalma (Sisters, Obsession), Ray
Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the
Titans), and Scorcese (Taxi Driver). He also has several
non-movie works, my favorites of which are a Symphony and
a Sinfonietta for String Orchestra, the precursor to the
A major master known for 2, possibly 3, works. Of the 5 seminal composers
of this century -- Stravinsky,
Webern, being the others --
Hindemith had more
brains than the rest of them put together. This does not,
however, mean he was a greater composer than any of them.
Still, the critics who claim to be bored by his "academicism"
(what a word!) have their ears on wrong. Although
a capable teacher (Schoenberg was a great teacher) who spent time
in the academy, a less pedantic composer never drew breath.
How can you listen to Der Daemon or even
the percussion passage in Symphonic Metamorphoses and
call the composer a pedant? For some it must be easy.
The music is of uniformly high mastery. If you can find
them, pick up the magnificent Violin Concerto, Cello
Concerto (also magnificent), all the music for a capella
chorus, Apparebit repentina dies for chorus and
orchestra, Concert Music for Piano, Brass, and Harp,
Symphony in E-flat, Symphony in B-flat, all the
Kammermusik, and the sonatas without opus numbers.
His When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd is a monumental work.
I realize it's chock full of complexities, but it mainly just knocks
my socks off. I prefer the Shaw recording to the composer's own.
Twentieth-century composers not living in Paris, Vienna, Moscow,
Berlin, St. Petersberg, or New York have a tough row to hoe,
as far as recognition is concerned. It took nearly forty years
after the composer's death for
Nielsen to be recognized,
mostly because his career was based in Copenhagen. His countryman
Vagn Holmboe faces the same problem, as does the Swedish symphonist
Alan Pettersson. Holmboe
writes outstanding symphonies and string quartets. The Swedes have
begun to record his work. I recommend any of the symphonies (he
wrote at least 10), the String Quartet No. 8,
the Brass Quintet, and the Recorder Trio. If you
like Hindemith and Nielsen,
you should have little trouble with Holmboe.
Nothing is really known outside The Planets. This is a major
composer after a few early works. I recommend 12 Songs,
Two Carols, 4 Songs for voice and violin, the canons,
6 Medieval Lyrics, Seven Partsongs by Robert Bridges,
Brook Green, Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda,
Choral Symphony (poems by
Keats), Double Concerto, Fugal Concerto,
Fugal Overture, Hammersmith (the band version),
Psalm 86, Lyric Movement for viola and orchestra,
St. Paul's Suite, the two Suites for Band, and the
Terzetto. His settings of British folk songs for
a capella singers are wonderful. He differs from
(who takes on all kinds of music) in that he sets best those
pieces which come closest to his characteristic mood of rapt
A major composer now coming back. The symphonies and Le Roi
David are no longer obscure. Try Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher
(Joan of Arc at the Stake) -- a flat-out masterpiece.
People either love him or loathe him. I don't loathe him.
He is fantastically uneven, but at his best ...
Lou Harrison has
called him one of the greatest melodists of
all times. He's also a man intoxicated by counterpoint.
Try the Concerto for Orchestra 1 "Arevakel", Concerto for
Piano 1 "Lousadzek", Fra Angelico, Magnificat,
Triptych, Prelude and Quadruple Fugue (FANTASTIC! Exciting as
Bartók), and, of course,
the St. Vartan Symphony. The
last may whet your appetite for more of his symphonies
(last I heard, he was somewhere in the high 20s).
An early follower of
known mainly for his church music. He hasn't a large catalogue.
Hymnus Paradisi for choirs, soloists, and orchestra is his
most ambitious work, but I find it uninvolving. The church music
is wonderful, including the Collegium Regale and the
St. Paul's Service. His solo songs are gem, among
which "Come Sing and Dance" and "King David" are probably classics
of English song. I also like very much his early piano quartet.
Piano Concerto. It's got the intimacy of the Schumann concerto.
Not a Big Wow piece, but loveable. Sextet for
clarinet, horn, and string quartet -- strong affinities with
Brahms's chamber music, in
particular the clarinet and horn trios. This is a very early work,
and thus not free of the influence of Stanford. The impressionistic Ireland
Who would have thought Ives could write hits? Certain pieces
tend to be re-recorded -- Symphonies 2 & 3,
The Unanswered Question, Three Places in New England.
I'd like to plug the Symphony no. 1, for a change.
It was written as a graduation exercise for Ives's Yale composition
prof, Horatio Parker.
It sounds a lot like Dvorák, even though it's still pretty
quirky (in the first movement, he seems determined to modulate
through every single key) -- all in all, a lovely work and an
indication of what he might have become had he decided to
become someone other than Ives. String Quartet no. 1 is the
chamber equivalent. However, I'd like to especially call the
choral works to your attention. Ives is a GREAT choral
composer. Surprisingly, no two works are alike, so it's hard
to describe them in general. Suffice to say, that his favorite
of all his pieces was his setting of Psalm 90, which runs
from monotone to whoops to a chorale of great beauty at the
end. The Three Harvest Home Carols introduced Ives to me. Strong,
moody pieces. General William Booth Enters Heaven exists as
a song for voice and piano, and it's a great song. However, I
prefer the orchestration and the added chorus in the
arrangement of 1919. Finally, the Variations on America the
Beautiful. The orchestration by
William Schuman is pretty well
known, but the work was written for organ. On a pipe organ, the
loopiness really comes through, especially the Gilbert &
Gordon Septimus. A pupil of
Vaughan Williams with
the reputation of admirable craftsman. His idiom resembles the
sophisticated Vaughan Williams of the Partita, the Concerto
accademico, and the Piano Concerto. About the only
stuff that gets recorded is essentially "light music," with little
pretension to anything more. A quick check of Grove's
reveals that Jacob has titles in his catalogue that hint at greater
substance, which of course I've never heard. I can recommend
especially the Five Pieces and the Divertimento, both
for harmonica and strings, the Concerto for Piano 3-hands and
Orchestra, and the William Byrd Suite, an arrangement
of Byrd keyboard pieces for
band. In live concert, I've heard exquisite songs for voice and
string trio on lyrics by William Blake. These last convince me
that there's more to this composer than a good time.
Let me second all the recommendations made so far and add
the operas The Cunning Little Vixen, The Makropoulos Affair,
and The Adventures of Mr. Broucek.
A writer of concerti, none of which are well known. Musical
Heritage was big on him for a while. Take anything.
20th-century French, he comes closest to
Honegger but he's really
his own man. An imaginative use of percussion
instruments and a tremendous concern for balance and form
distinguish his works.
Quite simply, one of the very greatest ever. The Renaissance,
which by the way has more great composers per square inch
than any other period in western culture, thought he was the
best of the lot. The "Prince of Music," if you can divorce
that term from the short guy in Minneapolis. High points:
the Deploration de Johannes Ockeghem, Ave Maria,
Missa Ave maris stella, Missa Pange lingua,
Missa L'homme armé, Missa de Beata Virgine,
Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae, Missa Merica,
a fabulously difficult motet Praeter rerum seriem (in 3
different meters). All this may lead you to believe that
he took himself way too seriously. However, he is also
a master of secular music. It's the clarity of texture
in all his work that attracts me so much.
A composer I run across occasionally but don't know much
about. A 20th-century naturalized American whose work was
taken up by Stokowski, among others. Now, he seems to have
fallen off the edge. What I've heard is terrifically uneven.
However, his Symphony in F packs a punch. I believe the
fellow who wrote the score to the movie Patton stole from
it. Some of the ideas are real close.
Write to author Steve Schwartz
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