(Manual de FALLA - Ivor GURNEY)

(Cage - Elgar)     (Handel - Josten)      contents
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 Ravel and 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 Stravinsky to 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 exquisite.

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. Monumental stuff.

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 Vaughan Williams, Holst, and 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 invented herself.

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.

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