(Rachmaninoff - Ruggles)     (Tallis - Toch)      contents
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 nobility.

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 often.

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 Chorus.

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 Lied and Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder, 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 Mozart's Symphony 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 Vaughan Williams's Tallis fantasia.

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 symphonies.

A Spaniard living in the U.S. strongly influenced by Bartók and 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 or the 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.

previous    next      contents

Write to author Steve Schwartz

back to Unknown Composers main page