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  Minor composers in history  MartinY at 20:46 on 22 March 2009

I was reminded of a general problem by the Purcell celebrations this weekend. I only listened to a few hours but never heard anything about Locke, Blow and Pelham Humphry. Clearly the composers of the restoration are very important to a proper understanding of the English Baroque, though it would be better to have only played the Purcell Fantasies than not to know anything.

However a few weeks ago I was talking about Beethoven and Schubert and was surprised that it was academically acceptable to study Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart in isolation wheras to get a true understanding of the Vienna of the period one would need to know the composers in context. One would really need to know what music was being played at the time of Beethoven, what music he heard, which is unlikely to be just Mozart, Haydn and Bach. I had recently played for a hour some music by a minor 19th C composer which was really rather complicated, and then followed it by some Beethoven. The Beethoven was much simpler but within a few bars had established a presence and a meaning which was lacking in the other work which superficially looked much more interesting. I am looking through the Radio Times about the English Baroque now but will have something more to say about Bach and Zelenka and 'one tune composers'. (If it were the right tune would it be okay to be a 'one tune composer'?)

  Re: Minor composers in history  MartinY at 21:13 on 22 March 2009

I saw elsewhere among the forums that compared with Bach there was very little positive to be said about Zelenka. Years ago I heard and thought Z's Lamentation for Easter Saturday was marvellous. I bought the music and we played through it and all thought it was great so I bought the rest of the Lamentations and some more pieces and they were grim...... so I somehow felt cheated....

I thought from this about composers like Delibes, who wrote a couple of really famous and undoubtably good (but why) show stoppers. But if you have had the misfortune to sit through the full opera you will feel everybody concerned has been wasting their time......

Just as one sometimes wishes a lecturer would tell us the really useful information they must have, how it is possible to achieve so much success with so little talent, so I wonder how someone can write a great piece which even gets semi-to 3/4-plagiarised 150 years later, and yet the rest of their output is such rubbish........

We still do not understand what makes a good piece and a bad piece....but I am looking through my output to see if I have that one piece hidden away there.........

  Re: Minor composers in history  Nicolas Tzortzis at 00:03 on 23 March 2009

what distinguishes a great composer from a not-so-great composer is the amount of great works they have.
I believe that anyone who would take the time to work hard for a certain period of time can come up with a great piece of music.The thing is,how many times will he do it?
I believe in hard work and the great composers were the ones that worked non-stop,not focusing on what they would "earn" from composing,but on the music itself.And the more you love what you do, the more you work on it,always trying to move forward,re-invent your own language,come up with something new.
I also believe that great music needs to be intelligent and show proof of intelligence.How this is translated into music differs from artist to artist,but I think it is always there.

  Re: Minor composers in history  piargno at 03:22 on 23 March 2009

Interesting post. Who was the composer who played before playing through Beethoven??

I personally feel as though it is not necessary to know what makes a piece "great," and don't believe that there is any formula. Obviously, there will be pieces that are "beloved" by a majority (Adagio for Strings, Beethoven 9, Pachelbel's Canon) but it actually does not mean they are good pieces (the Pachelbel is a GREAT example of this). Furthermore, there will always be fantastic pieces that really rival the greats that will never be beloved (Tenney's For Ann Rising, Luiz Simas's Chorino Bachiano, Some piano works by Johann Matthias Hauer), and some of these pieces are not necessarily "good" but definitely revolutionary (the Hauer is an example of this). But Roslavetz, Ustvolskaya, Goeyvaerts, Deak ... composers who will be "beloved" in certain circles perhaps, but will never gain as much love as someone like Ligeti. Not because they aren't talented, but some times the cookie crumbles towards certain people and away from others.

With that said, I think Barber is not that good of a composer at all. The majority of his output is really atrocious. But the piano Sonata is really extraordinary, and mvts. 1 and 3 of the Excursions are great, and selections from the Hermit Songs are great, and Knoxville Summer of 1952 is nice, and the Adagio is good. Really, these are the only good pieces he has. Maybe the cello sonata is good, but the concerto is so boring ... Perhaps Barber might turn into a Zalenka figure 100 years from now.

  Re: Minor composers in history  MartinY at 09:00 on 23 March 2009

The minor classical composer was William Shield, who wrote Minuets in 5/4 time in the 18th century. His music can be very 'active' and contrapuntal. I have just remembered he is a 'one tune composer' for 'The Flaxen Headed Ploughboy' which is probably the only piece most people have heard.

  Re: Minor composers in history  MartinY at 11:37 on 10 April 2009

Re: Pointless counterpoint....

One of the aspects of the minor baroque composers is that their counterpoint does not have the feeling of inevitability that you get with J. S. Bach. Having said that there are some composers such as Kellner whose work has been misattributed to Bach so there are quite a few minor composers whose work is first rate.

I was reminded of a chess analogy. Sometimes when you play through a game played by 2 top players you reach a middle game where both sides have done what chess players call 'development', which simplistically means moving your centre pawns and pieces towards the centre of the board. But one side has developed much more purposefully than the other, who seems to be developing just because the textbooks say you should but the first player is poised exactly to execute a middle game plan.

There is something similar with both formal structures and innovation in music. If the composer has followed some formal structure because he feels he ought to, or has 'innovated' because someone has made him feel he ought to it is like the development for development's sake. I have given up on innovation and novelty except when driven by solving some aesthetic problem, and there are enough of those to continually need new ideas, but to come up with something new because one feels one 'ought' to extend technique or satisfy some competition judges or to be able to tick some boxes on a form is out from now on........

But as it the summer school season coming up I am spending all my time preparing pretty consevative music, so it makes one's thinking conservative... Though I have found some really interesting easy old music as well as some fiendish baroque fugues..... Some you have to count even more accurately than J.S.B.... People have played lots of hard modern music and still manage to go wrong in a J.S.B. Fugue.

Would deliberately writing entries which will trip up 'smart' players be classed as pointless counterpoint????

  Re: Minor composers in history  scott_good at 17:44 on 10 April 2009

"I have given up on innovation and novelty except when driven by solving some aesthetic problem, and there are enough of those to continually need new ideas"

Sounds like a good plan!

Theory is a tool, not an ends - one in general doesn't use a hammer just to bang things, but to build (or destroy..).

And, if your point is to trip up the player, and you do, then it isn't pointless. But, I guess one has to question their point if this is all they are doing?! Although, some of those baroque "trick" pieces are lots of fun! I love playing Tellemann Canonic duets, and not so much because they sound like great master pieces, but because they play with the mind, and are tricky to get through.

  Re: Minor composers in history  Misuc at 15:34 on 28 June 2009

But Blow, Locke, Pelham Humphrey are not minor - they are wonderful! Music is not only created by composers. What would Purcell have achieved in the stone age? The answer is,of course: " but he wouldn't have been Purcell if he had lived in the stone age". So the question is: what is it in a culture or epoch that allows so many astounding amazing thrilling composers (e.g. Britain in the 17th century)?:

examples - the above + Lawes, Jenkins, Coprario, Ferrabosco, William Young and a host of inspired amateurs - inspired means with startling ideas that suggest new paths to any imaginative musician even to this day)

...and what is it that stultifies inventiveness and imagination and produces generations of nothing but the flatulent flat boring uninspired pompous un-clever and unmusical (e.g. Britain in the 19th-20th centuries)?

  Re: Minor composers in history  MartinY at 16:08 on 28 June 2009

I agree with you Misuc, but the problem lies with the professional pundits on Radio 3 who bang on about Purcell without even suggesting that Humphrey might have had something to do with inventing English Baroque, even though he appears in Pepys diary and should be known to the pundits. Only Robert King gave him a good mention in his radio programs.

I almost think that these bozos who bang on only about Purcell >> Britten >>> Elgar somehow expect this will make their own music as famous as the quoted 3....... I did Blow's God Spake Sometimes in Visions with an amateur group at a summer school last year. It was marvellous, (not our performance but the piece). At the end someone said, Who wrote that, Purcell?.

  Re: Minor composers in history  MartinY at 16:12 on 28 June 2009

I am being a bit unfair because Radio 3 did run a 5 hour series on Contemporaries of Purcell.

Will my music one day one day appear on Contemporaries of Maxwell-Davies.

  Re: Minor composers in history  Misuc at 19:35 on 28 June 2009

Yes... and even with Purcell, they crammed him all into one day (or was it two?) while they 've been broadcasting Handel opera after Handel opera for the collectors.

But let's not moan about that. The BBC Radio 3 bureaucrats and chit-chat presenters are the first for the lamppost as far as I'm concerned. If I could bear the thought I'd give a list of reasons, but let's save that for another time.

  Re: Minor composers in history  Jim Tribble at 22:15 on 12 July 2009

Back to John Blow, try his keyboard pieces, particularly his Grounds. Their great fun. My favourite is the G Minor Chacconne.
This subject all comes back to cultural footprint. Radio three and the others are slaves to the footprint of music. ie will people tune in and listen to it. Does my ratings look big in this.
Bach in his own day was an obscure German composer, principally known for his genius as an Organ player not as a composer. It was only through a high profile patron with his own huge footprint, that he was ever known in the first place. Beethoven was a self made super star. Mozart toured Europe for years so had a large footprint. Elgar saw himself to be ELGAR but Vaughan Williams was unassuming and quiet(apart from his love of women), and has almost been forgotten from general knowledge.
(I know I am going to get stick for that one).
In todays world the things that have the biggest footprint is the media, so TV themes, (Morse, who has heard about Barringtons other music, his operas on general television) Films, and adverts.
So Misucs idea of a free performing band is a good way forward.
Here's to the big feet of the world.