The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Gian Carlo Menotti’s centennial is the time to ask — How great was he as a composer? | July 11, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Thursday marked the 100th birthday of the composer Gian Carlo Menotti (below).

Menotti, who studied at the Curtis Institute and founded the Spoletto Festival, wrote instrumental music. And he was the longtime partner of American composer Samuel Barber, according to a recent book about Barber. (That must have been some household for music lovers!)

But his reputation continues to rest primarily on his work as a pioneer in bringing opera to television and radio and in creating a certain kind of populist operas — such as the evergreen Christmas opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” — that I also like because it wasn’t five hours long.

Menotti recognizes that the contemporary attention span is what is used to be – or what opera composers would like. (Imagine watching movies as long as so many operas are.)

But how good – or great — a composer is Menotti? And how great and serious is he and work now and will he be seen as in the future?

Those are questions that a recent segment on NPR did fine job of exploring.

Here is a link to that story:

What do think of Menotti’s music?

Do you have a favorite Menotti work and why?

Do you think Menotti is a great composer?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. One work of his that I’ve always thought is highly underrated is his Piano Concerto, written in 1945. It’s very light, tuneful, Scarlatti-esque in quality, and I believe would be very well received these days. Frankly, I don’t believe there’s even one recent recording of this work, although I could be wrong.

    From an overall standpoint, I agree with the NPR article that Menotti’s pioneering activities in presentations of his operatic efforts are sorely underrated as well, as his compositional style, which IMO is Italian neo-Classic. Personally, I wouldn’t put him in the pantheon of “great” 20th Century composers, but he was — and is — unquestionably significant, as the article attests.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — July 11, 2011 @ 7:48 am

    • Hi Tim,
      Thanks for the tip about the Piano Concerto. I don’t know it at all, but will try to check it out. I love Scarlatti and Neo-Classical style works in general.
      And I also think your overall assessment is very balanced, so I agree with it.
      Menotti is important and will endure, but perhaps not in the same category as a Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev or Copland.
      I always appreciate your knowledge and insights.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 11, 2011 @ 8:30 am

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