The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music poll: Who is your favorite neglected composer? And what is your favorite work by that composer? | February 4, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s the weekend — a good time for another reader poll.

Last weekend, The Ear heard the Violin Sonata No. 1 by the French composer Gabriel Faure (below), in a wonderful performance by UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino and pianist Christopher Taylor, who make an outstanding partnership that The Ear hopes to heard more often.

faure

The Ear has long thought that Faure, who was the teacher of Ravel, has been neglected. His work, especially his solo piano pieces and chamber music, is subtle and appealing but unjustly overshadowed by the Germanic school.

Yet Faure seems to be getting more performances, although still not as many as he deserves.

So maybe The Ear will switch to say that the 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi (below) is now his favorite neglected composer.

You can hear Finzi’s haunting and exquisite “Eclogue” for piano and strings, which was originally the slow movement for a piano concerto, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But The Ear also likes Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto and his Five Bagatelles — especially the “Romance” movement — for Clarinet and Piano.

Gerald Finzi 1

There are so many composers who deserve a wider hearing — including big mainstream composers like the prolific master  Franz Joseph Haydn whose name is better known than most of his works.

Recently, on Wisconsin Public Radio, The Ear heard rarely performed solo piano works by the Czech Josef Suk (below top) and really liked them. Same goes for some solo piano works and violin works by Clara Schumann (below bottom).

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Clara Schumann Getty Images

There are so many other composers, including ones from Scandinavia, Asia and the United States, who fly under the radar but deserve better recognition and more performances.

So here is what The Ear wants to know:

Who is your favorite neglected composer?

And what is your favorite piece by that composer and why?

Please tell the rest of us, with a link to a YouTube performance, if possible, and help us expand our horizons.

The Ear wants to hear.

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9 Comments »

  1. “Haydn’s music (too mannered), in his defense it should be noted that he was essentially in the servant class and had to please his patron and the court.”

    Did he? Mozart was put in pretty much the same position and went his own way, so did Beethoven.

    There are lots of composers out there from the same time period who were far more inventive and less repetitive.

    One of them, from an even earlier period, is Vivaldi. He was in the “religious servant” class, as you might put it, but he did far more than Haydn did, achieved more (and is played more frequently too).

    Comment by FFlambeau — February 6, 2017 @ 5:26 am

    • You are selling Haydn quite short. He completely changed the landscape of the symphony and chamber music. If anything, his influence in often underestimated. Comparing his work to Mozart is not the ticket: one should compare to his colleagues in the 1750s-1770s. By the time Mozart began composing symphonic works, Haydn had already brought the symphony from a short, 3-movement serious work to the 20-30 minute, 4-movement work with much lighter content that we think about when contemplating the Classic Period.
      Not to take anything from Vivaldi, mind you.

      Comment by Steve Kurr — February 6, 2017 @ 6:39 am

    • They had different patrons, were in different courts, and the expectations and tastes of their patrons may have been different. Mozart was a child prodigy, famous in the courts of Europe, and, just as today, people are often more indulgent with that kind of phenomenon. Haydn, though musically precocious, did not have a ‘star’ image. Beethoven was a world unto himself, and can’t be compared with anyone else. I’m glad Vivaldi has his supporters; he was a hard worker, in one sense a school teacher, and had to crank out a lot of pedagogical stuff. We all have our own likes and dislikes; I find Vivaldi’s work to be, for the most part, quite repetitious, but he made contributions to the development of music, as did Haydn.

      Comment by slfiore — February 6, 2017 @ 6:53 am

  2. From earliest to more recent, some of my favorite neglected composers include:
    –Josquin (his motet Benedcita es: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZntlDHAGjw)
    –Biber (his Rosary sonatas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq-SrUZUluU
    –Boccherini (his Symphony Casa del Diavolo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FZ7vKqTJV0)
    –Nielsen (his Little Suite for Strings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIhufkXFtEE
    There are many more, and there are many pieces by major name composers that are unfamiliar as well–too long a list.

    Comment by Steve Kurr — February 4, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

  3. Mr. May was perhaps the first person to receive a Fulbright to the Paris Conservatory.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — February 4, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

  4. Walter Hartley has written a lot of what I’d consider great music. He was at the National Music Camp 1 summer when I was there & in grad school I played his quintet for fl/ob/cl/bssn/tbn. Walter May is another who taught music theory in Eau Claire. He wrote a trio for Tbn/Tuba/Pf for my senior recital. Maybe it has something to do with given names?

    Comment by Larry Retzack — February 4, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

  5. Samuel Barber. From his orchestral Op. 12 to his Piano Sonata Op. 26 tremendous growth in just a decade.

    Although I’m not a big fan of Haydn’s music (too mannered), in his defense it should be noted that he was essentially in the servant class and had to please his patron and the court. I suspect he may also have heard the complaint “Too many notes”.

    Comment by slfiore — February 4, 2017 @ 9:56 am

  6. Hi, Jake! For me, the French composer Deodat de Severac. All of his solo piano music just resonates quite specially with me. If I had to pick one composition, it would be “Les Baigneuses au Soleil.” Among more major composers, I would agree with you regarding Faure (although I believe he is more highly respected and played in Europe, particularly France), but I see Heitor Villa-Lobos as being quite a bit more neglected, and would vote for him first.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — February 4, 2017 @ 9:12 am

  7. Good question but how can anyone consider Haydn to be neglected?

    One hears one or two pieces a day (at least) on WPR. WAY TOO MUCH FOR THIS REPETITIVE (and to me) uninteresting composer.

    Under-performed but not neglected:

    Rachmaninoff (he wrote more than just piano music; his choral pieces are really neglected). Jean Sibelius (more talent in little finger than Haydn had in his entire corpus). Wonderful symphonies (maybe the best 5th symphony ever written by anyone) but lots of other music that isn’t played as much as it should be.

    Really neglected: the American composers Howard Hanson (he wrote more than just the “Romantic Symphony” and everything that he wrote was good) and my favorite, Alan Hovhaness. Hovhaness suffers because he was born in America but his music is really international. And he wrote so much! More than a hundred symphonies, choral works, works for small groups etc.

    This isn’t my favorite Hovhaness but it is outside the usual Hovhaness music played by most media and shows him in a different light: the adagio from his string quartet #4, Opus 208 (played superbly by the Shanghai Quartet):

    Comment by FFlambeau — February 4, 2017 @ 7:14 am


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