The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated? | August 5, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.

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21 Comments »

  1. I must admit I’m completely at loss with most English composers, Elgar or Vaughn Williams for example. The only English composer I love is Purcell.

    And Haydn’s symphonies aren’t my cup of tea either. But then again, his String Quartets are masterpieces.

    And obviously I don’t understand how somebody cannot love Brahms, my absolutely idol. Or see the beauty in Mozart (I used to find him boring as well when I was younger. How silly of me).

    I guess this is all ultimately about personal taste, not musical quality. So instead of talking about “overrated” we should say “I don’t like X”.

    Comment by Musicophile — August 10, 2017 @ 2:22 am

    • RE: MOZART…YOU WERE RIGHT THE FIRST TIME WHEN YOU WERE A KID, HAHA !!!!!

      Comment by TERRY DEAL BAER — August 10, 2017 @ 4:12 am

  2. Bernstein couldn’t stand Hovhannes and Britten loathed Brahms.

    Comment by Larry Wells — August 6, 2017 @ 9:19 am

  3. This column is ridiculous! Such a detriment to classical music. I’m VERY disappointed that you would even think of writing such a column. I thought you were a supporter of classical composers and their music. What is the point of stirring up such negativity about the arts? Are we also supposed to decide which great novels, collections of poetry, art masterpieces of Monet, Picasso, Rodin, Michelangelo, etc., etc. we don’t like??

    Sincerely disgusted,
    Dr. Susan L. Cable
    Professor Emeritus of Piano,
    Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado

    Comment by Susan L. Cable — August 5, 2017 @ 4:28 pm

    • I DO NOT UNDERSTAND POLLACK…IT ISN’T PAINTING.

      Comment by TERRY DEAL BAER — August 5, 2017 @ 6:17 pm

  4. For me, on most days, a little Liszt and even less Wagner is too much,

    Comment by Roy W. Carroll — August 5, 2017 @ 2:24 pm

  5. We have to be careful here.

    How many of the negative comments regarding the famous composers are really due to our inability (unwillingness?) to listen to the music deeply and with complete concentration?

    The minimalist composers drive me insane when I try active listening, yet when I am doing other things and play them in the background they provide soothing comfort.

    Comment by Augustine — August 5, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

    • Thank You! An intelligent comment!

      Comment by Rafael de Acha — August 5, 2017 @ 1:10 pm

    • EVEN YUJA ALL BUT AVOIDS MOZART BY STATING, AND I BELIEVE IT TO BE BOTH ‘TONGUE-IN-CHEEK AND DIPLOMATIC, THAT SHE NEEDS MORE TIME TO UNDERSTAND HIM…AT 30, HER MUSICAL UNDERSTANDING IS AS THOROUGH AS ANY PIANIST IN HISTORY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Comment by TERRY DEAL BAER — August 5, 2017 @ 1:30 pm

  6. Except when he is writing for the voice as in the lieder and his second symphony, I find Mahler not worth the effort and I’ve certainly given him a hearing, having listened to all the symphonies at last three times in a concentrated way. He puts on a parade but never offers me a journey I want to enter. As one form and analysis professor once put it, his works are ODTAA not ABBA. — i.e. One Damn Thing After Another. I’m equally unmoved by Bruckner and Wagner.

    Comment by James Rhem — August 5, 2017 @ 9:41 am

  7. Most Brahms. I like the 2nd and 3rd symphonies, the German Requiem, bits from the piano concerti, bits from the violin concerto. And then bits from the chamber works. Yes, I listen to his works, know them very well, but I find it difficult to like a single work as a whole.

    Comment by Konsgaard — August 5, 2017 @ 8:42 am

  8. What fun it must be for some with lots of time in their hands to spout nonsense about composers they hate! For my part I love all music – classical, pop, jazz, world… You name it, as long as my listening ears and brain are engaged I love all good music. And, ay there’s the rub! Who gets to say what music is good and which isn’t? Nobody in the world can convince me that Mozart is repetitive, as one of your readers states – or Ravel’s Bolero and Scriabin are. I’d say get a new pair of ears, do some repairs on your brain and get a life!

    Comment by Rafael de Acha — August 5, 2017 @ 8:33 am

    • I totally agree with you! Thank you!!

      Comment by Susan L. Cable — August 5, 2017 @ 4:30 pm

      • Thank you, Rafael. You are absolutely right! See my comment above which I wrote at 4:28 pm.

        Comment by Susan L. Cable — August 5, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

  9. Albinoni Adagio. SO plodding I could scream.

    Comment by Cheryl Dring — August 5, 2017 @ 7:59 am

  10. Ravel’s Bolero. Repetitive, excessively repetitive. One music lecturer at University [xyz] in Chicago swooned over it. Others write off Ravel, but the string quartet … magnificent.

    Comment by Linda Marquardt — August 5, 2017 @ 7:55 am

  11. MOZART…THE MOST TEDIOUS, MONOTONOUS, REPETITIOUS OF THEM ALL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by TERRY DEAL BAER — August 5, 2017 @ 5:46 am


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