October 27, 2013 at 05:21 AM · Was Sarasate a good composer. I don't just mean for the violin and skill at composing melodies. I means considering ALL aspects that make a composer great. Such as harmony, orchestration, and most importantly structure.

Replies (26)

October 27, 2013 at 10:35 AM · If, more than a century after his death, a composer's works are still very much in the repertoire, regularly played and enjoyed by all, I think that is one of the most important things we can say about his music.

October 27, 2013 at 05:22 PM · A good composer, yes. A great composer, I'd have to say no.

October 27, 2013 at 05:49 PM · Simply because a composers works are played does`t make them good for Paganini was a horrible composer in many ways but we hear his music simply because it is so hard.

October 27, 2013 at 07:10 PM · Sarasate as a composer has made a unique and treasured contribution to the repertoire. His music embodies the style and flavors of the various spanish dances and combines that with a violinistic flair and feeling that only a virtuoso violinist could compose. It's music that violinists love to play and the public loves to hear. The question of whether he is a "good" or a "great" composer is pointless. What matters is that his music is a treasured part of our heritage.

October 27, 2013 at 11:02 PM · I am not qualified to judge composition.

But there are pieces by Sarasate that I find wonderful, beautiful, exciting and amazing.

There are also compositions that tell stores and put images in my mind.

Good enough for me.

October 28, 2013 at 01:51 AM · Sarasate was in fact much more of an arranger than of a composer. Most of the melodies in his pieces are traditional spanish songs arranged for violin and piano. He also arranged many opera arias and some other melodies from other cultures (gypsy, italian, russian, scottish). Few of his published works are, in fact, compositions.

October 28, 2013 at 02:23 AM · i'd like to hear anyone defend a statement like "Paganini/Sarasate were not good composers". I don't see how you can. Paganini's composing style was incredibly operatic. His 1st and 3rd concertos in particular are fantastic compositions - lyrical and engaging, virtuosity aside. His melodies are great, his energy and orchestration is not unlike a Mozart opera, while also taking stylistic elements from Vivaldi. Sarasate (and Albeniz for that matter) were also excellent, producing very beautiful works. Their music is very stylistic and effective. Even the simpler compositions that leave the focus on pure technical facility of the violinist are at least very charming. It makes no sense, however to compare their work to a Brahms symphony. It also makes no sense to say they weren't very successful in composing.

October 28, 2013 at 08:32 AM · Bruno wrote: "Sarasate was in fact much more of an arranger than of a composer. Most of the melodies in his pieces are traditional spanish songs arranged for violin and piano. He also arranged many opera arias and some other melodies from other cultures (gypsy, italian, russian, scottish). Few of his published works are, in fact, compositions."

I'm no expert but isn't that rather arbitrary? Didn't every composer use the tunes in their heads or sampled from the field - in particular traditional dances - Bartok, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn spring to mind. Besides, who knows if a piece ascribed to a particular composer came from their midnight musings or maternal memories? Surely Sarasate used a theme as the basis for a musical work - and it was in that transition that it became his composition, same as everyone else. I can't believe that the entire pieces that he wrote were as they were played by the local gypsies etc...

Works or artists that we dub 'great' can be defined by different standards - scholarly, commercial, public appeal etc, it depends really which stool you happen to sit on. As said, its really irrelevant except perhaps as a useful start for the interested listener - pointing you to the kind of music that YOU like to listen to.

There is one more point. In music the quality of the composer can only be judged within the context of the quality of the performance. Some composer's works die with poor renditions - I would certainly put Sarasate in that category - whereas others can be wonderful to listen to even when trivialized or poorly played. I'm going to include Mozart here though I know a few purists are going to faint. The reason is that his themes are so strong as to make the music live in your head.

And on the opposite end are composers such as Kreisler where the music itself (forgive me again, personal view) is inane - but it can rise to greatness with a brilliant musician.

October 28, 2013 at 01:05 PM · Both Paganini and Kreisler have grabbed the attention of other composers with some of their music, e.g., the several sets of variations of that caprice and Rachmaninoff's Liebesleid. That must say something about them.

The story of Kreisler passing off Leibesleid and Liebesfreud as being by Joseph Lanner and getting slated for performing his own Caprice Viennois along with the compositions of the great Lanner is, I think, well documented. However, I don't think one can entirely blame the critic - I think Liebesleid and Liebesfreud are better compositions than any Lanner I have heard (And this for a composer who, unlike Pugnani, has had a genuine fan club!).

October 28, 2013 at 01:41 PM · " Was Sarasate only good at being melodic, Spanish, and violinistic?"

Why "only"? two of those are more than most will achieve. The third is an accident of birth.

'Good/great' are defined in context, aren't they? and on a continuum.

October 28, 2013 at 05:09 PM · to the point about written music relying on a good musician:

on piano, if the notes are all there with minimal mistakes, decent rhythm, and not opposite dynamics - say what you will, but the music's beauty and potential still shows and can be enjoyed. and this can be achieved by anyone really. i can still enjoy mozart and Bach in a casual mood if it's played by a child/amateur that simply gets through the piece well.

on violin it doesn't work this way. the music itself doesn't become very "enjoyable" even as background until someone is on quite a high level. the instrument is not such a blank canvas as the piano is. that's why we spent 20 years just making a nice sound on twinkle twinkle, as Perlman says.

But in terms of comparing composers - I think most of the major tonal composers/compositions are on the same level here. The music can be "enjoyed" without a genius performing it.

Kreisler pieces are still charming and 'nice' even if they're played in straight tempo without much expressive devices. Same goes for mozart, bach.

October 28, 2013 at 10:51 PM · @elise

Yes, thet all did that, but it was not their main purpose. Sarasate's works, au contrair, are mainly arrangements. I think that not even 10 of his published works are in fact his compositions, and those are much less known than the spanish songs he arranged. I'm not saying he was not good at what he did, but it was much more arrangement than composition itself.

You can find some of the themes he arranged in some other pieces published before, for example the first theme in Hubert Leonard's "Serenade Humoristique" is the same as in Pablo's MalagueƱa.

October 29, 2013 at 02:24 PM · There is no "absolute" genre on which to rank order composers by greatness or depth or artistry.

I wholly agree that within each of their particular (and sometimes idiosyncratic) genres, these great violinist-composers really were great composers.

Sarasate? Within the "Spanish-virtuoso-folk" genre, was there anyone who wrote with more technical flair, feeling, elegance, and singing voice? I don't think so.

Likewise with Paganini: Opera as metaphor (The solo violin is the great singer, and the often-criticized "simplistic" accompaniments are really perfect operatic accompaniments).

And, yes of course, Kreisler in his unique genre. These are really great composers within their particular artistic "vision."

And look what happens when you get 3 of them "collaborating"? Namely, the Variations on a Theme of Corelli, by Tartini (and arranged by Fritz Kreisler). That's 3 (count 'em...THREE) violinist-composers collaborating (over the centuries) on the same piece, and it it is in it's own way a masterpiece.

All this music is as artistically satisfying as Bach Sonatas, but in different ways.




December 15, 2013 at 07:29 PM · I don't know how I missed this thread, it is hilarious!

Of course Sarasate was a great composer! Perhaps he wasn't the best in most peoples eyes, but he used the material he got in a brilliant way. Orchestrating was not his forte on the other hand :)

And what about that rubbish that arranging is not composing??? Composing IS to arrange things. That is what the word means!

Most composers, even the famous ones, created wery few melodies, but composed a great deal of music.

Some of the greatest pieces in musical history contains just about no "created" melodies at all.

Say some of Bach greatest works. The Chaconne? It is just a variant of falling bass line that he stole. The rest is just an arrangement.

The Goldberg variations? He didn't compose that theme either. It is just one big arrangement.

What about Beethoven's 5'th symphony? How many bars of "composed" themes does that one contain and how much else is just arranging?

Composing IS arranging and Sarasate was brilliant at arranging a violinpart.

December 16, 2013 at 03:30 AM · Yup. Sarasate was Spanish. Dvorak was Bohemian, and arranged tunes he took from others, too (but didn't do a great job with Spanish music). And Mahler? Well he was German, and wrote German stuff. One movement of his 1st symphony was merely an arrangement of two tunes he heard superimposed. So I guess some would say Mahler and Dvorak were hacks, too. But not in my book.

Gee, whiz. There are lots of composers that limited their scope to the music of their country or instrument. We consider them good, but maybe not great. If we apply certain measures to Sarasate, let's apply those same criteria to others like Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff.

The real question is, do you like Sarasate's music? I like Bach, Mozart, Sarasate, Ellington, Porter, and Sousa. All of them speak to me. Other composers that are highly revered do not. I don't buy their music, and don't play it, if given a choice. But I'm OK if other folks have their preferences.

So the OP asked a question that's really a matter of taste. So to my taste, Sarasate was a good composer, in his area. Not too good at ragtime, but I don't mind. We have Joplin for that. :-)

December 16, 2013 at 12:51 PM · Paganini, Weiniawski, Sarasate, a few others ... what they wrote was flashy stuff that's super hard to play ... gratuitous difficulty out of proportion to the musical content. That's my opinion.

For someone like me and, I would argue, most students, learning left hand pizzicato, or scales in tenths, is an abject waste of time because those things exist almost exclusively in the show piece literature. Even Heifetz couldn't make left hand pizzicato sound good.

There is more musical content in the Franck Sonata than there is in all of the work of Sarasate combined.

Sarasate might be fun to listen to as kind of a cheap thrill because of all the parlor tricks but for me that's about it.

December 16, 2013 at 04:30 PM · OK, so I may be a lowly amateur, but it seems to me that if I was a professional violinist and at a virtuoso level, I would want to play every piece - no matter who the composer is - from the heart and mind and perspective and "voice" and musical "vision" of that composer.

And that goes not only for the "lesser" composers, but also for the greats. For example, you may not believe in God, but you'd better believe that Bach did. And I can't imagine playing great Bach without that inner understanding and perspective.

Say what you will, but it seems to me that all of the violinists we consider the great ones don't (or didn't) discriminate. They played Sarasate like Sarasate, and they played Bach like Bach (at least, their conception of each of those composers).

Maybe it's just me, but as I get older, I am finding a renewed love and understanding and appreciation of how great many of these "lesser" composers are, within the particular artistic vision of each. Sarasate was no Bach; but on the other hand, Bach was no Sarasate.

Happy holidays.



December 16, 2013 at 05:02 PM · Paul - if you don't practice 10'ths there is a whole lot of reportoire that you won't be able to touch.

One example is the second movment of the Kreutzer sonata. Not to mention all "the shallow stuff" like Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concerti.

Left hand pizzicato is great for technique building and articulation. Even if you never play pieces like Lalo Symphonie Espagnole or any contempoary music.

Just because a technique is used in virtuoso pieces dosn't mean that it only belongs there.

Oh - and Heifetz had a great left hand pizzicato.

December 16, 2013 at 05:27 PM · Mattias, I was sure that I would be missing some better pieces that contain tenths (thereby proving what would already be obvious to anyone who has heard me play, that I have never played the Kreutzer Sonata or the Tchaikowsky Concerto). Thank goodness we have real violinists who can play these important and beautiful pieces. But for a student who has neither the inclination nor the promise to be practicing tenths in anticipation of performing those pieces is, I believe, pedagogically unwise when the time could be well spent on ordinary scales to improve the student's rendering of more ordinary literature.

And I'm glad you said Heifetz has great LH pizzicato, because I think it sounds like the silly parlor trick that it is, so if he's an exemplar of this technique (as he is of every other technique) then my point is proven that the whole idea of LH pizzicato is flawed from the outset. If Heifetz was great at playing on the strings between his bridge and his tail piece, or if Sarasate wrote pieces that included playing ones strings there, neither would make it a good idea.

The only reason I can see to practice scales in tenths is in the hope that it would somehow make scales in octaves easier.

Now I will go back to practicing my F major three octave scale starting on G and ending on G because, after all, this scale is in the Scherzo of the Spring Sonata.

December 16, 2013 at 06:35 PM · Since most violinist and composers since Paganini disagrees with you, I don't mind standing on that side :)

December 16, 2013 at 11:18 PM · And on this one, I'm with Paul. Apart from the obvious, that I'm unlikely to get the return for the effort, there is also the fact that, for all that effort, where would one get the satisfaction of performing their Tchaik or their kruetzer if they ended up playing it just well enough (as I would). I actually don't aspire to work my bum off to get really good at 10's, just to be able to perform the kruetzer with our local community orchestra ONCE. It doesn't seem worth it somehow. But I will gladly spend my remaining days trying like blazes to get a beautiful handel or corelli sonata that uses regular 2-3 octaves, arps, and intervals.

What was the original topic again :0

December 17, 2013 at 02:54 AM · Mattias, I respect your opinion, truly I do. I will also stipulate that violinists and violin teachers everywhere will swear up and down that Sarasate and Paganini are important composers of beautiful music, thereby conceding the majority opinion to you.

But try this experiment -- have a conversation about favorite composers of violin music with a serious classical music-lover who has never undertaken musical training himself or herself. I bet Sarasate doesn't come up very often. And when the Tchaik comes up, I bet they will mention the second movement as often as the others. I can listen to pieces like the Debussy Sonata or the Dumky Trio or the Bach A Minor Concerto or the Donhanyi Piano Quintet again and again and again, without ever tiring of them. Sarasate or Wieniawski show pieces don't retain the same freshness -- for me. I just find that they don't have as much soul.

December 17, 2013 at 04:15 AM · Greetings,

I think this was answered to some extent by the recent Ehnes blog about the disappearance of violinistic works from the concert program.



December 17, 2013 at 04:37 AM · Link to that, Buri?

December 17, 2013 at 07:12 AM · Greetings,



December 17, 2013 at 02:45 PM · Thanks Buri, I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that these pieces (Sarasate, Paganini, etc.) make great encores.

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