Obscure Composers

October 29, 2013 at 07:07 PM · I am writing a book on Obscure Composers. May I ask: who is your favorite (or favorites). And why?

Replies (53)

October 30, 2013 at 12:21 AM · John Field! His nocturnes are so lovely!

October 30, 2013 at 12:38 AM · Also Louis-Moreau Gottschalk (have anyone listened to his grand fantasy over the brazilian anthem? That chills me, and I sware that's not causa I'm brazilian) and Darius Milhaud

October 30, 2013 at 01:21 AM · John field actually invented the nocturne. A good composer would be Viotti as he is only known for 2 peices and is very good with a very large undiscovered but awesome repertoire . Plus he was considered during his time as the most famous living violinist (until paganini ruined it for him). He had also a very interesting life as well as being one of the first superstars to use strads.

October 30, 2013 at 07:19 AM · Piotr Zak. Only one known composition, which was performed live on the BBC's old Third Programme many years ago.

Famous for embarrassing music critics who discussed the piece on air after the performance. At the end of the learned discussion it was revealed by the programme's producer that "Piotr Zak" was no more than an anonymous studio technician who randomly banged away on a collection of percussion instruments for a few minutes - an improvisation, so a legitimate composition.

I do not remember the year, but the date is still clear in my mind - April 1.

October 30, 2013 at 10:35 AM · Big thanks to all the early responders here. Wonderful suggestions. I found more on the extremely 'obscure' Polish composer Zak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piotr_Zak.

Extremely entertaining story. Thanks again. JS

October 30, 2013 at 10:46 AM · Well, I did get the date wrong, and there were two performers - but it was over 50 years ago, so that's my excuse. But for those who don't mind having their ears bent, here is the original broadcast now on YouTube (referenced from the Wikipedia article):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6maWI85kSxU

October 30, 2013 at 02:17 PM · As a violist, York Bowen and Cecil Forsyth would be my suggestions! Both have been getting some attention now that more and more people are playing viola, but I would say their names are not well known at all outside the viola world. Bowen wrote excellent piano, flute, and orchestral pieces besides his viola concerto and sonatas.

October 30, 2013 at 05:17 PM · My all-time favorite is Earle Brown. I once attended a concert in which one of his works was played.

The program notes said that the composer took inspiration from John Cage, and I remember this prompting me to trade a worried look with my brother who sat next to me. They went on to specify that however Brown did not believe that chance should have full say-so in the performance, so the composer actually wrote down a few notes on the score.

The piece consisted of some weird slides and seemingly unorganized noises ("are they still tuning?") including in some points banging the bow against the music stand.

After the performace I went to take a look at the score to see how all of this was put on paper and it was most enlightening. I distinctly remember an annotation: "da capo al fine, or maybe not".

I will remember this concert for my whole life not least because after the first note my brother and I had the most memorable giggle fit, which we had to suppress (with extreme difficulty and over several minutes) in order to not disrupt other listeners' pleasure.

October 30, 2013 at 05:22 PM · BIG thanks to Victor and Dimitri.....JS

October 30, 2013 at 05:54 PM · have you heard of Alexander Masalov? He's a Russian who isn't well known in the west. I think he is known in Russia

I've always loved this piece. It sounds like an iron factory, and that is what it is supposed to sound like.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jmcMyhMRxU

October 30, 2013 at 08:52 PM · Asger Hamerik - 7 fine symphonies and various other works.

October 30, 2013 at 10:06 PM · Saliari should be considered. Everyone know who he is, but no one knows his music.

October 30, 2013 at 10:46 PM · Wow-- probably more obscure composers worth mentioning than known ones! Galina Ustvolskaya was student of Shostakovich, Ernst Krenek for his amazing 12-tone compositions, Wells Hively for "Icarus", Cecil Burleigh whos violin music is hauntingly beautiful, Sorabji, and Moses Pergament. Frank Zappa's classical music is every bit as good as the modern "masters",full of wit and humor but never inacessable. Andras Szollosy- modern Hungarian composer creates profound combinations of modern sounds.

October 31, 2013 at 01:02 AM · BIG THANKS to Delmar, Phil, Marty, and Evan for, respectively, Mossolov, and Hamerik, (who I have been listening to), Salieri (whom I have already included), and the list of eight from Evan, which I will research. Thanks again, much appreciated!

October 31, 2013 at 01:56 AM · I'd be surprised if anyone could really have a FAVOURITE obscure composer. I'm sure none of us has a list of obscure composers and picks a favourite from that list. But some of us have obscure composers whom we think ought to be better known. I agree about the quality of York Bowen (My teacher told me the Americans thought so much of him that she thought they named a town after him. I haven't found that town), but is he that obscure? There is now a York Bowen Society.

There is a Swedish composer whose quartet we once played and liked - it had an extremely serene quality about it - I might come across it again when I get the music down from the loft and let you know the name.

I played in Leonard Salzedo's variations on La Follia (I think that's how he spelled it) when very young; while not so impressed, I still remember the beginning of one variation and would be interested to hear the whole work again.

J Frederick Bridge, Cyril V Taylor and Kenneth G Finlay deserve to be remembered long term for "Spean", "Abbots Leigh", and "Ayrshire", respectively.

David Cullen's boyhood opera was quite impressive.

The snippet I heard of Karen Kachaturian's first symphony was sufficiently impressive for me to edit his Wikipedia entry.

October 31, 2013 at 07:44 PM · Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944). A fairly prolific English composer, professionally trained, most of whose works are now rarely performed.

Her compositions include a sonata for violin and piano, and a concerto for the unusual combination of violin and French horn, which some years later reappeared as a trio for violin, horn and piano.

A small part of her output consists of several string quartets and quintets, some of which are still performed. Little of her music is currently on IMSLP, probably because of IMSLP's copyright rules, but there you can find a string quartet, a string quintet, and the cello sonata.

October 31, 2013 at 07:58 PM · John and Trevor, THANK YOU! Appreciated!

November 1, 2013 at 12:15 AM · Re John Rokos mention of the Swedish composer...was it perhaps Lars Erik Larsson? Another one of my favorites. His symphonic works are excellent. Has his own style, not unlike Sibelius, or Pfitzner, but very distinctive melodies, and traditional harmonies.

November 1, 2013 at 12:56 AM · Edmund Rubbra.

Listen to his string quartets and you will inevitably ask yourself: how is it possible that we seldom hear about him?

November 1, 2013 at 02:10 AM · With Trevor's mention of Ethel Smyth, whose Suffragettes' March is well known (I also played in her D-minor Mass in my teens - can only remember the first two bars), I could mention Arthur Benjamin, whose Jamaican Rhumba is well known. But his oboe concerto is well worth our attention.

A few weeks ago, in an Oxfam shop, for the first time in some fifty years I heard something by Edmund Rubbra; his Farnaby Suite was being piped as muzak (I don't know whether you'd call Giles Farnaby an obscure composer, but I think he was pretty good too, amateur though he was. Which reminds me of the time I was invited at work to give a centrifuge, which was "virginal", its first use; of course I couldn't resist the temptation to say that like I'd always thought it was a "Spin it").

November 1, 2013 at 05:36 PM · How about two rather obscure composers that wrote exceptionally popular works that everyone knows?

One is Vittorio Monti, who wrote "Czardas", and Richard Addinsell, aka the fake Rachmaninov, who wrote "Warsaw Concerto".

November 1, 2013 at 06:29 PM · I recently 'discovered' Joachim Raff...

It seems that only one of his pieces is still popular, despite his popularity as a composer while he was alive. I ordered his Six Morceaux...I just like it. I haven't accessed more of his works...but it's on my to-do list...

November 2, 2013 at 03:04 AM · Ignaz Pleyel is worthy if interest. His Opus 2 quartets are on YouTube and IMSLO has Opus 1 which are quite accessible for an intermediate group.

Mozart admired this student of Haydn who want on to be a publisher, piano builder and impresario.

November 2, 2013 at 03:55 AM · dvarionas

November 2, 2013 at 06:28 AM · Greetings,Greetings,

of course it`s your book and you are just researching at the moment but, I couldn`t help feeling that your use of just one category `obscure` is too vague and might even limit the kind of input you get. What do you mean by obscure? It can be either `hard to understand` or `unknown, out of sight etc.` The answers you have got so far reflect this confusion.

Brain not at best right now, but already very different sub-categories have cropped up.

1) Modern works that are unknown to most because nobody cares about them very much. (Cage, Earle Brown, my cat`s arse)

2) Violinist composers who are well known only to violinsts.Viotti was cited. Yes, only two of his concertos are familiar to most violinists. I have used more than that and I use his duets of which there are many. The 22nd concerto was loved by Brahms and Kreisler and therefore used to be much better known to a wider violin concert audience perhaps than now.

So this actually raises the question `obscure to whom? Violinists or violin aficionados?

If you want to talk about these kind of works then the list is endless. De beriot, Kreutzer, Lipinski and a million other very fine violinist composers.

3) Then there are composers who are known, of whom certain works get an airing but are not standard repertoire in this day and age. Charles Ives is a good example. He might even be considered obscure by both definitions to some people. Symphony number 4 is, in my opinion , a masterpiece. But other great works by him that both the public and most violinists don`t know are his exquisite violin sonatas. Note that Hilary hahn took these on tour a few years back but how many other people took up her inspired gauntlet and started to program them? Do they count as obscure?

4) The Elliot Carter Quartets are among the greatest quartets ever written in my book but are they obscure in the sense the average concert goer and violinist has never heard them and would not necessarily be interested in going to a concert of them, because of their obscurity?......

5) Then there are works by composers whose names are instantly recognizable to the concert going public but whose works almost never appear on concert programs because of a) cost of parts (Takemistu) b) lack of imagination c) lack of time and resources and d) dare one say , prejudice. Falla (La Vida Breve) Villa Loboz etc.

6) The violin repertoire has a peculiar habit of throwing up composers who are only known for one work as well. Zarzycki Mazurka is still standard rep. But is the composer obscure ?

Tongue in cheek, one might have included Bruch on this list in the past.

7) Then there are forgotten composers whose works are perhaps never played but suddenly pop up. A good example is Colerdige Taylor who wrote an excellent violin sonata. His violin concerto I think was discussed in the Strad recenlty and has been championed by some progressive and intelligent violinist. Probably Rachel Barton Pine. But the violin sonata is worth studying.

So what kind of categories might you end up with?

Famous composer`s obscure works.

Obscure composer`s famous works.

Obscure composer`s obscure works.

Obscurity by location.

Deserved obscurity

Obscure except to violinists.

obsfucation.

And so on?

Cheers,

Burp

November 2, 2013 at 10:08 AM · Here is one that could be very interesting. He is not obscure but forgotten. He was younger then Mozart and has an interesting story. He wrote quite a few nice pieces and was a great violin player.

His name is Joseph Boulogne Chevalier de Saint Georges, son of a noble French and a slave in Guadeloupe. He was educated in France where he had a great reputation as a fearless swordsman as well as a violin virtuoso and great composer that until the French revolution.

Here is a link to some of his violin concertos.

from his second violin concerto:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pM3wUccqJM

another link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVwcauqLw7Y

Cheers

Claude

November 2, 2013 at 01:40 PM · Perhaps they are more well known than I realize but two names I recently discovered come to mind. A.B. Bruni and Jan kalivoda.

November 2, 2013 at 01:48 PM · I would say the following are rather "obscure" composers since I rarely hear their music performed. I list these three as they transitioned the classical to the romantic periods in ways I very much like - the ways in which Franz Schubert excelled.

1) Mauro Giuliani

2) Johann N. Hummel

3) Ludwig (Louis) Spohr

November 3, 2013 at 12:32 AM · Greetings,

Hummel is great. The paino trios are very fine indeed and are finding there way back onto the map these days. The Spohr concertos seem to be very neglected these days which is odd since Gezangscena used to be standard repertoire at recitals in the first hald of the 20c. Funny thing, it was hilary Hahn who again reocrded it in recent years. I am beginnign to form an image of her as quite a champion of neglected repertoire,

Cheers,

Buri

November 3, 2013 at 03:55 AM · Arvo Part

YMS

November 4, 2013 at 07:17 PM · Buri, indeed Hilary Hahn seems an adventurous spirit. Her Ives recording is lovely. And I'm glad you mentioned Spohr, I am working on the No. 2 Spohr concerto (and finding it quite a challenge).

One thing about the Spohr No. 2 -- the opening melodic line seems to have been kind of trumped or superseded by the Bruch concerto, they are quite similar and I wonder if that has something to do with the rarity of performance of the Spohr.

And ... if you know the old song "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" I find I cannot listen to either the Bruch or the Spohr No. 2 without thinking of that song.

November 6, 2013 at 11:48 PM · Greetings,

the latest blog from Germany reminded me of some fantastic works I had completely forgotten about. The Reger unaccompanied violin sonatas. I think that should be part of the standard repertoire and would urge all serious players to at ve a long hard look at theme

cheers,

Buri

November 7, 2013 at 01:58 AM · I think the Reger unaccompanied VIOLA suites are better known.

November 7, 2013 at 07:39 AM · Depending on your definition, I would nominate George Crumb - I find his music fascinating (the little I've heard) - 'Echoes of time and the river' is so evocative! Also the mention of Carter and his quartets reminds me that Peter Maxwell Davies has written several, plus a violin concerto and numerous works for orchestra, chamber ensemble etc. Some of them more approachable than others, but although he is a well-known name (at least in Britain) very little of his music seems to have found its way into the regular concert repertoire.

Boris Blacher? A very entertaining set of variations on 'The' Paganini caprice and some interesting string quartets, including a set of variations on a C major chord (I think - can't find the CD at the moment).. Andrez Panufnik - more popular 20-30 years ago and probably deserves to be better known......

November 12, 2013 at 05:27 AM · I am writing a book on the compositions for concertante violin written in the 20th century which will include ALL works by all composers. The well known, the obscure to the unknown and forgotten ones. So take a look at it when it has been published.

Best,

Tobias

December 2, 2013 at 02:46 AM · I once heard a recording of a quartet by John Foulds playing in a record store. It made me want to hear more, but I never have.

Repin recorded a very attractive violin concerto by Nikolai Myaskovsky.

Spohr isn't exactly obscure, but in addition to composing a number of violin concertos (as Buri mentioned), he raised the violin duet to a new level of musical excellence.

December 2, 2013 at 05:50 AM · Greetings,

miaskovsky....

used to play that concerto.

don't remember much stout it now though.....

probably old age

cheers,

Buri

December 2, 2013 at 07:06 AM · I found a website where you can listen to his music.

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/john-foulds-mn0001631530 Enjoy!

December 2, 2013 at 07:50 AM · There are some obscure composers who post on violinist.com.

(no names, no pack drill).

All depends on just HOW obscure you want !!

December 2, 2013 at 01:05 PM · As others have remarked, fame and obscurity are relative, but I would nominate the late Renaissance composer, Gesualdo. His harmonies are amazingly bold and surprising.

Claude mentioned Chevalier de St. George. There is a biography about him, and I wrote cadenzas to one of his concertos. (I guess that makes me an obscure cadenza composer to an obscure composer!)

Then there is the popular student concerto by an otherwise obscure composer - Accolay. I have some good reference works, but never found any info about him. There is a rumor that it is a pen name for Vieuxtemps.

December 2, 2013 at 01:28 PM · There are people who majored on other things, but whose compositions still get sung or played. Music publishers Litolff and Nägeli; Instrument manufacturer Clementi (ENORMOUS influence on Beethoven). Astronomer Herschel. Monarchs H Tudor, F Hohenzollern. Perhaps add to this list later.

December 3, 2013 at 02:20 PM · Joseph Achron's "Hebrew Melody" still enjoys some popularity (thanks principally to Heifetz), but his other works have pretty much faded into obscurity. What stands out in the "Hebrew Melody" is not just the plaintive melody itself, but the beautiful impressionistic accompaniment (especially in the version with piano), somewhere between Debussy and Berg--maybe closer to Berg than to Debussy. Achron is an obscure composer I would like to hear more of.

December 10, 2013 at 04:17 PM · Wonderful comments all .....

December 14, 2013 at 12:38 AM · Wow, I forgot: W.H.Jude!!! With a name like that, he's GOT to be obscure!

December 19, 2013 at 09:03 PM · I am really impressed by the passion and erudition of everyone who posted here, and surely am indebted to each of you. Many, many thanks. Thanks, too, to Laurie, who keeps us in community. It is really an inexhaustible research, this thing "Obscure Composers", and infinitely rewarding to me as I know it is to you. The book is on Amazon now, (at some 350 pages, enough said for now), and those who posted here or wrote me will find your names in the acknowledgement section. But we don't end here; I think for me it will be a continuous project and lifetime labor of love. Wish each of you the best, and please, insofar as anything occurs to you to post, let's keep the discussion going...

December 19, 2013 at 10:26 PM · Donald Keats, String Quartets (especially #1). Mr. Keats was on the music faculty when I was in college decades ago. His String Quartet #1 (which I'm most familiar with) is absolutely beautiful.

December 22, 2013 at 02:32 PM · Cool! And Congrats! :D

January 31, 2014 at 09:53 PM · Here's a not so well-known composer who originates from New Zealand; Arnold Trowell. One of his works was performed recently in France and here's a clip of that performance; Arnold Trowell performed by La Follia (Alsace Chamber Orchestra)

January 31, 2014 at 11:11 PM ·

January 31, 2014 at 11:40 PM · I really really love the music of Dora Pejacevic. Her work reminds me a lot of Faure. Happily a few of her compositions are on Youtube. Highly recommended stuff.

February 1, 2014 at 12:12 AM · Bill mentioned John Foulds. His Keltic Lament was a very popular piece when I was a boy.

April 11, 2014 at 03:41 PM · Just wanted to say: gave a shout out to violinist.com, this board, in our recent WOSU radio interview, and in the book, to near each of you who contributed by name. You can read a transcript of the radio interview at sarkett.blogspot.com, or hear it at sarkett.com/oc. WOSU Classical Columbus (Ohio) and WFMT Classical Chicago both employed "Obscure Composers" as a spring pledge drive premium. Thank you again for sharing your ideas....I am working on an expanded volume, and will check in here for more ideas from you....

April 11, 2014 at 06:09 PM · There is a class of obscure composers that hasn't been mentioned here and one may not even be able to name them. These are the composers who sold their compositions to better-known composers, who then published them under their own names and of course owned the copyright. As far as I know, this did not happen with serious, i.e., classical music (Occasionally in special circumstances a classical composer might publish another composer's work as his own, as, for instance, when the other composer was his wife or sister, the motive then being to protect her feminine modesty (e.g., Bach and Mendelssohn) and another might publish his own under the name of another composer (e.g., Kreisler), but the practice was rare), but I'm pretty sure it happened with "light music", particularly in the UK before the 1960s. I don't think this was entirely unethical: The obscure composer needed the money fairly quickly, getting the work published under the name of a well-known composer would guarantee a sale, and that kind of music was seen more as a commodity than as the serious production of the original composer - Indeed some such (e.g., interpreters of classical music) might not have wished to become known as composers of light music. I have been told of one person who composed "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window" (initially for an opera he abandoned), "Sailing By", and "The Dam Busters March", etc., and sold them to the composers as whose compositions they are now known. He was also a serious conductor who would ghost for better known conductors when making recordings in the early days, having studied their interpretation (when the recording companies couldn't trust the latter not to overrun the recording capacity through unscheduled changes in tempo. Sir Adrian Boult was an exception who could be trusted to keep to time, and this may explain why comparison of his recordings with those of his contemporaries gives a different impression to what people had to say about their relative merits at the time).

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