Paganini misunderstood

December 4, 2018, 6:41 PM · People say that Paganini is just showmusic, or that it's impossible to listen to Paganini for pleasure...
I say that there's just been nobody capable of playing Paganini truly to the spirit of the man who wrote the music!
While some of his works are just showpieces, much of it is actually beautiful music. The artist just has to know how to coax it out. For example, the caprices. Almost everyone plays them focused entirely on the technical aspect, and, as a result, you have dry, screechy performances that are both boring and tastelessly gaudy. The only person who I think ever did the caprices their due justice was Markov (and he did it all in one concert, no less). If Paganini played his music as robotically and hamfistedly as most modern-day violinists do, he would have been laughed off the stage. His music deserves the respect of being called music.

Everyone seems to think that Paganini only ever wrote 31 pieces, too: 6 concerti, Moses in Egypt on one string, and 24 caprices he never performed. If that was his entire lineup, he never would have become as famous as he did... There is so much more to Paganini than people think. If you played some of his solo guitar work for the average violinist, they'd never guess who wrote it. It sounds nothing like his "best hits".

Replies (65)

Edited: December 4, 2018, 7:41 PM · funny enough, i have exactly 31 violin pieces by Paganini on my shelf, excluding the 24 caprices and works for violin & guitar.

and some more on my iPad...

December 4, 2018, 7:47 PM · Paganini is basically Rossini, but writing for violin rather than writing operas. His writing is much more in the Italian operatic tradition.
December 4, 2018, 9:12 PM · The most beautiful Paganini caprice performances I have heard have been Augustin Hadelich. I don't think I even remembered to breathe the last time.
December 4, 2018, 11:53 PM · What Lydia said!!!
Edited: December 4, 2018, 11:56 PM · Who says it's just showmusic? Never heard anyone dispute that it has real character, even if it is used as etudes.
Edited: December 5, 2018, 9:00 AM · Paganini's violin and guitar duets alone run into three figures. A fair number of these are short 2-movement sonatas composed for his high-born lady pupils of the Court of Lucca, and are well within the reach of most amateurs, provided they are prepared to put in the required work. The format of these sonatas is an opening adagio or andante reminiscent of an Italian opera aria (Paganini was an opera buff, as well as being the leading guitarist of the day), the second movement is a lively dance piece, some of which are evidently based on folk dances or songs of the period.

There is a 9-CD collection of Paganini's violin-guitar compositions by Bianchi and Preda.

Edited: December 5, 2018, 4:50 AM · First piece of classical vinyl I ever bought was Maurice Hasson playing Paganini 1 and Prokofiev 2. I always loved both equally. There's plenty of powerful emotion and lyricism in Paganini 1, especially in the slow movement, and I agree with everything Lydia says and those who extolled his lyricism in "the other thread", which I was careful not to contribute to.
Before I gave up the oboe I worked on Mozart's oboe concerto, and the third movement of that is very typical of classical concertos. Often allegretto, and oboists such as Leon Goossens say that the correct mood for it is cheekiness, which means don't play it too fast. Exactly the same thing can be said of Paganini's concertos, because he was a classical composer.
Edited: December 5, 2018, 6:45 AM · Had I the chops to play Paganini Caprices, I wouldn't spend my time squeezing blood from those turnips. A few are interesting enough to listen to more than once. But there are hundreds of compositions that are far more worthy of careful study and lifelong enjoyment. The 24 Caprices are famous simply because they're hard and because they were written by someone whose legacy is the ability to play and write things that are hard. Nobody alive today ever heard Paganini play and accounts of his interpretive powers are fourth-hand at best. I agree that the Paganini Concertos are okay pieces. Certainly better than anything written by Sarasate. They're not Brahms either, but everything doesn't have to be.
December 5, 2018, 11:31 AM · I have to pretend I like Paganini because of Violin-Stockholm-Syndrome - I'm just glad I don't play piano so I don't have to pretend I like Liszt.
December 5, 2018, 11:34 AM · Hey—Liszt's 12 transcendental etudes are masterpieces. Beautiful works.
I'll admit I don't like much of his other stuff, though.
Edited: December 5, 2018, 12:59 PM · Oh, wow, why that back stab to Sarasate for free, Paul?

I've heard myself, first person, that Paganini is not "real" music, from a semi-professional musician friend of mine, who happens to be a composer. He said there's no value in his music, he says it's "the rock and pop music of classical music". To add more drama, popular culture define Paganini as "the first rock star".

Any random person that has zero knowledge in music (should I say "real" music), that doesn't even appreciate classical music, probably knows about Paganini. That evil violinist who sold his soul to the devil. The "Michael Jackson" of classical music, the best violinist in the world, the violinist that composed the "hardest" pieces ever...
You know, popular culture calling Paganini names.

I think, once again, that the problem is his popularity. Classical musicians normally don't like it when non-classical listeners tell us about how great this or that classical musician/composer is. It's like when one of your friends tells you that Beethoven is amazing, simply because they just listened to the 5th symphony. Sorry, just the 1st movement of the 5th, of course. We don't like to be "enlightened" or "lectured" about our own matter by someone we certainly know that know nothing about that matter.

Many guitar rock stars have covered Paganini, he's well known in the popular media, he's portrayed as "the first rock star". It's the same as Beethoven's Moonlight sonata... why do you think many pianists say that they don't like the Moonlight sonata?
I think the core is exactly the same. Anything that connects or is used as a bridge from one group to another, is "hated" or "relegated" by the original group. Same reason rock fans "hate" Metallica, it's a group that is well known by pop fans, group that never want to be linked to.

Anyways, I really, really love Paganini, and I agree, very few violinists know how to pay tribute to his music. Happened to me the other day. I attended to a concert of a very famous orchestra and director, I was so happy because they were going to play Beethoven, and I ended up a little upset because it was not that good, I enjoyed it like 50% of what I know I can enjoy that piece. I think the conductor was not good at conducting Beethoven, although they played other pieces and I liked them so much more.

Paganini is very difficult to play, not just technically, but also musically. It's hard to make that music sound perfect, enchanted and sublime. It's really easy to play Paganini sloppy, way too slow or way too fast. Paganini changed the whole game for the violin, that's for sure. To sum up, I enjoy a lot Paganini, one of the greatest. I don't like to compare him to Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms or any other composer, just like I don't compare Mozart to Beethoven, analyzing who's superior.

You think Paganini's music is heart-less and meaning-less?
OK, that's fine if you think that, let me tell you I disagree 100%.

December 5, 2018, 4:34 PM · For me, Paganini, Vieuxtemps, and Wieniawski represent the "best" the violin can do musically, pushed to the extreme. While many composers took some of the virtuosic elements found in their music and adapted them to their own, "more mature", and much better regarded Concerti, not even later violinist-composers reached such an epitome of violin writing AND playing. These artists were authentic musical geniuses, especially Paganini and Vieuxtemps.

The semi-professional, envious composer cited above has no idea of what he/she talks about. Doubt that person could write a violin concerto better than, say, Paganini's 4th cto.

(Also love Spohr, but he's another aesthetic altogether.)

December 5, 2018, 5:21 PM · his music is not misunderstood - it is so darn difficult to play that, by the time you master it, you forget was was the point of playing it!
He was a good friend of Rossini and Rossini's influence, at least as far as orchestration is concerned, is obvious.
December 5, 2018, 5:43 PM · There's got to be some reason why so many composers wrote variations, etc. on Paganini themes!
Edited: December 5, 2018, 6:02 PM · Mr. Rokos,

They loved pop music! Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, et. al. just loved rock stars. (Absurd, isn't it?)

To all Rossini's comments above-just listen to Paganini's 3rd Violin Concerto and compare it to any Rossini opera. As I am not a "true" opera buff and as such can love whatever I like, Rossini is my favorite opera composer, especially the non-opera buffa works. His Mose "oratorio" (opera) is entirely brilliant, and worthy of Paganini's admiration. They were friends, I believe, and Paganini knew how to sing quite well with his beloved instrument.

On Liszt-his piano works are among my favorites for thr instrument, be it orchestral or fun, salon pieces. His transcriptions are both beautiful and amazing.

(Indeed, any "serious music lover" wouldn't think much of me, but then why should I care? Still, I believe much worthy music was written by all of these above composers that go above and beyond technical wizardry.)

Edited: December 5, 2018, 8:51 PM · Most of us have this notion that the best violinists can play the hardest pieces. That's the role of Mr. Paggy, to provide a challenge. Some of the most beautiful music are actually easy to play. Canon in D, Appalachian Spring, The Planets,...etc.

The Four Seasons is probably the most notorious piece out there. And playing Mozart WELL is very hard to do.

Edited: December 5, 2018, 8:54 PM · and yes, Paggy is show music. He even tilts his violin to the floor so the audience can SEE him play.

And Paggy's tunes don't sound bad. Many of the caprices are fun to listen to. You want weird? Try Bartok and Ysaye.

Edited: December 5, 2018, 10:49 PM · Liszt's B minor sonata is good. Its not a showpiece. And I'll listen to Hadelich on Mary Ellen's recommendation.
December 6, 2018, 6:15 AM · Why would he compose 24 caprics for show and never play them? To frame and hang in his bedroom?
Every artist had some showpieces, because audiences liked that stuff. But you can't just say "Paganini is showmusic" because he wrote more salon stuff than music for the stage.
Edited: December 6, 2018, 6:30 AM · Cotton, you're the one who wrote that nobody's ever been capable of playing his music correctly. It's your second sentence. (Well, actually you wrote that nobody's been able to play it "truly to the spirit of the man who wrote the music," but who knows what that actually means? Maybe you can tell us.) Is Paganini the only composer of whom this is true in your estimation? Or are there still others? Why write something that nobody even in the following 200 years will be able to play properly or in the correct "spirit" or whatever?
Edited: December 6, 2018, 7:48 AM · I always thought the caprices were composed for just his students but google says he released them for other artists

Moses Fantasy, now that's a fun showpiece!

Edited: December 6, 2018, 9:10 AM · http://www.worldcat.org/title/maestro-ruggiero-ricci-the-violin-virtuoso-of-the-20th-century/oclc/174964386

Fourteen years ago, at the Chicago studio of Bein & Fushi, Ruggiero Ricci put out a multi-DVD "master class" that included one disk with Ricci's thoughts and demonstration of how "Paggy" might have held his violin vertically (side-to-side) in order to play some of the compositions that remain so difficult to play - possibly confirming what Tom wrote above.

December 6, 2018, 8:30 AM · I want to know who "these people" are who say Paganini is impossible to listen to for pleasure. I've never heard that come out of anyone's mouth.
December 6, 2018, 9:16 AM · There's music in his stage work, too. They're not all fun little bits like Moto Perpetuo.
December 6, 2018, 10:18 AM · "I want to know who "these people" are who say Paganini is impossible to listen to for pleasure. I've never heard that come out of anyone's mouth."
I know. There was always an element of paper tiger in the OP.
December 6, 2018, 11:30 AM · To be fair to OP, there are Paganini haters out there, and there were many during his time as well. In this very forum sometimes unflattering statements have been said about his musical value, and in real life I have met more than one "hater", especially among those who prefer non-romantic works, or others that always stick to the famous workhorses that, however great, often overshadow the "lesser" works that now few care about.

The "musically educated" ones are the most annoying of the hater bunch (such as the semi-pro composer cited above), because they should know better.

I can believe, however, that one never hear any complaints about Paganini-because he's rarely discussed anyway, besides the Caprices and #1 Cto often used as a sort of technical milestones among players.

Note that this "Paganini hate" is not reserved only for the Maestro, but also often aimed at most others "tainters" of "musical purity", such as Liszt, Bazzini, Ersnt, et. al. It's as if virtuosity needed to be separate from "true music". Indeed, even Berlioz is on record stating that Vieuxtemps genius as a composer was unfortunately overshadowed by his gifts as a violinist-which prevented his music to be better appreciated even during his time (nowadays, forget it; he's another "student concerto" guy.)

In short, in my strong opinion, while Paganini's Campanella Cto is no Beethoven's, it also is musically valuable, even if you never intend to tackle it yourself. The musical/technical divide extremism is a bit childish, and should not exist-it's just prose for "expert" music critics.

(There are plenty of showpieces by these composers of less musical value-true. But even then, they do have their place, and some do love them, for better or worse.)

Edited: December 6, 2018, 11:41 AM · I'm sure there are Paganini haters, in the same way that I "hate" Liszt, and much of Romantic music. Ironically, I love Liszt's version of La Campanella, although I'm not sure why Busoni felt he had to gild the lily on that one.

(I seem to be getting a lot of double postings lately)

December 7, 2018, 10:34 PM · I dont hate paganini. The term "hater" is the kind of pejorative that seems better suited to less civilized discussions such as those one might find ... elsewhere. I just feel the musical value of the 24 caprices is generally overstated. They can be played compellingly. Heifetz sometimes chose Kreutzer No. 8 as an encore too.
December 8, 2018, 2:30 AM · I love some of Paganini's Caprices. The C minor, for instance, is an achingly beautiful piece. I guess the Caprices have suffered from their status as technical hurdles a young violinist needs to surpass regardless of the inherent musicality.

I'm not familiar with Hadelich's recording; I do have James Ehnes recording on Onyx.

December 8, 2018, 2:41 AM · Beautiful as his melodies can be, I don't think you'll find much musical depth in Paganini. Contrast with Liszt who on the strength of a few great works makes it into the pantheon as "the worst of the great composers".
December 8, 2018, 3:51 AM · "the worst of the great composers" I like oxymoronic expressions like that (if that's the right adjective - what adjective derives from paraprosdokian?). In an art history book I once read "Rodin was the greatest sculptor of the 19th century, unfortunately".
Edited: December 8, 2018, 8:21 AM · Mr. Deck,

No offense was intended; apologies. Just used it as a shorthand for listeners who vehemently dislike virtuosity in classical music, save for when it's convenient for them to make exceptions to their rather purist rule. In any case, I do not oppose the strong rejection of virtuosic works on basis of personal taste, but more the propagation of misperceptions about the value of this repertoire by the "musically learned" and music criticism in general, which is often passed on to millions of musicians and music-lovers. Many of these opponents of "virtuosity for its own sake" (usually a misnomer to boot) do not really know well what they dislike, and just do because that is what a "musically respectable" individual ought to do.

Love Liszt, but I suspect that had he been a virtuoso-composer of any other instrument, perhaps his importance would have been a little more restrained. That said, the more "musical" pianists still avoid his salon showpieces and transcriptions, for the most part. He is as vital as Paganini, and was already a young virtuoso when the great violin maestro deeply impressed him. To be fair, he had also many great musical contacts, being a mainstay of the Paris scene, so it wasn't all about him being a piano virtuoso composer.

"Poor" violinists-composers are incapable of writing any consequential, real music, in the eyes of too many. I do not share this view, and am indeed a "hater" of musical intolerance, as not every piece must be Bach's Chaconne, Beethoven's violin concerto, or Brahms violin concerto in order to be deemed worthy of learning/performance at the Concert Hall.

Just in case it needed to be noted, I do not "hate" anyone in here for disliking virtuosic music. It's fine; your-hopefully-informed preference. Just dislike its disdain being the "musically agreeable consensus", depriving recital halls from many good, but "shallow" music works.

Unfortunately most performers have followed this trend. It is they who should lead the way and attempt to play these "lesser" works more often, as that is what made them better known in the past.

Edited: December 8, 2018, 7:57 AM · Adalberto, don't worry, no offense was taken. Sometimes I just feel I need to speak up if I think a discussion is about to go off the deep end. Hard to gauge when that might happen, of course. The great thing about the violin is that if you're a good enough player, you can play whatever you want. Well, if you're an amateur you can play whatever you want. If you're a pro you have to play what people will pay to hear. But it still beats driving a forklift on the night shift at WalMart. By a lot. I wish I had the goods to play professionally. Fortunately I'm good at other stuff.
December 10, 2018, 9:39 AM · Lydia got it right. Paganini's boyhood passion was Italian opera, and aesthetically that is his muse and is how to listen to his music. The drama in it has a theatrical quality.

Just listen to the opening of the 2nd Violin Concerto - It's like a curtain opening on a stage, the start of a passionate drama. The musical aesthetic of the way he writes for violin is has an operatic "aria" quality to it, and the accompaniment is like the orchestra in the pit.

In addition, I believe that Paganini was also one of the true musical "bridges" between the Classical Era and the Romantic Era. The rhapsodic emotional quality sure ain't with a focus on the forms of the Classical Era.

In addition, in terms of stage presence, Paganini was clearly the first "rock star" in a modern sense. Today's pop and rock performers are unthinkable without the impact of his stage personality a century and a half ago.

So, as a performer, keep in mind the operatic and theatrical quality of the music, aesthetically thinking of the piece (no matter how technical) as an "aria" for the violin.

But please please don't make a pact with the Devil.

Cheers,
Sandy

December 10, 2018, 10:08 AM · I'm not familiar with Hadelich's Paganini recordings either. I was fortunate enough to hear it live, from my chair onstage about fifteen feet away.
Edited: December 10, 2018, 1:16 PM · When Hadelich did, like Pag 17 or something, as an encore, the audience at the Colorado Symphony audibly deflated, since clearly they were hoping for 24. I just laughed to myself about the audience, but he played beautifully.

As far as violinist composers, I greatly prefer Wieniawski, and I tend to prefer Sarasate. Vieuxtemps is just beyond me for listening drudgery, but a lot of people have strongly advocated for his music. Ysaye is nice. Bacewicz wrote some amazing pieces, but she sort of transcended the violinist part of violinist-composer, like Mozart, and could play piano at a very high level too. I'm not really familiar with Hubay's output or Joachim's.

And Kreisler of course - What kind of monster could not like Kreisler?

I think Paul's turnip comment about sums it up for me.

December 10, 2018, 1:08 PM · Christian, I know what you mean. I went to see Yo-Yo Ma and he played "The Swan" as one of his encores. I suspect there were probably some in the audience who would have wanted their tickets refund if he hadn't.
December 10, 2018, 1:17 PM · It's gotta take some extra special kind of talent to be able to play a piece, even as beautiful as "The Swan", night after night after night and still get the feeling across.
Edited: December 10, 2018, 2:13 PM · Mr. Lesniak,

Just so happens that both Wieniawski and Sarasate's pieces (both short and long) are better known. This influences what people like/dislike-what they do know.

I do not find listening to Vieuxtemps tedious (indeed, I usually listen to at least one of his works almost daily, among other "better" composers), and would rate the 19th century violinist-composers we are discussing in this thread, on a "musical" level, as follows: Vieuxtemps, Paganini, Wieniawski, Ernst, Sarasate, Bazzini. If you follow all of Vieuxtemps Concertos (not just 2, 4, & 5-though I LOVE these as well), you'll notice how he wishes to put his own stamp on how virtuosic, singing violin music should sound like in his mind. As much as he may have emulated Paganini, he really did not sound like him at all (even his most obvious "flattery through imitation" moments still sound like Vieuxtemps.)

That said, I love Wieniawski and all the others. I may be the poster child for "bad taste" in classical music-as stated by the "learned" and my "betters", at least. We may never reach the beauty of the era of virtuoso music anymore (in your case a "plus", I suspect-in my "bad" opinion, a loss for both the concert stage and modern music lover.)

Thanks for at least appreciating the other violin masters, as not even those are respected much nowadays.

Best,

A

December 10, 2018, 5:15 PM · I mean, by that logic, people would love Sorabji if they just played him more on the radio.

I don't think you need to have a complex about liking "unsanctioned" music, or something.

Maybe I could give Vieuxtemps more of a shot, but I just don't really care for the material he is working with, even if his use of sonata form is textbook. But sometimes it takes a while to get a composer's personal language - Like I got into Medtner, but it took me a while. I understand why he isn't a big name though.

There are people that bring back older styles without even a sort of post-modern twist like Schnittke. Alma Deutscher (sp?) is a young violinist and pianist that wrote her own violin concerto, and it sounded pretty well in that tradition. Roman Kim writes firmly in that tradition.

I know that you are using "bad taste" in a tongue-in-cheek way, but it's silly when people try and shame people for not having "as refined tastes".

God, this Sorabji is just awful, though. Why am I listening to this?

December 11, 2018, 5:06 AM · The small cohort of violinist-composers is pretty insignificant alongside the legion of pianist-composers - almost all the truly "great" composers in fact. The violinist-composers were all first and foremost itinerant crowd-pleasers so it isn't entirely surprising that they didn't contribute much to the evolution of 19th or 20th century music.
December 11, 2018, 7:05 AM · Maybe the audiences only misunderstand Pag because the performers misunderstand him. I'm listening to Markov's Pag 1 at the moment, and he's too blingy for my liking.
Edited: December 11, 2018, 8:19 AM · Mr. Jones,

Disagree, but won't convince you, so it would be a waste of time to debate about mere personal opinions.

Not sure your all-inclusive generalization "ALL violinist-composers were..." comment is even factual at all, or that they saw their art that way (there's evidence to the contrary, whether you like/appreciate their music or not.) Plus there were LOTS of "itinerant crowd pleasers" in the piano world, if not more (the young Liszt being one of many who would follow that trend-though I still love his output nonetheless).


December 11, 2018, 8:17 AM · Mr. Lesniak,

If you dislike the music of his time, it would be a waste to try to force yourself to like Vieuxtemps. Some people only love baroque, others post-romantic music, others only modern works. Not saying you are that exclusivist, but Vieuxtemps is very much music of his time (to be fair, so is Beethoven's, Mozart's, etc., even if many works look ahead for what was to come.)

In his favor, he tried to put his stamp on the romantic violin virtuoso repertoire, and that he did, whether people listen to him or not nowadays. He was trying to advance concertos "beyond Paganini" in his own works, taking influences from great composers and current operatic traditions and blending them well with his own violinistic take (he clearly contradicts Mr. Jones's statement about ALL violinist-composers being "itinerant crowd pleasers".) The results may be too "transitional" or unique for some, but I believe that some of the works would compete well with the usual workhorse concertos had fate favored them better, one way or another.

Again, though, I did not mean to argue or offend you, and finding old music tedious is fine, even if I can't share the sentiment in many cases.

We have to admit, though, that were it not for these particular three violinist-composers, our violin art would not be the same: Paganini, Vieuxtemps, and Wieniawski-love them or hate them, they gave us Ysaye, Heifetz, and most of our modern violin playing.

Edited: December 11, 2018, 8:52 AM · Here's what a man of undeniable erudition has to say about Franz Liszt:

https://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/17/what-makes-franz-liszt-still-important/

Still, it's true that Liszt was also recognized as the "first rock star" and such, much like Paganini. They were cut from the same cloth. My own sense -- which I expect will be controversial in this forum -- is that the lifelong study and mastery of the piano is an intrinsically superior platform for composition. You see the harmony in front of you, and you make it work in your own hands. Among those who were primarily violinists, those with the most lasting impacts on the evolution of music, by virtue of the originality of their compositions, were probably Antonio Vivaldi and Jean Sibelius.

December 11, 2018, 8:51 AM · Wasn't Beethoven a violist?
December 11, 2018, 8:52 AM · Not primarily.
December 11, 2018, 9:04 AM · Beethoven was a pianist. His father forced him to practice violin as a child but I don't think he ever publically performed on the violin or viola.

Mozart was well-known as a violinist but he often took the viola part in family quartets.

December 11, 2018, 9:15 AM · Mr Valle-Rivera - before despairing of convincing me you might try producing some evidence - whether or not we like their music you could hardly claim that any of the violinist-composers named in this thread were composers of the calibre of Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Bartok, all of whom made their living partly as performing pianists. That leaves others like Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Mahler, Wagner, Verdi who weren't especially renowned for any instrument. And of course there were also itinerant crowd-pleasers (and less good composers) in the piano world.
December 11, 2018, 10:19 AM · In the 20th century Sibelius and Hindemith were composers who also made (or aspired to make) a career as solo fiddlers. Any others?
Edited: December 11, 2018, 10:38 AM · Something I notice is that when you look up "modern composers," even famous ones like Crumb and Ligeti, their biographical sketches often do not mention that they played any instrument whatsoever, almost as if this information was intentionally expunged from their history (perhaps to avoid silly criticisms such as "those who can't play, write" or perhaps to avoid direct comparison to other "pianist-composers" including such immortals as those listed by Steve in the previous post). For example, "[Avro] Pärt's musical education began at the age of seven when he began attending music school in Rakvere. By the time he reached his early teenage years, Pärt was writing his own compositions." No mention of what instrument he studied for the 5-6 years before he started writing. In the case of George Crumb, his bio (wikipedia) eventually comes around to the fact that he studied piano because he was a piano professor at the University of Colorado, but does not mention at all that he studied piano.

It would be interesting to ask some of the more celebrated among the living composers how they write music -- at a piano? at a computer? in their heads whilst walking in the woods? with violins, oboes, or trombones to test out how things sound?

December 11, 2018, 11:10 AM · History is not always fair. That explains why some ended up being "master composers" while others not. It's not just about the piano. There's always less good works by all composers, and were some heralded works be written by historically "lesser" composers, they likely would not be as recognized as they are today.

I am a music lover myself (as are most of you), and have found that looking for works beyond the famous workhorses to be a most life enriching experience. If we refuse to expand our horizons, we'll end up listening to to a much smaller (and much hackneyed) repertoire forever. Even some of the great composers mentioned above gave more credit to these "bad" violinist-composers than the current concert scene allows them.

Can personally listen to Beethoven AND these "horrible" composers without any shame or insult to my "musical intelligence" at all.

I think Berlioz played classical guitar, though I am sure someone would say he was not as good as Brahms as a result. Just enjoy what you like, really.

December 11, 2018, 11:34 AM · Even though Chopin was considered one of the greats, I personally do not hold him in nearly the same regard as Brahms or Tchaikovsky because Chopin wrote almost entirely for one instrument, whereas the others wrote all kinds of stuff. Was Chopin entirely incapable of writing a string quartet? Perhaps so!

I don't think anyone would say "I don't like the music of Berlioz because he wasn't a pianist." They might say that his potential as a composer might have been developed to an even higher level had he studied piano instead of guitar (or whatever he played).

Edited: December 11, 2018, 12:06 PM · Mr. Deck,

I love Chopin, and wish he had worked with a violinist of his time on a violin concerto! I believe he is one of the "greats", but is indeed a pity he did not have a more diverse output. He led a sad but interesting life, and his tendency towards pathos in his music would have suited our instrument well, had he been interested.

(I am not against pianists, and love piano. But there are good works to be found outside that "piano-composer" realm.)

On Berlioz, too bad he did not write as much for the violin as well. Love the Reverie et Caprice.

(It's also ironic how Chopin does get a pass for being mainly a PIANO-composer, whereas none of the 19th century VIOLIN-composers did, even with a more diverse repertoire.)

As far as I know, the piano has been the more popular instrument since it was created vs the violin, even to this day. Easier to learn, many homes have one where there would be no stringed instrument. That there are more piano-composers has never been a surprise to me. Indeed, it's theoretically "easier" to compose on the piano, but truly back then, both Paganini, Vieuxtemps, et. al. did study composition to a high level. Indeed, back to Chopin, these violinist-composers demonstrate more "mastery" of the orchestral format vs the famous piano master's few orchestral works with piano.

Adding more fuel to this non existent "fire', Brahms, Mendelssohn, et. al. would have not written their masterful violin concertos as we know them today witbout the assistance of the great violinists of the day. Often non-violinist master composers wrote awkwardly for the violin, not being "naturals" (even when Mendelssohn did play violin as a youngster, he "needed" David's assistance to finish his perfect concerto in E minor.)

Best wishes to all. Enjoy your music, great or otherwise.

December 11, 2018, 12:57 PM · Adalberto I agree with you very thoroughly. However "studying composition to a high level" is no guarantee of creativity. In this regard the one violin concerto by Mendelssohn is better than the two by Paganini, which in turn are both better than all 29 of Viotti. Mr. Viotti also wrote string quartets but they're violin concertos with string accompaniment. Haydn blew him away.
December 11, 2018, 1:58 PM · I've spent a long time investigating dozens, even hundreds of forgotten composers on IMSLP, thinking "surely there's got to be at least one undiscovered genius here?". Unfortunately so far it appears posterity got it pretty well right. There's a huge difference between inspiration and workmanlike competence. Sometimes people that are initially praised to the skies get rea-praised (e.g. Spohr, cue indignant reaction) but seldom does it go the other way.
December 11, 2018, 2:31 PM · Mr. Jones,

Always the belligerent one, and just trolling at this point. Just let us enjoy music, while you only listen to the "masters", looking down on our poor taste.

December 11, 2018, 3:36 PM · I don't see Steve as trolling at all.

I can go and appreciate a Viotti Concerto, having studied two of them. They, and a lot of works, I look at as transitional. I can appreciate that Vieuxtemps did a lot of formal innovations and was trying to marry viruosic writing to some architecture, but it doesn't touch me, and I kind of categorize it with stuff like Berlioz, which just doesn't touch me at all, but was probably pretty revolutionary stuff at the time. I studied Vieuxtemps 2, and I honestly couldn't remember any of it now. Wagner and Liszt were doing some pretty formally revolutionary things at the time, and I just don't get any of their music, even though they are still quite popular.

I think there are some underappreciated composers that may see reappraisals, and if Mahler gets played by every orchestra every season, even though I find it to just be tedious music that needs to be interpreted in some sort of post-modern "ironic" vein to be considered good, then there is space for other composers to be reconsidered. Oh great Mahler, you decided to score this for standard orchestra with breaking some plates on the ground, jangling some keys in front of a baby's face, shooting a canon into a pool full of jello, seven harps, a choir of Tuvan Throat Singers, spoons and a flexatone? Genius! What unconventionally beautiful timbres! Your symphonies really do contain the world!

A lot of this is just taste, and a lot of taste in music is conditioning, in that we are conditioned to certain musical structures, or cadences or other conventions.

On Chopin, take a listen to the cello sonata without someone telling you who the composer and I defy to be able to place it as Chopin. It just doesn't sound idiomatic like his piano writing. I'm sure Chopin could've gotten there with some time, but I don't think he found his voice on other instruments like, say, Schumann did.

December 11, 2018, 3:49 PM · I don't think Steve is trolling either, and I agree with him.
December 11, 2018, 5:23 PM · "De gustibus non est disputandum."

For this thread, it's more like "De dustibus erat demonstratum."

Edited: December 11, 2018, 10:01 PM · Paganini is well-known for a respectable, if somewhat small, oeuvre of well-written violin compositions. He largely spent his time traveling in search of fame and gold and wrote "visually" striking music with both in mind. I agree with the original poster: observe Markov to "see" what hearing Paganini must have been like, especially Markov's interpretation of the pizz. in Caprice 24. Had Paganini paused in his ceaseless travels and composed for composition's sake, we might have had a good deal more first-rate works to enjoy.

(NB: I love the entire set of Accardo playing him; but with humor and honesty listen to the voluminous disks that Archiv has released for the lesser side of the Maestro.)

Edited: December 12, 2018, 2:09 AM · Thanks for the support Christian and Mary Ellen. Please note, Adalberto, that I'm not criticising you or your taste. I spend far more time listening to music that I don't know, don't like or don't get than the great masters, just out of curiosity. Some of my "pet" composers are small fry pretty well unknown to most music-lovers. Amongst the bigger fish I happen to love Berlioz but I certainly wouldn't say I'm right about that and Christian wrong. Although assuming to like is a more pleasureable emotion than to dislike, the "likers" are always the winners and the dislikers losers.
December 13, 2018, 1:17 AM · I bought the Markov double CD (concertos 1 & 2 and all 24 caprices live) last week. Hated his version of 1, listened to 2 passively, but was surprised that I liked his caprices. Initially I assumed his playing of 1 was just ostentation, but now I suppose it's just his honest interpretation of it, albeit one that I disagree with. I still prefer Hasson's, but I'm coming to terms with Markov. I'm probably just far too familiar with conc 1. I'll give conc 2 a closer listen, since I'm totally unfamiliar with it.
Edited: December 13, 2018, 3:38 PM · Mr. Jones,

"Cue indignant reaction"; had you not added that inflammatory statement about Spohr-who is not even a "virtuoso violinist" in the post-Paganini tradition, I am most certain I would not have stated the above. I had already mentioned near the beginning of this thread that I respected his output, so it seemed to me as a needless "challenge"-being contrarian to incite a debate.

(Kudos to you for liking whichever composer you like. I would not insult you for liking so-called "minor" composers.)

Whether people disagree or not with what I like, it matters not to me. I love both popular and unpopular composers. My main qualm about all of this is that a limited knowledge of the repertoire-a "best of the best" list-makes for a very limited modern concert experience. I definitely love the Tchaikovsky vln cto (even the hackneyed piano Tchai 1st!) but I do not feel to drawn to another Tchai vln cto unless it's a soloist I would go out of my way to listen to.

All "serious music" programmes tend to be seriously unexciting to me. There's lot of great music within the "best if the best" repertoire, but it's not as if that's all there is for classical music. "Less is more" is not my cup of tea regarding the repertoire.

In any case, I hate needless debates so enjoy your holidays and forget I even exist. Enjoy your music.

December 13, 2018, 11:18 PM · I worked on Spohr No. 2 for a while. I found the composition too formulaic, but it was a fun technical challenge. Certainly as interesting as Viotti or de Beriot.


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