Author Topic: How do we get composers out of obscurity?  (Read 2860 times)

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Offline Maestro267

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How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« on: December 30, 2017, 04:55:27 AM »
Just reading an article about a little-known composer, Joseph Marx, and it's scattered with quotes from a major figure in music, Riccardo Chailly, lamenting his obscurity among music lovers. This happens a lot, where fans of a composer's music will say that that music should be more well-known, that if it was presented to the masses, it would go down well. And how many of these composers have had a sustained boost in popularity in recent years? It probably hasn't really happened since Bernstein championed Mahler's music and helped push that into the standard repertoire, where it very much remains to this day.

Basically, there's a lot of talk and very little action. Saying you wish this composer or that composer could be better known/have more performances of their music, is all well and good, but we actually need the people in power to do something about it! And not just a token performance to shut people up; grant them token recognition on an anniversary.

So, people, what can we actually DO, rather than just saying words, to push composers' cases for being better appreciated by people?

Offline Jo498

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2017, 05:03:01 AM »
That Mahler was obscure before the 60s is mostly a myth but there are a bunch of baroque (and before) composers and pieces that were pretty obscure in the 1950s and 60s and have become almost standard repertoire at least on discs, sometimes with dozens of recordings. E.g. lots of Monteverdi and Purcell, Vivaldi, some Biber etc.
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Offline Mahlerian

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2017, 05:06:58 AM »
That Mahler was obscure before the 60s is mostly a myth

Well, he wasn't obscure in the sense of completely unknown, but he was neither popular nor widely respected, and his music was not very often played.

but there are a bunch of baroque (and before) composers and pieces that were pretty obscure in the 1950s and 60s and have become almost standard repertoire at least on discs, sometimes with dozens of recordings. E.g. lots of Monteverdi and Purcell, Vivaldi, some Biber etc.

The revival of pre-Baroque music may also be cited here, as the same applies even more there.
"l do not consider my music as atonal, but rather as non-tonal. I feel the unity of all keys. Atonal music by modern composers admits of no key at all, no feeling of any definite center." - Arnold Schoenberg

Offline Jo498

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2017, 07:02:18 AM »
Let's say, Mahler was not as popular as today. ;)
But in no way was his music in the 40s or 50s as obscure as Joseph Marx's or Hausegger's or whatever Austrian too-late-Romantic has been dug up lately by cpo or Chandos or some similar label music is today.
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Offline Mahlerian

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2017, 07:09:29 AM »
Let's say, Mahler was not as popular as today. ;)

He was less often played then than Schoenberg is now (even just the post-1908 works), and people keep insisting to me that Schoenberg isn't played often.

But in no way was his music in the 40s or 50s as obscure as Joseph Marx's or Hausegger's or whatever Austrian too-late-Romantic has been dug up lately by cpo or Chandos or some similar label music is today.

It was probably about as familiar to the average concert-goer and record buyer.  If there are very few records of these massive symphonies, the critics ridicule them as nonsensical monstrosities, and they show up on concerts once every several years, the listener in the 40s or 50s has few options to experience them at all, let alone become familiar with what are to this day very difficult works.

Today, the situation is much better.  Anyone who has the least inclination (and an intenet connection) can listen to music by Marx and Hausegger whenever they wish.

To respond more to the original point, the formation of the classical canon has been bumpy and unpredictable.  There are both composers who were quite popular in their own lifetimes but whose popularity didn't last, in spite of predictions to the contrary (such as Anton Rubinstein or Meyerbeer), and also composers who were not well-liked during their lifetimes but who came to be accepted and loved (Mahler or Bartok, for example), so the standing of a composer at a given time is a poor predictor of future standing.

I would think that a confluence of elements is necessary to foster long-term popularity.  One of these is advocacy by conductors and writers.  Also, the music needs to become familiar.  Finally, the music has to have something unique to offer apart from the rest of the repertoire.  None of these things happen immediately, even the last, because a composer's music has to be well-known in order for its value to be recognized.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2017, 07:30:22 AM by Mahlerian »
"l do not consider my music as atonal, but rather as non-tonal. I feel the unity of all keys. Atonal music by modern composers admits of no key at all, no feeling of any definite center." - Arnold Schoenberg

Offline Cato

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2017, 07:44:31 AM »

Today, the situation is much better.  Anyone who has the least inclination (and an intenet connection) can listen to music by Marx and Hausegger whenever they wish.


YES!  Having grown up listening to classical music in the pre-stereo era on monaural record players (good ones, but monaural), I thought my little three-inch stereo speakers encased in gray plastic from Magnavox were really something!

So, on that basis, the people loading YouTube with their collections of things by e.g. Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Ben Johnston, Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, whose works (especially the latter) are disappearing, or have disappeared, from CD's and even vinyl, are to be lauded!

On the other hand - and here is the problem today - the Wall Street Journal recently had an article on people who censor things downloaded to YouTube.  In the article was this incredible fact: every day, 65 years worth of video is sent to YouTube.

You have, therefore, universes of garbage crowding out all things of value, which by definition will be less numerous than the garbage.  The difference today is that the garbage has an immense capability of promoting itself.

Thus, one must hope that "to get composers out of obscurity" sites like GMG will attract people who have had enough of piano-playing cats and are looking for something more substantial.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2017, 08:45:39 AM »
My view is some composers are better left in obscurity. Maestro’s initial post about Chailly pointing out Joseph Marx’s neglect is a classic example of composers that should remain unknown. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I’ve heard several of Marx’s works and wasn’t impressed. Another point I would like to make is if there are recordings available (w/ top-notch performances to boot), then we shouldn’t be feel the incessant need to point out the neglect of this or that composer. There are works from major composers that are just as unknown as Shebalin. Nobody can control these kinds of things, so it’s best not to worry about the whys and be thankful for what is actually available for us to hear.
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Offline Biffo

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2017, 08:50:00 AM »
The gloomy response is that we, as individuals, can do very little. Concert promoters are not going to risk losing money on obscure composers. Organisations like the BBC are bit more flexible and possibly susceptible to pester-power. If the experience of the Amazon.co.uk is anything to go by they are continually receiving outraged letters demanding to know why a favourite British composer is being ignored by the Proms - 'he hasn't been played since 1956....' . Occasionally one of these works is exhumed and it fails to lead to a massive surge in popularity.

I keep trying obscure composers and sometimes they are thrust upon me as part of box sets. For a time I explored some of the output of CPO but the likes of Boehe, Weiss (Weisz?), Weigl etc failed to make much of an impact. Only Tveitt and Langgaard have been real discoveries for me.

Offline kyjo

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2017, 09:03:44 AM »
My view is some composers are better left in obscurity.

Some, yes, but not many. Rarely have I listened to a piece by an obscure composer and thought to myself "this deserves to be left in obscurity".
« Last Edit: December 30, 2017, 09:20:32 AM by kyjo »

Offline kyjo

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2017, 09:05:59 AM »
While I may bemoan the neglect of my favorite lesser-known composers in the concert hall, I am of course very grateful to the record companies (particularly Naxos, CPO, and Chandos) for rescuing their music from obscurity.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2017, 09:08:58 AM by kyjo »

Offline Cato

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2017, 12:31:50 PM »
While I may bemoan the neglect of my favorite lesser-known composers in the concert hall, I am of course very grateful to the record companies (particularly Naxos, CPO, and Chandos) for rescuing their music from obscurity.

AMEN!  NAXOS has recorded the symphony by Jack Gallagher, an American composer and mentor of our Karl Henning.




I keep trying obscure composers and sometimes they are thrust upon me as part of box sets. For a time I explored some of the output of CPO but the likes of Boehe, Weiss (Weisz?), Weigl etc failed to make much of an impact. Only Tveitt and Langgaard have been real discoveries for me.


Some, yes, but not many. Rarely have I listened to a piece by an obscure composer and thought to myself "this deserves to be left in obscurity".

I suppose I am in the middle here: I have discovered more than just two or three, but could not say that I have discovered "many."

Sergei Protopopov enthused me greatly, and then I discovered he (as far as we know) stopped composing after a dozen works or so.

Easley Blackwood: a small group of CD's, one with quarter-tone/microtonal works, the others are in a more conservative idiom:



The First Symphony was accepted by Charles Munch for the Boston Symphony and recorded by RCA...when Blackwood was in his early 20's!

Lera Auerbach has more of a presence on YouTube: no orchestral works on CD (a DVD of a ballet on The Little Mermaid is available), but there are chamber works at Amazon




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Offline Maestro267

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2017, 01:35:17 PM »
Yes, the recording industry has certainly come on in leaps and bounds with regards to expanding the stale standard repertoire, but that's a kind of "one and done" situation. Why can't these composers get regular performances in the concert hall, and radio broadcasts, and be generally spoken of in the same reverential terms as the standard repertoire composers?

Also, I have that Gallagher symphony on my music-buying radar. Not very often you get such a substantial Symphony in modern times.

Offline Crudblud

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2017, 03:38:55 PM »
Easley Blackwood: a small group of CD's, one with quarter-tone/microtonal works, the others are in a more conservative idiom:

I wouldn't say that his microtonal pieces are unconservative. To me they sound like Scriabin with shorter intervals, and if Wikipedia's anything to go by it seems like that was to some extent the intention. Not necessarily a bad thing, but Blackwood has always applied a conservative framework to ideas we might think of as being wholly modern or "contemporary".

Online mc ukrneal

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2017, 06:00:43 PM »
My view is some composers are better left in obscurity. Maestro’s initial post about Chailly pointing out Joseph Marx’s neglect is a classic example of composers that should remain unknown. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I’ve heard several of Marx’s works and wasn’t impressed. Another point I would like to make is if there are recordings available (w/ top-notch performances to boot), then we shouldn’t be feel the incessant need to point out the neglect of this or that composer. There are works from major composers that are just as unknown as Shebalin. Nobody can control these kinds of things, so it’s best not to worry about the whys and be thankful for what is actually available for us to hear.
Yes, it's a shame that composers like Nielsen weren't left in the obscurity they so deserve...
Be kind to your fellow posters!!

Offline Daverz

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2017, 06:43:17 PM »
My view is some composers are better left in obscurity. Maestro’s initial post about Chailly pointing out Joseph Marx’s neglect is a classic example of composers that should remain unknown. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I’ve heard several of Marx’s works and wasn’t impressed.

Oh, poor Marx.

I think Marx was best known for his lieder.

I think the basic problem is that orchestras don't want to spend money on parts and extra rehearsal time for works that may not bring in their extremely conservative audiences.  I don't think the average small donor will have much influence over this.  It may be better to give money to organizations that specialize in playing obscure music, like BMOP.  Or perhaps you know a billionaire you can get hooked on Atterberg.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2017, 07:01:36 PM by Daverz »

Offline Ken B

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #15 on: December 30, 2017, 06:57:21 PM »
My view is some composers are better left in obscurity. Maestro’s initial post about Chailly pointing out Joseph Marx’s neglect is a classic example of composers that should remain unknown. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I’ve heard several of Marx’s works and wasn’t impressed. Another point I would like to make is if there are recordings available (w/ top-notch performances to boot), then we shouldn’t be feel the incessant need to point out the neglect of this or that composer. There are works from major composers that are just as unknown as Shebalin. Nobody can control these kinds of things, so it’s best not to worry about the whys and be thankful for what is actually available for us to hear.

I can think of some composers whom I wish were more obscure.

So of course does anyone wishing to raise others out of obscurity, since attention is limited. Want more Marx? You will need less of someone else. At some point that becomes removing someone else (Stockhausen gets my vote!)

As I think John is implying, it makes sense that there are informal tiers. John likes tractor factories, so it’s great he can get all the Schittke he can handle. I like madrigals and wish I could get more Marenzio. But it really wouldn’t be a good idea to displace say Copland for Marenzio, his is necessarily a niche appeal. Neither Schnittke nor Marenzio should be marquee names, but it's nice that they are available to those motivated to seek them out. 40 years ago that wasn’t the case.




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Offline Ken B

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2017, 07:01:15 PM »
Some, yes, but not many. Rarely have I listened to a piece ... and thought to myself "this deserves to be left in obscurity".

Kyjo, meet Mr Delius. Mr Delius, Kyjo.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #17 on: December 30, 2017, 07:04:06 PM »
Yes, it's a shame that composers like Nielsen weren't left in the obscurity they so deserve...

Replace Nielsen with Offenbach and that would be a great sentence! :)
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Online mc ukrneal

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #18 on: December 30, 2017, 07:06:38 PM »
Replace Nielsen with Offenbach and that would be a great sentence! :)
You've missed my point. So let me be blunt. What you said is basically, "I didn't like Marx, therefore, Marx should rest in obscurity." If you don't see the problem with that, it is pointless to discuss anything with you.
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Offline Ken B

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Re: How do we get composers out of obscurity?
« Reply #19 on: December 30, 2017, 07:10:10 PM »
Yes, the recording industry has certainly come on in leaps and bounds with regards to expanding the stale standard repertoire, but that's a kind of "one and done" situation. Why can't these composers get regular performances in the concert hall, and radio broadcasts, and be generally spoken of in the same reverential terms as the standard repertoire composers?


Because they shouldn’t. You might as well ask why Brendan Behan doesn’t have festivals the way Shakespeare does, or why Anquetin isn’t on as many posters as Van Gogh.

Behan and Anquetin are both very fine, I admire both. So let me ask you, have you heard of either? Maybe there is an answer to your question there.
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