Author Topic: The conductor as composer  (Read 19705 times)

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Greta

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The conductor as composer
« on: May 16, 2007, 01:00:07 PM »
Many of the most famous conductors were also notable composers too, some more successful than others. To keep it easier, let's start with the era of one of the most famous and beloved - Gustav Mahler. Since him, who has also been especially talented as a composer, and what are some of their best works? And for the not-as-good ones, what were their best efforts?

First comes to mind Bernstein and Boulez, though I don't know Boulez's works. Two others that come to mind are Andre Previn and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

For the ones I know, I would say:

Bernstein:
I at least like, or love, most of his work. Rhythm and melody the two things he really excelled at. A Quiet Place, eh, not so much.

Previn:
I don't know his concert work, but I like his film scores. Very good.

Salonen:
Pre-1992, avantgarde and not terribly complex but can be fun. After 1992, and especially 1996, brilliant - fresh, colorful, virtuosic, and keeps getting better. A big fav for me of current guys writing.

Some I have no acquaintance with but am curious about are, Maazel, Sinopoli, Martinon, Markevitch, Furtwangler, and somewhere I read Robert Spano. And I know I'm forgetting so many others!

Offline Maciek

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2007, 01:18:37 PM »
It seems in Poland many of the top shelf conductors are composers as well. Jan Krenz (everything I've heard by him is pretty good), Henryk Czyz (same here, though much less "modern" style), Jerzy Maksymiuk (haven't heard anything), Boguslaw Madey (decent), Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (not very good). Of course, there are many exceptions (Wislocki, Wicherek, Rowicki, Wit, Kord).

Composers who conduct are even more common but they usually don't do it all that often. Aleksander Lason has been doing quite a lot of conducting lately - mostly contemporary stuff. He's really quite good!

I've never heard anything by Sinopoli but know at least one book where he's called one of the greatest composers of the 20th century!

Maciek

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2007, 01:44:22 PM »
BIS used to offer several of the hairy symphonic musings of Leif Segerstam.  In the middle 1990's he was up to Symphony #16 or #17: who knows how many he has now?

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Offline Novi

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2007, 02:03:40 PM »
BIS used to offer several of the hairy symphonic musings of Leif Segerstam.  In the middle 1990's he was up to Symphony #16 or #17: who knows how many he has now?



According to Wikipedia, 180.
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Drasko

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2007, 02:04:44 PM »
BIS used to offer several of the hairy symphonic musings of Leif Segerstam.  In the middle 1990's he was up to Symphony #16 or #17: who knows how many he has now?



He conducted world premiere of his 130th Symphony here in Belgrade about a year ago.
His oeuvre according to Wiki:

180 Symphonies (updated: April 10th, 2007)
30 String quartets
11 Violin concertos
8 Cello concertos

Drasko

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2007, 02:09:20 PM »
Some I have no acquaintance with but am curious about are, Maazel, Sinopoli, Martinon, Markevitch, Furtwangler, and somewhere I read Robert Spano. And I know I'm forgetting so many others!

Markevitch was really promising composer, quite a shame that he quit. This disc would give you nice intro into his sound world.



On the other hand I didn't like at all what I heard of Furtwangler.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2007, 02:12:42 PM by Drasko »

Offline BachQ

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2007, 02:48:37 PM »
R. Strauss
Berlioz

Offline Guido

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2007, 03:07:59 PM »
Aside from Bernstein's scores (The 3 meditations from Mass for cello and orch, the first Symphony and the Clarinet Sonata) I am enamoured with many of Previn's works.

This CD contains two superb works, the cello Sonata and the four songs for soprano, cello and piano (which are as gorgeous as they sound). The performances are absolutely top notch, Previn a superb pianist, Ma absolutely perfectly suited to this sound world, and Sylvia McNair providing absolutely ravishing vocals.


http://www.amazon.com/Previn-Ordinary-Things-Remembrances-Vocalise/dp/B0000029NW/ref=sr_1_6/002-0464639-0016022?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1179360021&sr=8-6

Describing his style is a little tricky. Most obviously one might say that his work sounds like early Shostakovich (Piano quintet or cello Sonata) or perhaps late Hindemith (his more sensuous romantic phase - for instance the Four Temperaments). But first and foremost the most obvious influence is Jazz, but it is so intellgiently and beautifully executed that it never sounds pretentious (i.e. Jazz dressed up as classical). He has his own voice, romantic, emotional, by turns beautiful, pained and humerous, unconcerned with fashions, tonaly/modaly based with many jazz harmonies. Great rhythmic impetus also in many of the works. The two I mentioned above are both superb and amongst my favourite contemporary compositions (both date from the early-mid 90s).

The Violin Concerto is a bit of an unwieldy behemoth; though it contains much nice music, it doesn't quite hang together - its just too long.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2007, 03:11:39 PM by Guido »
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Greta

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2007, 05:06:08 PM »
So much great stuff in here! I very much admire Previn as a musician and it sounds like I would like his concert work, I love The Four Temperaments.

For Segerstam, what of his is recommendable?

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2007, 05:19:42 PM »
I remember hearing Segerstam's Sym. #13 and #16 some years ago, and was not really impressed: craggy, "neo-Nordic" so to speak, but they seemed like much adoo-doo about nothing.  Not in the same league as e.g. Saariaho in inventiveness.

But maybe he got better with Sym. #119!   :o

For samples of Igor Markevitch, see:

http://www.boosey.com/pages/cr/catalogue/cat_results.asp?composerid=2789&stype=1

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Offline Guido

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2007, 02:19:40 AM »
Listening to the songs today - they are quite a lot more saccharine than either of the two composers I mentioned, or rather more consistently aiming for beauty in a conventional sense. The Songs are like Barber's actually but with alot of Jazz.
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Offline Florestan

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2007, 03:05:04 AM »
His oeuvre according to Wiki:

180 Symphonies (updated: April 10th, 2007)

Although he looks like Brahms, he's more like Haydn. ;D
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Offline Maciek

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2007, 03:18:12 AM »
Forgot to mention recordings.

The Polish Radio has been releasing a series called "Dyrygenci polscy" (Polish Conductors) for quite a while - these are usually 2 CDs with a large part of the second one dedicated to the conductor as composer (where applicable).

Henryk Czyż:

(this has his Symphonic Variations on a folk song, Concertino for piano and orchestra, and Serenade for string orchestra; two glaring omissions are his Etude for orchestra and Canzona di barocco - neither has been released on CD, I'm afraid)

Bogusław Madey:

(two of his pieces here: Transfigurations for voice and orchestra, and Metamorphoses - Variations on a theme of Paganini; both are interesting pieces but somehow I never got into them)

Stanisław Skrowaczewski:

(this has his Concerto for Orchestra - but I've seen more recordings of his works, both on amazon and eBay)

Jerzy Maksymiuk:

(this one I don't have but it contains his Arbor vitae and Intermezzo pastorale)

There's another one (and another one I don't have :():

(Jerzy Maksymiuk - The Auschwitz Oratorio)

And then there's the Jan Krenz album. Couldn't find a picture in any of the internet shops, so I'm uploading one I stole from an auction site. It contains his Symphony No. 1, Rhapsody, and Sinfonietta per fiati.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2007, 03:21:10 AM by MrOsa »

DavidW

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2007, 06:42:58 AM »
Mahler and R Strauss were both famous conductors.  They wrote a few musical works that are worth hearing. :)

pjme

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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2007, 10:53:49 AM »
Daniel Sternefeld

Daniel STERNEFELD was born in Antwerp on 27 November 1905. His early musical training was at the Royal Conservatory of Flanders in Antwerp, taking private lessons with Renaat Veremans and Paul Gilson.
He then studied conducting with Frank van der Stucken, completing his studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with Bernard Paumgartner, Clemens Krauss and Herbert von Karajan. In 1938 he was appointed principal conductor of the Royal Flemish Opera, which he left in 1948 for the Belgian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Brussels, serving initially as associate conductor, and then from 1957 to 1970, as principal conductor, in addition to his work with many foreign orchestras.

In his writing a clear evolution can be traced from the high Romantic tradition, by way of the chromaticism of Wagner and the sonority of Mahler and Richard Strauss to a measured lyric expressionism. Daniel Sternefeld died in Ukkel on 2nd June 1986.

[Alice Chini-Sternefeld, © CeBeDeM]

Two large scale symphonies - the first one is a "typical" WW2 work - that evolves from a dark, dramatic first movement full of contrast to an almost "optimistic" finale. As a conductor Sternefeld knows the orchestra well - it sounds "good", professional, the instruments shine.
For those who like Honegger, Richard Strauss, early Stravinsky & Mahler...
The second symphony ( an hommage to Bruegel) is very virtuosic - almost a concerto for orchestra. slightly more modern sounding than nr. 1.the movements are titled after Bruegel paintings.

Sternefeld excelled in orchestration. Salve Antwerpia - 1979 and Zang en dans aan het hof van Maria Van Bourgondië - 1976 (Songs and dances at the court of Mary of Burgundy) are brillant suites on old melodies - not unlike Respighi's Arie e Danze .
Other Flemish conductor/composers are (were) Arthur Meulemans and Frits Celis (1929)- who worked at the Flemish Opera/Antwerp.

Pierre Bartholomée,who conducted the Liège Philharmonic for many years ,is a respected composer.






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Re: Conductor-Composers - Good and Bad Works
« Reply #15 on: May 17, 2007, 03:02:28 PM »
Britten :P

Not a notable composer, but Klemperer composed a bit, and it wasn't that great.
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Offline Dundonnell

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The conductor as composer
« Reply #16 on: December 25, 2007, 04:47:36 PM »
I don't know if this has been done before(and if it has, I apologise).

Thought I would compile a list of conductors who are known to have composed music seriously during their adult lives and careers.

There is an obvious 'A' List of conductors who were/are equally famous as composers-

Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez are modern examples.

In their time one would have to consider the cases of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss-two famous composers but recognised as very considerable conductors. Mahler's work at the Vienna State Opera(1897-1907) and in New York(1908) is fairly well recognised. Strauss, however, was one of the leading conductors of his day. He succeeded von Bulow at the Berlin Philharmonic in 1894 at the age of 30, he directed the Berlin Opera(1898-1918), the Vienna State Opera(1919-24) and the Leipzig Gewandhaus(1933).

There are another couple of conductors who might just qualify-

Felix Weingartner, one of the greatest conductors of the period from 1885-1940, who composed seven symphonies and ten operas and who certainly considered his work as a composer as equal to his achievements as a conductor.

Howard Hanson was the founder and longtime conductor of the Eastman Rochester Symphony Orchestra in New York State.

The 'B' list would include conductors who regarded their compositions as more important than their conducting but found that few people necessarily agreed with them(Furtwangler is the obvious example)-

Bruno Walter(two early symphonies)
Otto Klemperer(two acknowledged symphonies but apparently six in total, a Mass and two operas)
Wilhelm Furtwangler(three symphonies and a Te Deum)
Paul Paray(two symphonies and a Mass)
Victor de Sabata(two operas and a number of tone poems)
Sir Eugene Goossens(two symphonies)
Dmitri Mitropoulos(an early opera)
Paul Kletzki(three symphonies; stopped composing in 1942)
Antal Dorati(two symphonies, concertos, an opera, a cantata and a wide range of other music)
Jean Martinon(four symphonies and several concertos)
Gunther Wand(ballet music and a cantata)
Igor Markevitch(a remarkable number of compositions produced between the ages of 16 and 30 but then switched over completely to   
    conducting)
Rafael Kubelik(three symphonies, three Requiems, operas)
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski(who continues to compose, including a recent Concerto for Orchestra)
Evgeny Svetlanov(a symphony, a piano concerto, a cantata and several tone poems)
Andre Previn(concertos and film music)
Lorin Maazel(an opera and concertante works)
Jose Serebrier(a wide range of music including three symphonies)
Leif Segerstam(189 symphonies, 11 violin concertos, 8 cello concertos, 4 piano concertos, and 30 string quartets; presumably he
     occasionally sleeps?)
Giuseppe Sinopoli(an opera and serial and electronic music)
Esa-Pekka Salonen(a growing body of compositions including a recent Piano Concerto)

There may be others!

A reasonable quantity of the works of these conductor/composers is available on disc-
the symphonies of Klemperer, Furtwangler, Goossens, Dorati for example.
I would like to hear the Martinon and Kubelik symphonies.

The question of how derivative the compositions of composers who were principally engaged in conducting the music of other composers is one which others might care to make comment.

Offline not edward

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Re: The conductor as composer
« Reply #17 on: December 25, 2007, 05:35:35 PM »
There seems no hard and fast rule here, though it's perhaps hardly surprising if success in one field leads to reduced success in another field. (See not only the many conductors who quit composing when they found one talent far overtaking the other, but also--in the case of a man truly gifted in both arts--the precipitous drop in Boulez's compositional output since his conducting career took off.)

A couple of other post-war composers seem to have been fine conductors: Lutoslawski mostly conducted his own music, but I have heard fine recordings of him conducting works by his contemporaries as well. Bruno Maderna (a man whose importance as a mentor to many of the Darmstadt modernists is often underestimated) was also a conductor of some note, with an extremely broad repertoire.
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Re: The conductor as composer
« Reply #18 on: December 26, 2007, 02:32:20 AM »
There is also Peter Eötvös who is a great conductor in contemporary repertoire, but I have not yet heard any of his compositions.

pjme

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Re: The conductor as composer
« Reply #19 on: December 26, 2007, 02:50:59 AM »
This topic has been done before. http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,932.0.html

But it is an interesting one.

Martinon's second symphony has been available on a long defunct LP :
"Hymne à la vie" (it has a prominent part for ondes Martenot). Possibly it is available now in a "Chicago Symphony archives" box ????

Martinon's symphony nr 4 "Altitudes" was premiered by the Chicago orchestra. AFAIK, the LP has never been re-issued on CD.

« Last Edit: December 26, 2007, 04:09:08 AM by pjme »