Thursday, September 9, 2010

Overrated or under-represented?

Pianist Stephen Hough, on his blog for The Telegraph (UK), broaches the subject of overrated composers, mentioning that his former umbrage at Tchaikovsky’s being called overrated has eased into letting that view "pass by without much of a comment except a gentle word of quiet dissent." (Quiet dissent, how quaint.) Then Hough turns over the discussion to readers:

Some of the more insightful commenters observe that it’s not so much that this or that composer is overrated as that certain works are overplayed, at the expense of better or more characteristic music by that composer.

Take Rachmaninoff, one of the composers cited by many of Hough’s readers: If all I knew of Rachmaninoff’s work were the Third Piano Concerto, I would think less of him than I do also knowing his "√Čtudes-tableaux" and Vespers.

Or Mozart, another name that surprisingly many commenters pounce upon: Concertgoers and classical radio listeners hear his "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" and "Jupiter" Symphony a lot more often than they do most of his piano concertos or "Cosí fan tutte," into which Mozart packed at least as many good tunes and more ingenuity.

What you think of a composer depends on what you hear. What you hear may not be the best, or may be a handful of the better works too frequently heard.