Both as a listener and as a performer, I enjoy digging up obscure pieces that I think deserve to be heard more often. I'm also fortunate to live in a city where the classical radio station likes to go off the beaten path too, so I've had the chance to hear plenty of obscure pieces.
For the last year and a half, I've been making a weekly post on Facebook and on my personal blog featuring a lesser-known masterpiece each week, mostly by lesser-known composers. I thought it'd be a good idea to share some of that music here, especially pieces featuring strings.
My most recent post was the Ricardo Castro cello concerto.
Castro was probably Mexico's leading late Romantic composer, but was neglected after his death because of a whole generation of notable nationalist and modernist composers who immediately followed. His cello concerto, composed in 1895, was the first cello concerto composed in Latin America and the second in the Americas; he also composed the earliest Latin American piano concerto. The Castro cello concerto was completed the month before Dvorak's, when cello solo repertoire was still rather sparse. It was performed once during Castro's life, in Paris in 1903, but was not heard again until Carlos Prieto performed it in Mexico City in 1981.
I find the opening of the concerto especially interesting. It seems to have a bit in common with Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto, in that the soloist starts in a prominent role but an accompanying one. Here, the solo cello plays heavy quadruple-stop chords with the timpani to punctuate a woodwind theme, before taking up the theme itself.
Here's another forgotten piece, this one lost shortly after its premiere and rediscovered more than 70 years later: the Violin Concerto by Guirne Creith.
Guirne Creith (1907-1996) was both highly eccentric and notoriously careless about her music. Even though a number of her major works were performed by leading musicians and orchestras, some getting multiple performances and glowing reviews, and even though she lived entirely in the recorded music era, virtually all her music has been lost to posterity. She was born Gladys Mary Cohen, had five different legal names during her life and had a few pieces published under a sixth name. She quit playing piano and composing in 1952 after an accidental hand injury, retrained as a singer and made a living as a voice teacher under a new name, and then abruptly ceased all music activity a decade later to become a food writer and wine critic. Even her two sons had no idea she had ever been a composer until her violin concerto was rediscovered. Guirne Creith was the name under which she composed almost her entire output.
Creith insisted that scores and parts be returned to her after each performance, and never made any effort to have her music published. Although she was persistent in seeking performances of her music in the UK, she declined all offers of foreign performances except for a single performance of her early symphonic poem Rapunzel in the United States. None of her music was recorded during her lifetime. Unfortunately, she was also rather disorganized and had a tendency to physically misplace her own scores even while she was actively composing. At her death in 1996, everything she had ever composed was missing, with the exception of the three songs published in 1956 and two additional songs published earlier.
Creith's violin concerto was composed in 1935 and first performed in 1936. It was performed by a leading soloist of the era with a major orchestra, namely Albert Sammons with the BBC Symphony Orchestra -- and then it vanished, the score and parts disappearing before a second performance could be arranged. The concerto was rediscovered in 2007 in a piano shop that was going out of business, in a box marked "all contents 2 pounds." The first modern performance and the first recording both took place in 2009.
This is very much a late Romantic violin concerto. In contrast to Creith's contemporaries of the English pastoral school, her concerto tends toward dense, chromatic harmonies, shimmering textures, and long, flowing lines, somewhat reminiscent of Richard Strauss or late Elgar but very much in its own style. A tempestuous first movement runs without interruption into a haunting, questioning slow movement, and finally into a colorful rondo with hints of Scottish fiddle in its rhythms and modal language.
I should revive this thread, now that people have been talking about some neglected classical music. I've continued posting forgotten masterpieces elsewhere, so I have a long list of pieces. Since this is a string forum, I'll post selected pieces from my archive, focusing on those featuring strings, and I'll try not to post an overwhelming amount of biographical info.
I think I'll start with something for my own instrument. It's really a shame that the Alfred Hill (1869-1960) viola concerto is so neglected, because the solo viola repertoire has a big gap in the Romantic era. Perhaps it's because Hill's music was mostly considered outdated when he composed it. He studied music in Leipzig at the height of the Romantic era, and was at least tangentially part of Brahms's social circles, but went home to New Zealand after completing his studies, became known mainly as a conductor and arts administrator, and composed more than 90% of his music in retirement (12 of his 13 symphonies after age 70!). At that point he was composing in the 1930s and later, in a style reminiscent of Bruch. This viola concerto was one of those late compositions, completed in 1940.
Ironically, even though many composers were violists, Hill's is one of the few viola concertos in the repertoire to be composed by a violist.
The violin sonata by Amanda Maier (1853-1894) is my favorite violin sonata by any composer other than Brahms. Which probably shouldn't be a surprise, because the two were friends, performed chamber music together a number of times, and sent each other drafts of their violin sonatas for feedback. Maier was a celebrated violinist and composer in the 1870s and early 1880s, but her career declined rapidly because of lung ailments and failing eyesight in her 30s, and like many female musicians of her era she was all but forgotten soon after her death.
I'm soooo glad you revived this thread!
I'm sorry I didn't dig deep enough to find it instead of starting a new thread. This was what I was really looking for, but I wasn't 100% sure how well known some composers are that I run across (most are new to me - lol).
These are all really outstanding pieces! All very different and I feel each is very important in their own right. Loved the history - think it helps for remembering.
....re-listening to Hill right now.
Since I was just recording some of his music for a virtual orchestra project earlier this week...
William Grant Still (1895-1978) is at least somewhat well-known today as the "dean of African-American composers" and the first African-American composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. But perhaps because of that first, his symphonies tend to overshadow the rest of his music.
Here is his Lyric Quartette, subtitled "Musical Portraits of Three Friends," which shows a different side of him from what is usually heard.
And here's something folk-inspired.
The Scottish composer Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie (1847-1935) is considered one of the fathers of the British musical renaissance of the late 19th century. He was famous during his life for his vocal music, and was a renowned teacher who elevated the Royal Academy of Music to the status of a major international conservatory during his 36 years at the helm. Mackenzie was highly interested in folk music and produced several volumes of arrangements of Scottish songs as well as a few compositions based on Canadian folk music that he collected on a tour of Canada. For some reason, despite his great influence on later British composers, his own music is rarely performed today.
Mackenzie made his living as an orchestral violinist for the early part of his career, and eventually became a friend of and collaborator with the great Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate. His Pibroch Suite for Violin and Orchestra, composed in 1889, was the second piece that Sarasate commissioned from him, after his Violin Concerto several years earlier.
I think this is an especially inspired recording of the Pibroch Suite: violinist Rachel Barton Pine aimed for a Scottish-inflected sound and went to Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser for coaching and advice, and I think the result speaks for itself.
This piece is finally getting some attention now, having disappeared for decades before it was ever performed.
Florence Price (1887-1953) is known mainly for being the first African-American woman to have a piece performed by a major orchestra, when her 1st Symphony was played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. People from my grandparents' generation might have unknowingly heard her music, because she earned most of her income by composing radio commercial jingles from the 1920s through the 1940s. She has started to receive renewed attention in recent years after a box of her manuscript scores turned up in an abandoned house that was being renovated in 2009; they had been misplaced in the administration of her estate after her sudden death in 1953. One of these scores was her Violin Concerto No. 2, which she had completed shortly before her death and which was never performed before it went missing. It finally got its first performance in 2017.
I'm actually in this performance from February 2019 (in the viola section), but I decided to post it here rather than in "Share a video" because I'm not visible from the fixed camera angle. I believe this was only the fourth-ever public performance, still several months before the piece was published. The soloist, Er-Gene Kahng, gave both of the first two public performances and made the first commercial recording of this concerto, and has been editing much of Price's recently rediscovered music for publication.
beautiful @AndrewH the sound quality of the recording was outstanding here. i wish the camera position was more where it was front facing but i know its more about the composer here. thats sad she passed when she did, but at least her works were found and are being played now. that part at about 10:48! hand cramp! lol. yall were great thanks for sharing this.
I thought I had already commented on the Scottish Fantasies, but after listening again I'm pretty sure I didn't listen through to the end and perhaps meant to later. I think it was because I absolutely hated the 1st 9 and a half minutes - it was boring with maybe only a hint of anything Scottish in 2 measures.
I absolutely loved the rest - could've made me completely happy if Mackenzie had even used a partial repeat of his end, at the beginning!
The Florence Price Concerto was very interesting to me. Felt the little frilly parts seemed a distraction from an otherwise strong composition - I'm sure she had her reasons. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed it - found it refreshing!
Thank you for the exposure of these wonderful pieces!
Let's continue this thread again with an oddity of a string quartet: Anton Arensky's String Quartet No. 2.
Despite Arensky's obscurity, this quartet has some notoriety among chamber music enthusiasts because of its unusual instrumentation -- instead of the usual combination of two violins, viola, and cello, this one is scored for violin, viola, and two cellos. It was composed shortly after the death of Arensky's friend and mentor Tchaikovsky, and dedicated to Tchaikovsky's memory. The second movement, which is about half of the length of the entire piece, is a set of variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky. Arensky's choice of a second cello instead of a second violin was clearly meant to give the quartet a darker tone and a certain sense of weight.
And, still focusing on strings, here's Luise Adolpha Le Beau's Cello Sonata. Le Beau was a celebrated pianist in her time, but often encountered blatant sexism as a composer, with musicians in Munich and Berlin refusing to play her music on a number of occasions despite endorsements from Brahms and other musical giants. At one point she was nominated for a prestigious professorship at the Royal School of Music in Berlin, only to be rejected expressly because she was a woman. She eventually spent most of her career in small towns where she was able to get performances simply by virtue of being among the very few local composers, but that also limited her visibility in the musical mainstream.
Her cello sonata is among my favorite cello sonatas, and won first prize in an international competition in 1882. At the award ceremony, Le Beau was surprised to discover that a certificate had been printed identifying her as "Herr Luise Adolpha Le Beau." The word "Herr" had to be crossed out and replaced with "Fräulein" at literally the last minute before the certificate was presented to her.
And here's one by a composer who was better known for his athletic accomplishments than as a musician.
Frederick Kelly was a world-class rower in the years before the First World War, winning a gold medal as part of Great Britain's eights crew in the 1908 Summer Olympics and repeatedly winning some of England's most prestigious single sculls events as an individual rower. He was also an outstanding amateur pianist and composer; he briefly studied piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt in between his undergraduate and graduate degrees in history at Oxford, and at various times played chamber music with luminaries including cellist Pablo Casals.
Although many composers are known to have fought in the First World War, Kelly was one of the very few who continued to compose while at war. Kelly's "Gallipoli" Violin Sonata is so nicknamed because it was composed in the trenches at Gallipoli where Kelly was serving as an infantry officer. It was not performed during Kelly's life; he died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and the first public performance of the sonata was at his memorial service. That would also be its only performance for almost a century, as the manuscript disappeared and only resurfaced in 2010. The second performance took place in Canberra, Australia in 2011.
Kelly viewed his violin sonata as an escape from the war rather than as a war piece. While composing it, he wrote to violinist Jelly d'Aranyi, "The sonata is all there in my head but not yet on paper. You must not expect shell and rifle fire in it! It is rather a contrast to all that, being somewhat idyllic."
🤣 You can sure tell by the Allegro Molto, Luise was a pianist. (lol)
LOVE the 2nd movement! (starts at 6:12)
...maybe I'm just too devious, but yeah, I think if I were in her shoes, during that period in history, I would've gone by an alias and dressed as a man for any business occasions - sorry, would've made it a game to outsmart the men... revealed the ruse, way later in life. 🤭
Really liked Kelly's 2nd Movement - the Adagio con moto. 😊
Good stuff - Thanks!