Disappointing master pieces?

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Disappointing master pieces?

Sometimes -not often, I think- I feel kind of let down by some compositions, not because I don’t like them, but rather, because they don’t live up to their promises, kind of: it could have been composed differently.

An obvious example -I think- is Tchaikovsky's piano concerto. The famous introductory melody of its first movement: it feels wrong that after that introduction we never hear it again!

A more polemic one maybe: Schubert’s also famous Andante from his second piano trio: as much as I love Schubert, and I love this trio and its andante… I wish he would have treated such an amazing melody in a different way, maybe a simple ABA structure, or even variations like Brahms's first sextet.

Do people have other examples, do you feel sometimes the same kind of thing?

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

Hi Camaron,

A belated welcome to the Forum.  I've been away for a summer break: in the meantime you've had time to find out about the eccentricities of the Forum members!  Even so, I hope you'll find some worthwhile discussion here!

I must say this is a somewhat dangerous topic! In fact we had a not dissimilar thread some time ago which ended rather acrimoniously. Never mind, though I can already hear the oncoming thundebolts descending in response to your Schubert Trio doubts!

The Tchaikovsky concerto comment is something different indeed, isn't it?  An opening of such magnificence that it is difficult if not impossible to hope that the rest could be up to the same level of inspiration.  Personally, I think old Tchaikovsky was right not to try to bring back that opening melody again.

However, for the supreme example of an opening that cannot possibly hope to be equalled by anything that follows, I'd unhesitatingly choose Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarasthustra. Countless disappointed folk must have purchased CDs of that work on the strength of the opening!

That's not to say that both works are not superb music, and we'd be the much poorer if their composers had changed their opening gambits!

Anyway, once again welcome!

Chris

 

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

" That's not to say that both works are not superb music, and we'd be the much poorer if their composers had changed their opening gambits!"

If you turn that on it's head Chris and the "opening gambits" were not there perhaps we would listen to them without a sense of disappointment which clouds our judgement of their true worth.

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

Thanks for your comments and your welcome Chris.

I didn’t know about the previous thread, a bit of digging into old discussion told me to stop doing it, if I was to give these forums a go…

You are certainly right that Tchaikovsky’s case is not the same as Schubert’s… Now, with Tchaikovsky concerto… I like to imagine that the theme could have re-appeared in some really glorious manner in the last movement, maybe in the closing coda. It is not only the unmatchable quality of the introduction, it is that it stands out so much and relates so little to rest of the concerto that it could just so easily not be there at all.

As for Schubert…. I hope I haven’t offended anyone with this, not my intention. If I didn’t say it before, Schubert is one of my true loves in music. But he choses to  build an intensely dramatic movement on a melody which is so beautifully sad and languid…

I actually laughed with your choice of Strauss’ Zarathustra… a good bunch of years ago I was one of those who rushed to work in the hope of more of that… only to be left waiting… Richard Strauss is not a composer I feel attracted to, really, but Zarathustra is still one of the few works by him I still revisit every now and again, only that these days I actually go for all that comes after.

I will risk another example, pretty different from the previous ones… I’ve just recently discovered Brahms' first piano trio… what a glorious work, how did I miss it for so long. And yet, after the first allegro, and then the scherzo with trio…. I was just wishing for a more intensely lyrical adagio… or maybe Schubert’s andante?

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

Camaron, here you disappoint me! If you start having these kind of thoughts about such great compositions by the Masters of this Art, then, you may be lost...in the translation and beyond...

One tip: The composer is the only Master of his own Opus. Even if you are a composer yourself, you cannot judge why the composer wanted his particular work this way and not otherwise. I always wondered (to put it mildly) why Shostakovich chose the way he used to finish his magnificent Piano Quintet. Yet, I am terrified if, one day, someone may decide to change a hair of this great work of Chamber Music.

Incidentally, it is the first time one has to say something negative for the slow movement of the Second Piano Trio in E flat by Schubert. It is one of the most assertive, emotionally solid piece of music, with amazingly strong changes among the themes and their development throughout the whole movement. It is one of the greatest summits of the slow movements of the Piano Trio literature.

As for Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, according to some old Professors of mine, this glorious opening theme works as an Introduction and not as the main theme of the work. In this way, it maintains its unique character and impact. The same applies to the opening of "Also sprach Zarathustra".

Anyway, I hope you will not open another ugly can of worms...

Parla

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

Hi Parla,

No opening cans of worms round here, just talking about music…

I know the status of the trio in the repertoire, and I would not argue with that. I have to disagree with the idea that only a composer can critique his own work. Now, if what you want to say is that Schubert knew better than me….. well, sure, of course. And still….

I must admit I’ve never really heard a bad word about Schubert’s andante, either, but I believe that it is admiration for THAT melody, not the actual compositional structure of the movement.

But somehow you’ve played the game: I don’t know Shostakovich’s piano quintet, but when I first listen to it I will be eagerly waiting for that unfitting finish…

Any more examples?

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

Camaron, beware of Parla's old professors!  Oddly though, there is some truth there in that older text books were so much in awe of the 'great masters' that even obvious failings had to be justified, like the opening of the Tchaikovsky alluded to by Parla. It is perfectly possible to see that description as a flattering way of confirming that the opening is not connected with the rest of the work - and younger professors are perhaps more likely to see it that way!

Parla, a propos the Shostakovich piano quintet, I've always thought that the conclusion was a masterstroke! 

Anyway perhaps we should not forget that Mozart rewrote Handel (or Händel if you prefer), Mendelssohn rewrote Bach, Mahler rewrote Bach, Mozart and Schumann, Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich both rewrote Mussorgsky and just about everybody rewrote Bruckner:  I'm sure there are plenty of others too.

Schubert though..... Ah, but he left enough works unfinished to keep composers happy for years just 'completing' them!

Chris

 

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

Now, reading back your previous post, Parla, I think you have -in fact- showed lots of constraint in your appreciation -or the general appreciation- of Schubert’s andante: “one of the greatest summits…. of the slow movements of the Piano Trio literature”. That is not actually saying that much. And I think you are probably right. But after all this very movement’s main theme is actually one of the most beautiful melodies anywhere any time.

Compare that with the adagio from his string quintet: that is -surely- a high summit of this thing we call classical music, period. And that is in spite of the fact that its main weeping melody is not -maybe- as unforgettable as the other one.

“.....The same applies to the opening of Also sprach Zarathustra”. Not sure how it does. You are right that the opening from Tchaikovsky concerto is just an introduction to the sonata allegro that follows, and so it does not have to participate in the thematic unity of this sonata form, but it certainly should not be allowed to disrupt the unity of the movement as a whole. The discussion is only about how well this introduccion fits in.

But Zarathustra is a different thing: it is more like a succession of episodes, scenes, etc, of which the opening is just really the first in the series, and it stands about fine on its own. 

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

Plenty of issues to respond, Camaron and Chris. Bravo!

Camaron, the theme of the Schubert's Second Piano Trio's andante is most probably a Swedish folk song! So, a great deal of the compliments may not go to Schubert only. However, I believe that the glory of this movement is not this melody (which has been characterised as a sort of restraint March, a passionate love song, even a precursor of Tango!), but how Schubert treated it and, in a magnificent structural way, transformed it to a monumental statement of passion, where the recurring material sounds never the same, never redundant and leading to a perfect -formally- piece of music, where everything sounds necessary.

As for Brahms' "First" Piano Trio, there are quite a few issues beside the slow movement or the Finale. The work is one of the very few the composer revisited - quite formally - near the end of this life (in 1889), and made substantive changes and enough cuts in all the movements, except for the Scherzo, which remained almost intact. Nowadays, practically, all the Trio groups perform the "wiser" and shortened revised version of 1889, which, however, make this work Brahms' last Piano Trio! Audite, very recently, released a double SACD, where one can listen and explore the two versions of the composer's Op.8. The first version lasts 49:37 compared to the revised one of 38:16. The First Movement lasts 21:22, while the Finale 11:15 (in the revised one, we have 15:44 and 7:03 respectively). So, Camaron, you have to indulge further in this already difficult to comprehend and deal with work.

Chris, I just said I "wondered" why Shostakovich chose this way to finish his Piano Quintet. I do believe that, as a movement per se, the Finale is a Master's superb achievement, but, taking into serious consideration how the work starts and moves in the most dramatic, passionate, ferocious ways (the first three movements) and the sombre but still dramatic fourth slow movement, the Finale, and particularly the ending, sound a bit enigmatic.

Mozart and the rest of the composers you mention, Chris, did not formally rewrote the works of Handel, etc. They dealt mostly with the orchestration and, in quite a few cases, they did it for occasional circumstances. In any case, if Mozart wanted to "touch upon" Handel, it should not be a problem to worry about. It is Mozart, after all!

Finally, I did not say or imply that only the composer can "critique" his own work. I just said we have to respect how he wanted his work and implied that we have to explore, indulge, learn more etc. about the work in question, so that we may try to fit ourselves in the work of a great Master rather than the other way round.

Parla

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

I once found that folk song, and it seemed to be the march-like accompaniment that Schubert took from it. I was hoping to find it on youtube to share a link, but the two minutes I was willing to give to the task didn’t give results. Maybe someone else will be luckier.

 

What you mention about Brahms’ trio is -I believe- the main reason why this work is not more highly regarded: the alleged “franckenstein” nature of the work. But I challenge anyone to actually find such patchy quality in the work, without previous knowledge of its history. It is unfortunate that it doesn’t fit neatly into that narrative of the golden egg that just pops once and for all out of the genius’ head.

 

Now, I have to contend  with the idea that this is a “difficult” work. Not for the sake of arguing with you, but for the sake of not scaring potential listeners that might not know it yet.

The whole trio uses immediately atractive melodies. The first movement is an uncomplicated sonata-allegro with very few development and a full recapitulation of the exposition. The way in which Brahms suggests, before actually exposing part of the second thematic group is just beautiful, for when the themes finally appears full they do so in an almost climatic manner.
 

The next two movements are simple ABA estructures. And the last one is somehow free, maybe with the rondo as basic formal inspiration, but with a fair amount of thematic variation of the main theme, and lots of harmonic progression too. It works well for me. Out of pure curiosity: why is this movement an issue for you?

And nearly forgot to mention: do you -or anyone- know of a more accessible recording of the original trio? I would like to listen to that.

RE: Disappointing master pieces?

Must admit the Tchaikovsky has always puzzled me ever since I first became familiar with the work but one of the greatest oddities which always mystifies me is the last movement of Chopin's Funeral March Sonata which I find  incomprehensible and so totally unlike anything else he wrote.

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