Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

The "Specialist" composers

Recommended Posts

I am doing a project at uni on why it is that the Specialist composers are so little respected in comparison to Tchaikovsky and Glazunov. Something that I find incredibly interesting is that Tchaikovsky respected the specialists for their wide variety of melody and even said that had he known of Delibes' "Sylvia" before writing Swan Lake, he wouldn't have written it.

Obviously, the Specialists' music doesn't have nearly the artistic or musical merit of Tchaikovsky or Glazunov but it is because such music was in vogue at the time and anything too rhythmically, structurally or harmonically challenging would have been rejected, as was Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

What views does everyone have on this subject?

Link to comment

Your second paragraph basically answers the question. It reminds me of Louis Horst, who realized his music would not be respected independently of what he wrote for Martha Graham's dances, but some of it is very good, and Don McDonagh calls his score for 'Primitive Mysteries' a small, unflawed gem. Works that achieve independent concert status will usually be more muscular and concentrated as such, but works to 'accompany' dance or theater can be of fine quality, of course--but they simply have also to serve other purposes than purely musical ones. A problem for me is that I like some of the 'specialist composers' quite a bit better than the others. And frankly, even though Glazunov is always very pretty, I don't want to hear that much of it. So that some of it is determined by what it has to combine with (and this has to do with the vogue you mention, which can often get called 'period piece' years later) and , and musically this will usually mean less freedom in an important sense. With Tchaikovsky, not nearly all will even think his ballet scores are on the level of his symphonies or the famous piano concerto--I like most of Tchaikovsky's ballet scores, but I definitely think the B Flat Minor Piano Concerto is greater music heard by itself than is the 'Miniature Overture', so there are a lot of degrees of this. I like, although maybe not love, some Delibes, but Minkus I can usually do without, and don't know any Adolph Adam I'd want to hear without 'Giselle', and even then it needs a near-perfect, inspired performance to really come off. Then there are concert composers whose music may not be as good as the best dance scores--Saint-Saens is very much of the period, and most do not consider him quite 'great', but sometimes performances can take such things to a higher level. Just some notes on how complex the interesting issue is.

Link to comment

Thank you for this discussion. I am interested in these questions too. There does seem to be some important knowledge that the specialist composers had. Harrison Birtwistle referred to the 'latent ritual of Western classical dance'. What ever did he mean? He observed that Stravinsky got 'the knowledge' from Tchaikovsky, who got it from Minkus and Drigo? This then lead to the combination of ballet and art music that dominated the Twentieth Century. Those composers who spent time in the dancer's world tended to make successful ballets: Gluck, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky rather than Mozart, Beethoven even though they collaborated with Noverre and Vigano 

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...