Jump to content
Theodore Servin

Underrated Romantic Composers

Recommended Posts

Hello everyone,

Quick question: who do you think are some of the most underrated romantic-era composers? I have a whole encyclopedia of names, so I'll name just a few of my preferences:

-Viktor Kosenko

-Ernst von Dohnanyi

-Toivo Kuula

-Wilhelm Reinhard Berger (NOT Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, or Wilhelm Georg Berger)

-Giuseppe Martucci

-Wladyslaw Zelenski

-Vasily Kalinnikov

Let me know who you think is underrated. I'm interested to hear who you think should be more well-known. Thanks,

Theo

Edited by Theodore Servin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I confess that the only name on that list that I recognize is Dohnanyi, and I like his music a lot.  

I could add a couple more names to the list:

Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901) - Liechtenstein-born German composer.  Wrote music in a lot of genres, including 2 symphonies, but he's best known (if at all) for his fine church music.  Other than Brahms, he was the best contrapuntist of his time; his counterpoint is absolutely amazing.  

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) - English composer and music educator.  He's rather famous in England, again mostly for his church music, but he wrote a lot of other really nice stuff he doesn't get near the credit for that he deserves.  A truly fine composer.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you responding, @J. Lee Graham! I suppose I should give some introductions to my list, as you have done with yours.

Viktor Kosenko (1893-1938) was a Russian-born Ukrainian-Soviet composer and pianist. He wrote for almost every genre of music, including concertos and piano music. He is probably best known for his Passacaglia in G minor for piano, a magnificent work of epic proportions. Even though he was around during the Soviet era, he mostly wrote in a late-romantic manner. It's wonderful stuff to listen to.

Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) was a Finnish composer. He wrote mostly songs and chamber music, and has an unfinished Stabat Mater. Personally, I love his massive Piano Trio in A major, particularly the 3rd movement. It's some very emotional and passionate music. Unfortunately, he was killed at age 34 from a scuffle with a drunken soldier at the end of the Finnish Civil War, from a gunshot wound to the head.

Wilhelm Reinhard Berger (1861-1911) was a German composer, pianist and conductor. He was a very prolific composer, have completed over 100 opuses, although much of it remains unperformed. I consider his Piano Quintet in F minor to be among the best piano quintets ever written, and, like Kuula's Piano Trio, is a huge work, lasting roughly 50 minutes. A criminally underrated genius, in my opinion.

Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) was an Italian composer, pianist, and conductor. He was the first Italian composer in decades (if not centuries) to not write an opera. His output includes 2 symphonies and piano concertos, and much chamber and piano music. It's very sophisticated music, and is definitely worth checking out.

Vasily Kalinnikov (1866-1901) was a Russian composer. His life was a tragic one, to say the least, having been impoverished most of his life, and dying at aged 34 from tuberculosis. Probably his best known works are his 2 symphonies, both of a fresh and magical quality, with touches of Russian nationalism incorporated in the music.

Wladyslaw Zelenski (1837-1921) was a Polish composer, pianist and organist. If at all, he is probably best known for his chamber music, including his Piano Quartet in C minor, an excellent work, that I would highly recommend to any chamber music-lover.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@J. Lee Graham

I'm very glad to hear that! Now, I'm also interested in checking out more of Stanford, because I must confess, I have not listened to much of his music. I do like Rheinberger's music very much; very sophisticated and well thought-out music. I enjoy this kind of romantic music.

Best,

Theo

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Theodore Servin  I personally think Stanford is amazing.  Check out his symphonies and Irish Rhapsodies for the full English Romantic orchestral treatment.  For a tidbit of one of his finest pieces of church music, here's a fine performance of his "Beati quorum via" for 6-part mixed chorus a cappella with scrolling score:

The first time I sang that motet as a young chorister, I wept for joy - no lie.  

Agreed about Rheinberger - an apt description indeed.  One of my favourites of his is the "Abendlied" (Evening Song), again with scrolling score:

If you get a chance to listen to these, let me know what you think!  --Joe

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow... the harmonies from "Beat Quorum Via" gave me chills! The counterpoint in both the Stanford and Rheinberger pieces is amazing!

You might like to listen to some Russian choral music as well, particularly Russian Orthodox Church music. Here is a piece by Russian composer Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), another underrated master, called "Cherubic Hymn" (Херувимская Песнь, or Kheruvimskaya Pesnya) from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom:

By the way, in case you are interested, here is the 3rd movement to Toivo Kuula's Piano Trio:

In case you get to listen to these, let me know what you think of them!

Best,

Theo

Edited by Theodore Servin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would praise Moritz Moszkowski too:happy:

Moritz (Maurice) Moszkows (1854 - 1925) was a German composer, pianist, and teacher of Polish-Jewish descent. 

I particularly like his Piano Concerto No.1, because of both the breathtaking melodies and well-balanced arrangement. Although I am not a pianist. but I can see his works are great for    pianist to show off. 

Also: Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) was a French romantic composer. His wrote a few orchestral pieces, concerti as well as ensemble works.  

Personally, Poème for violin and orchestra is very nice. 

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@HoYin Cheung

I love Moszkowksi and Chausson as well! Both pieces that you mentioned are masterworks too! I also love the Piano Concerto no. 2 in E major from Moszkowski and the Piano Quartet in A major from Chausson.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I love Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876 - 1909), he was a Polish composer and he died so young because of an avalanche when he was in mountains. I praise his Violin Concerto in A major and symphonic poem "Odwieczne pieśni".

I am very glad you've put Vasily Kalinnikov on your list, if only he had lived longer... but what he already composed is amazing

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Theodore Servin Where has Chesnokov been all my life?  Wonderful piece, and I do very much enjoy Russian liturgical music.  I presume you must have heard Rachmaninov's "All-Night Vigil" or "Vespers" from 1915...one of the last great masterworks of Russian liturgical music before the Revolution put an end to it all.  

I enjoyed the Kuula too, with all that delicious chromaticism and the parallel major thirds in a minor mode.  He reminded me of Grieg in spots, but his is certainly a very unique voice.  I wonder how many other Finnish composers there are from this period that don't get their due.  Sibelius doesn't seem to leave room for them.  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Pietro17

Until now, I have never heard of Mieczysław Karłowicz. Having listened to his Violin Concerto, I can say that I want to know more of his wonderful music! Such fine orchestration and harmonies! He is definitely a composer who deserves more recognition. It's also good to know that someone else likes Vasily Kalinnikov! One of my favorites from Russia.

@J. Lee Graham

I have heard Rachmaninov's (or Rachmaninoff's) All-Night Vigil. It's definitely one the great works from the catalogue of Russian liturgical music.

It seems that Chesnokov is much more well-known in Russia than in the west. He seems to be one of the main liturgical composers in Russia, along with Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky. There were many other Russian liturgical composers from around Chesnokov's time, including Alexander Gretchaninov, Alexander Arkhangelsky, Viktor Kalinnikov (brother of Vasily), and even Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, among others. There are a few Youtube channels that are specialized in this type of music, such as "The Oktavism Channel", "VitalyGR", and "Бибилиотека рентгента. Церкного хор" (which means "Library of the Regent (choral conductor). Church Choir").

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Theodore Servin said:

It seems that Chesnokov is much more well-known in Russia than in the west. He seems to be one of the main liturgical composers in Russia, along with Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky. There were many other Russian liturgical composers from around Chesnokov's time, including Alexander Gretchaninov, Alexander Arkhangelsky, Viktor Kalinnikov (brother of Vasily), and even Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, among others.

I'm familiar with all of these, and have sung some of their works.  Even Tchaikovsky wrote some liturgical stuff.  I cannot imagine why I have never heard of or sung Chesnokov before now, and more is the pity.  Another relatively unknown Russian is Dmitri Bortniansky (1751-1825).  He's much earlier, but his music is very good.  His liturgical music is interesting because he studied in Italy (he wrote some very successful Italian operas while there) and brought that tradition back with him to the Imperial Court in Russia, so his liturgical stuff is a fascinating blend of Italian and traditional Russian influences.    

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Theodore Servin  While we're talking about cool Russian liturgical music, here's one for male chorus I ran across some years ago - "Nine sili nebesniye" by another guy I'd never heard of from this period, Aleksandr Sheremetev (1859-1931), sung by Chorovaya Akademia: 

How about those incredible basses?!  There's nothing like a really good Russian bass section!  

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@J. Lee Graham  I've always considered Sheremetev's "Nine sili nebesniye" to be a masterpiece within the Russian liturgical music repertoire. I mean, those harmonies are just incredible! Of course, the same thing goes for the extreme bass notes, characteristic for Russian liturgical music. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only piece I can find by this him, which is a shame, because the piece is so beautiful! Here is another liturgical piece that you may be familiar with similar circumstances surrounding it, called "Ne ridai mene, mati" ("Не рыдай мене, мати"), by a composer named Fyodor Ivanov. There is practically zero information about this composer on the "western" internet (meaning all pages not written in Russian), but I think the piece is heavenly.

I have heard of Bortniansky. He is a truly wonderful composer, and I especially love his famous Cherubic Hymn no. 7 in D major. It's like an Orthodox version of Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, in terms of the heavenly beauty that both pieces are written in.

I think it's safe to say that Russian liturgical music is some of the best and most underrated music out there, and deserves to be performed much more often in the west.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Theodore Servin  I finally got a chance to listen to the Ivanov piece, and what a gem it is!  And how about that incredible A below the bass staff in the basses at the end?  That's the open A string on a double-bass, just a fourth higher than its lowest (regular) note!  I didn't even think that was humanly possible!  My little brother is a basso profundo like that...he can easily hit low-C, but I've never heard anything like this.

23 hours ago, Theodore Servin said:

I've always considered Sheremetev's "Nine sili nebesniye" to be a masterpiece within the Russian liturgical music repertoire. I mean, those harmonies are just incredible!

One of the most impressive things about the piece to me as a technician is the fact that Sheremetev, blatantly and obviously with purpose, commits parallel octaves between the 1st Tenor and 2nd Bass at the climax of the piece (after that excruciating long crescendo), going from what I believe is a root-position A-flat major chord to a 2nd-Inversion C major chord, and he totally gets a free pass from me, even though he might have avoided them by changing either part just a little!  Despite being totally illicit by Western standards, it's one of the most electrifying moments in the repertoire to my ears just as is, and I wouldn't change it for the world.  I don't know for sure, but having heard other anomalies of that kind, I have a feeling that the rules of harmony don't always  necessarily apply as strictly to Russian choral music, and that's fine as long as the results are so eminently worth it.    

23 hours ago, Theodore Servin said:

I think it's safe to say that Russian liturgical music is some of the best and most underrated music out there, and deserves to be performed much more often in the west.

Heartily agreed.  By now, you might have surmised that we definitely share an enthusiasm for underrated composers!          

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×