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Thread: What didn't the great composers write?

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    Senior Member TresPicos's Avatar
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    Default What didn't the great composers write?

    Ever heard of Beethoven's Requiem? Schubert's 3rd piano concerto in b minor? Bartok's spectacular 4th symphony? No, neither have I.

    Of course, all composers didn't write in all genres and forms. But why did some of them choose to skip important genres like the symphony and the concerto altogether?

    In some cases, its understandable that a composer writes one work in a certain genre and then decides that it wasn't any fun, or that he wasn't that good at it. But in many cases, they didn't even try. The most peculiar example to me is, probably, the lack of Schubert concertos, considering his vast overall output.

    So, what other neglected genres are there among the greater composers? And why?

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    they didn't even try
    How do you know? Maybe Schubert wrote one or half of movement for his piano or cello concerto and didn't like it? Or maybe Brahms started to sketch his opera and then threw it's score into the fire? It's possible. If some composer didn't write in particular genre it's obvious to me that he didin't belive it could make some good or had no time because of his other works that we can listen to.

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    Senior Member TresPicos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aramis View Post
    How do you know? Maybe Schubert wrote one or half of movement for his piano or cello concerto and didn't like it? Or maybe Brahms started to sketch his opera and then threw it's score into the fire? It's possible. If some composer didn't write in particular genre it's obvious to me that he didin't belive it could make some good or had no time because of his other works that we can listen to.
    That is certainly true. We don't have access to all of their refuse.

    But Schubert could obviously write for the piano (judging from his piano sonatas) and for the orchestra (judging from his symphonies), so why not for them combined? Or maybe he just said to himself "I'll get around to the concerto stuff later. Life is long."

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    Senior Member Fsharpmajor's Avatar
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    As far as I know Shostakovich never wrote anything religious. Christianity was suppressed by the Soviet regime, and Shostakovich was himself an atheist. However, he did admire Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms.

    That's the only example I can think of right now.

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    It's a good topic for discussion but I can't say that I am surprised that Schubert didn't write a piano, violin, or cello concerto, or that Brahms never wrote an opera. It would no doubt have been very nice if they had done so but it's not surprising that they didn't.

    Schubert did not receive many commissions, as much of his output was primarily destined for the amusement of his inner circle of friends, comprising largely a collection of lieder. There is also the obvious point that Schubert died very young, and in all probability would have got round eventually to produce some grand works in these missing genres had he lived longer.

    Brahms was both a perfectionist and the arch-promoter of absolute music, as opposed to music which is inherently programmatic such as opera. He probably felt that he would be better of sticking with what he did best leaving operatic pursuits to others like Wagner.

    Chopin is perhaps the most specialised of the really great composers, although he did write a sonata for cello and piano, as well as several songs (yes songs). His saving grace is that he wrote some splendid material in a wide variety of the piano repertoire.

    Schumann spent the first 10 years of his composing writing nothing other than works for solo piano (Ops 1-28). Given the state of his mental health we're fortunate that he lived long enough to branch out into other areas. It is believed that his wife, Clara, had a big say in encouraging him to move into other areas. In fact he covered all genres including an opera, and produced many magnificent works in each.

    Wagner is reputedly said to have wanted to write some symphonies but unfortunately he died before he was able to move into this area (although he did write one symphony at the beginning of his career).

    All in all, I would suggest that the primary reasons why some composers missed out on some genres was (i) primarily their pursuit of comparative advantage and (ii) lack of opportunity to do so through early death or lack of commissions, and possibly (iii) lack of encouragement by family/friends.

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    I can also recall that lack of piano works of any kind in Berlioz's repertoire is caused by his aversion for this instrument.

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    Sibelius's Piano Concerto.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Quote Originally Posted by TresPicos View Post
    That is certainly true. We don't have access to all of their refuse.

    But Schubert could obviously write for the piano (judging from his piano sonatas) and for the orchestra (judging from his symphonies), so why not for them combined? Or maybe he just said to himself "I'll get around to the concerto stuff later. Life is long."
    He wasn't a virtuoso and so had less reason to write piano concertos than some previous composers.


    Beethoven didn't write a comic opera.

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    Junior Member Wagner's Avatar
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    The greatest of all monogenric composers is my namesake, Richard Wagner - and the reason he didn't compose any symphonies (apart from his student C major attempt) is because he had a different idea as to what music was capable of. Liszt is the same - they saw music as something that reflects what it is to be human, not controls it.

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    Senior Member Lukecash12's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wagner View Post
    The greatest of all monogenric composers is my namesake, Richard Wagner - and the reason he didn't compose any symphonies (apart from his student C major attempt) is because he had a different idea as to what music was capable of. Liszt is the same - they saw music as something that reflects what it is to be human, not controls it.
    Well said! But what it is that makes any form of music inherently controlling or reflective?
    There is no wealth like knowledge, no poverty like ignorance.
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    Junior Member Wagner's Avatar
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    Well, Wagner, Strauss and Liszt all had the primary intention of expression. Whether this was expressing a movingly beautiful landscape as Strauss does in the Alpine Symphony, the simple and stark power of death as Liszt did in La lugubre gondola or the overwhelming power of love as Wagner did in Tristan und Isolde.

    They are all reflections of human emotion. Beethoven and Brahms were far more concerned with form, structure and aesthetics which they arranged carefully to manipulate the senses into unknown territory rather than directly engaging us through humanism.

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    *insert any famous long gone composer* trombone concerto. (except Rimsky-Korsakov, but that piece isn't very good at all)

    though, not as true once the 20th century got rolling.

    I wish Brahms had composed a clarinet concerto - that would have been great, as his use of the instrument in chamber and orchestra is just sublime.

    Wouldn't it be grand if Mahler had composed an opera!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Good View Post
    Wouldn't it be grand if Mahler had composed an opera!
    He did. Not completely, but he finished one. I'm talking about Die drei Pintos.

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    Senior Member Argus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wagner View Post
    Well, Wagner, Strauss and Liszt all had the primary intention of expression. Whether this was expressing a movingly beautiful landscape as Strauss does in the Alpine Symphony, the simple and stark power of death as Liszt did in La lugubre gondola or the overwhelming power of love as Wagner did in Tristan und Isolde.

    They are all reflections of human emotion. Beethoven and Brahms were far more concerned with form, structure and aesthetics which they arranged carefully to manipulate the senses into unknown territory rather than directly engaging us through humanism.
    All music and art in general is surely just a method of transporting the emotion in the artists mind when they create the artwork into the mind of the listener. The actual method used to transport this emotion is just a means to an end. Myself, I prefer music to the other arts as it resonates more with me but it's different for other people.

    The Alpine Symphony is a good example of what I'm talking about. Strauss may have wanted to depict the picture of the Alps in the listeners mind but this is not possible. If the work had another title and I knew nothing about it before my first hearing of it would it still invoke the feeling of the Alps? It will give me the same emotions but I'm not sure I would relate it to any particular place without the influence of other factors like culture and time in history altering my perception of it. Music cannot express an actual physical thing as it remains in the metaphsical realm, only the actual vibrations we hear in the air are measurable and set.

    However, to slightly contradict myself I will say it is impossible for the artist to transmute his emotions into music. The emotion the listener will feel is personal to them and their own experiences.

    Wagner didn't write symphonies because he probably thought opera was his best way of relaying his emotions to other people. However, with some composers, like Chopin, I get the feeling they didn't have the ability to truly express themselves in other forms than they used. The form the music is in doesn't affect the emotion within the music, the content therein does, therefore the form is only important if the listener has a bias. For example, I am biased against string quartets and operas compared to other forms, just like many people on here are biased against rock and pop music forms.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wagner View Post
    Well, Wagner, Strauss and Liszt all had the primary intention of expression. Whether this was expressing a movingly beautiful landscape as Strauss does in the Alpine Symphony, the simple and stark power of death as Liszt did in La lugubre gondola or the overwhelming power of love as Wagner did in Tristan und Isolde.

    They are all reflections of human emotion. Beethoven and Brahms were far more concerned with form, structure and aesthetics which they arranged carefully to manipulate the senses into unknown territory rather than directly engaging us through humanism.
    And this is why that second group very much belong to the classical tradition and it's development (as did Mendelssohn and probably Schumann overall). The first group you mention (and you can include Scriabin, Debussy) are more about mood and atmosphere which was something new as a different organizing force for their music. Of course the old classical style of some composers co-existed at the same time as this new style with other composers.

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