Nicknames for music: Basically, I'm agin'em.
That said, I have a pal /colleague who knows just about every bit of rep
, including the 'lesser and the truly obscure,' from ca. J.S.Bach through to the 20th century (at the least). He refers to any and all of it by opus number, plus title if so assigned by the composer
.) As much as I am for that, when we are discussing rep I do not know all the opus no's for Beethoven, Köchel listings of Mozart, etc. I have to ask him for the number (of the sonata, symphony) and / or the key -- this from a supposedly 'literate' well-trained musician
So while it is perfectly understandable that "Moonlight" (thunk up by a music publisher after Beethoven's death, and yea, with romantic sensibility notions then well floating about in general) is much easier for most to remember than Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor Quasi una fantasia, Op. 27, No. 2
, or any part of that as designator -- Opus 27, No. 1 being the other Sonata Quasi una fantasia
(and another fine piece) -- I don't think that "Beethoven piano sonata No. 14
" is too difficult for anyone, so rather advocate at least that.
The Chopin appellations, the sort of which Chopin is on record as vehemently having no truck with whatsoever, are the height of lesser late-romantic cheese / schmaltz (whatever
sentiment and I find about the worst (near to egregious) of non-composer designated titles.
Less than the number of digits on one hand are the subtitles Beethoven gave to his 32 piano sonatas, yet we have "Pathetique
" (suggested by Luigi's publisher, which Beethoven, in his inimitable manner and with a canny sense of marketing, said when it was suggested, basically, "O.K., why not?") and a number of other sonatas known as "Appassionata," "Moonlight," etc.
... and yes, for trained musicians as well as the lay audience, those nicknames are much easier to remember than the clinical Op. 27, no. 2 in C# minor
Where it comes to Schubert, and those works where he quoted / used his own material taken from one of his songs, "Death and the Maiden," and "The Trout Quintet," even if not titles assigned by Schubert, I find not only harmless but the musical reference, recast, as quite acceptable. The song Die Forelle
is about a 'happy' trout in its natural habitat that eludes all those fishermen who want that fish as a prize catch. That famous piano quintet quoting the song has the same ebullient and playful feel, so there the title is imo wholly appropriate, and not at all misleading any more than it should be taken completely literally. Ditto for the "Death and the Maiden" quartet.
Whether the nicknames seem appropriate or near to egregious, I would hope that those who consume this music so titled are at least informed enough to know just how many of those nicknames are about as arbitrary and capricious as it gets, that they had been nowhere in -- let alone close to -- the composers' thoughts, and are most often given / assigned by others well after the fact of the music having been written.
As designators they are handy, simple to remember, while having nothing at all to do with what was in the composer's mind while he was writing it, nor what the composer 'wanted the listener to think or feel.'
Listeners who are unaware of "Who Titled What" are misled / misdirected as to 'what meaning or emotional import' they should be seeking when listening to any of the rep with these popular nicknames.
Once "who named what" is known, it pretty much does not matter, I suppose, what you call it... like that line in Richard Lester's film, A hard day's night,
when a journalist asks The Beatles band member George Harrison, "What do you call that haircut?" and Harrison answers, "Arthur."