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Reflecting on Obscure late 19th and 20th Century Composers

I am a digital collector of classical music recordings.  I have many DVDs chock full of MP3s and Ogg Vorbis of recordings of everything I could get my hands.  I have any piece that’s been played with any regularity in the past 50 years, and usually have 4 or 5 different performances from different artists of each piece.  I had thought that I had a decent handle on musical history starting from the master himself (Bach).

After discovering a few dozen new composers in the last several weeks, boy was I wrong!  There was (and still is) so much great classical music that I hadn’t heard.

Most of what I had not heard was from Eastern Europe, where the composers were often displaced or suppressed by the formation of the USSR.

So, I will share some of my journey with you:

Anatoly Nikolayevich Alexandrov

Anatoly’s music is very archetypically Russian.  It’s emotive, and very similar to Rachmaninov.  The first of his 6 preludes, below, begins with a pretty thunderous statement.  To give context, it was written around the time when Russia withdrew (conceding much of its territory) from World War I, and the country was on the brink of civil war.

Borys Mykolayovych Lyatoshynsky

I am not a fan of atonal music.  Many atonal composers seem to have had a moment of epiphany where they have understood music well enough to compose atonally.  I wonder if listeners have the same epiphany?  His Mourning Prelude is one of the few atonal pieces which transcends my lack of understanding of music without tonal centering.  It’s a gripping piece that merges the slavic classical romanticism with atonality.

Sergei Mikhailovich Lyapunov

Lyapunov was a protoge of Liszt, and his music sounds like it!  Like Liszt, he trades off creativity in rhythm and thematic material for virtuosic texture.

Felix Blumenfeld

Blumenfeld commands wonderful virtuosic textures like Lyapunov in the style of Liszt, but he is a much more interesting crafter of thematic material.  His closest analogue is perhaps Rachmaninov. Although his name is not well known, he is certainly central to many names who are:  he was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, and Vladimir Horowitz was a pupil of Blumenfeld.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

His first sonata, below, is a mostly tonal (but not strictly) piece of considerable depth that is perhaps similar (though less-tonally centered) to Chopin.  He began its composition at 11 years old.

Arthur-Vincent Lourié

Born in Russia, Lourie’s music sounds very modern, and it’s very pretty.

Julius Reubke

Reubke, another Liszt protoge, only lived 24 years.  His work has broad, sweeping dynamics with incredible musical textures which are (like other Liszt pupils) traded off from theme & melodies.  This is an incredible work, especially from a 23 year-old.

Ján Levoslav Bella

Bella’s Piano Sonata in Bb Minor typifies the slavic romanticism with a Hungarian bend.  The piece is potent.

Gabriel Pierné

What a piece!  This is romantic period music at its best.  It’s very much like Rachmaninov.

Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev

The piece below is the second movement of his unfinished piano concerto, written at the age of 19.  This is very dark indeed.  Also, doesn’t he look like Andy Mckee?

Erno Dohnanyi

This is my favourite of the group.  I am a sucker for beautiful themes and melodies, and he incorporates them into a great package filled with deep textures and rich orchestration.

Finding this music was very eye-opening, and it’s led me on a path of musical discovery that I didn’t know existed.  I hope that you find something here that gives you a similar gift.

Happy holidays,



December 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment