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A War on Warhorses Even More Suggestions


Ed. Note: Mark DeVoto has added even more of his thoughts on BSO repertoire. His suggested season continues below the break. Click “continued” and scroll down for the concerts eleven through fifteen.

To be the successful director of a major orchestra one has to earn and preserve respect — from the orchestra players first and foremost every day, but also from other musicians, from living composers, and of course from the Board of Trustees — and audiences. But in my opinion, audiences count least among this assembly, because the respect (and sometimes the disrespect) is usually there in the first place whether it is deserved or not. Conductors mostly don’t seem to see it this way. Too often, I think, conductors are of a mind that they must give the audiences what they think they want, every time; not often enough do conductors feel that it’s their job to serve the musical public as a whole, to educate as well as delight their audiences. James Levine is an outstanding educator in this regard; at the same time, he gives the audiences what they want to hear far more often than he gives them what they don’t want to hear.

The next conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra will get no sympathy from me if he/she insists on programming that is overloaded with warhorses. All of the BSO’s permanent conductors from the 1930s have served the warhorse repertory loyally, but especially Koussevitzky and Munch served the interests of contemporary orchestral composers, and especially local composers (Walter Piston, for example, had no less than eight of his works given their first performance by the BSO during the Koussevitzky-Munch years); the same was somewhat less true of Ozawa, who regularly introduced works to Boston were first heard elsewhere (I think of Messiaen’s Saint Francis of Assisi), but who often stuck to the shopworn in his programs. Leinsdorf and Steinberg were both relatively uninterested in unusual programming, with a small number of distinguished exceptions (Leinsdorf directed the first Boston performances of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, which they brilliantly recorded); warhorses were the rule with them.

What do I mean by warhorses? I mean orchestral works that everybody knows and loves, but that are performed more frequently than we need to hear them in order to learn them and love them. There are many warhorses that I will happily listen to many times over — any of the symphonies of Beethoven, for instance, or the last three Mozart, or the last two Dvorák, or Firebird or The Planets or Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra any of dozens of works that you or I or anyone else could easily name, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear them every day, and certainly not all of them every year. There are also plenty of warhorses that are works of lesser quality by great composers, but that are nevertheless very popular, and it is especially these that I want to propose be given a long rest on BSO programs — Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies and First Piano Concerto, for instance. Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony is one of the very best of all time, of course; how long has it been since we heard his First Symphony (“Winter Dreams”) or his Second Symphony, the “Little Russian”? You may madly adore the Brahms Violin Concerto; I’d rather hear one of his piano concertos any day. I’d far rather hear Copland’s Billy the Kid than his Rodeo. And I’ve sounded off before in these pages about Vaughan Williams’s Tallis and Lark and Fifth Symphony and other overplayed bores.

So, some of my own ideas about future Boston Symphony programming. (Directors and patrons of other orchestras around here, please take note; you’re welcome to as many of my ideas as you wish.) What I propose for the Boston Symphony is that every other weekly program for the season — or possibly even more often — include not more than one warhorse, and that the remainder of the program be made up of excellent but less well-known works by the best-known composers, or excellent works by less well-known composers.

Here are five sample programs of the type I’d like to see and hear. Many of these pieces are seldom heard anywhere today. I freely admit that I’ve listed a small number of venerable warhorses, but no real clunkers. If there is a preponderance of Romantic era, that’s OK; most music for full orchestra falls into that category. I’ve been examining the BSO’s database for numbers and dates of BSO performances since the orchestra’s founding, and my information given with these titles should be correct. (I have deliberately excluded any works by living composers, for the plain and simple reason that many that I might suggest are by friends of mine.)

I invite anybody to comment either on these suggested programs or on my observations above, and at another time I’ll suggest some more programs.


Haydn: Symphony no. 47 (never heard at the BSO)
Stravinsky: Fireworks (ten times, last heard 2003)
Stravinsky: Zvyezdoliki (five times, last in 1972)
Busoni: Piano Concerto (never)


Bach: Brandenburg Concerto no. 1 (twenty-two times, last in 1982)
Borodin: Symphony no. 2 (thirty-seven times, last in 1972)
Copland: Organ Symphony (six times, last in 1964)

PROGRAM NO. 3 (Schubert)

Rosamunde, entr’acte #1 (twenty times, last in 1937)
, entr’acte #2 (twice, both in 1889)
Overture to Des Teufels Lustschloss, D 84 (never)
Symphony no. 8 in C major, D 944 (“Great”) (236 times, last in 2009)


Schubert: Symphony no. 3 (thirty-seven times, last in 2002)
Wagner: Five Poems of Mathilde Wesendonk (ten times, last in 2004)
Dvorák: Polednice (“The Noon Witch”) (never)
Weber: Konzertstück for piano and orchestra (twenty-two times, last in 1978)

PROGRAM NO. 5 (French)

Debussy: Fantaisie for piano and orchestra (two times, both in 1920)
Debussy: Gigues (twelve times, last in 1992)
Debussy: Danses sacrée et profane (three times, last in 2009)
Chabrier: Overture to Gwendoline (twenty-five times, last in 1924)

PROGRAM NO. 6 (American)Griffes: The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan (14 x, last 1976)
MacDowell: Piano Concerto no. 2 (38 x, last 2004
Creston: Symphony no. 2 (27 x, 1945, 1953, 1956)


Beethoven: Overture to Ruins of Athens (4 x, last 1887)
(OR: Incidental Music to Ruins of Athens, 4 x, last 1992)
Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances (10 x, last 1994)
Goldmark: Symphony, Rustic Wedding (37 x, last 1910)


Haydn: Symphony no. 63 in C major (“La Roxelane”) (never)
Chopin: Krakowiak for piano and orchestra (never)
Berwald: Sinfonie singulière (once, TMC Orchestra, 1965)


Schubert: Overture to Die Zwillingsbrüder, D 647 (never)
Schumann: Konzertstück for 4 horns and orchestra (5 x, last 1994)
Nielsen: Symphony no. 6 (“Sinfonia semplice”) (5 x, all 1965)


Duparc: Lénore (2 x, 1896)
Debussy: La plus que lente (once, 1998)
Franck: Les djinns (6 x, last 1951)
Massenet: Scènes alsaciennes (twice, both 1883)

Some will note here some titles already mentioned in the earlier Comments.  I heard a first-rate MacDowell Second Concerto by the Boston Civic with Virginia Eskin a couple of years ago.  I’m glad that Goldmark’s Rustic Wedding was mentioned even before I listed it here.  It may be a crowd-pleaser, but it also has some subtle and very interesting structural aspects, especially its cyclic treatment when the post-Schubert cyclic-symphony era had already been in full swing for thirty years.

Griffes’s Pleasure Dome is one of the unquestionably great works of American Impressionism; it was premiered by the BSO under Monteux, and hats off to Seiji Ozawa for recording it.  The Creston Second Symphony has been called “real trash” because of the populist appeal of its dancelike second movement, but I think it deserves a genuine re-evaluation.  Creston today is almost entirely forgotten, but in the 1950s he was the second most-performed American composer of symphonic music (after Copland I think).

I have taken a lot of ribbing from friends for my enthusiasm for the Berwald Sinfonie singulière, but those who take the trouble to hear it are usually convinced of the value of this singular work from 1845 (his other symphonies are pretty good too).  Berwald has his mannerisms, and his influence from Mendelssohn and perhaps Berlioz are apparent, but his technique and originality are undeniable; he is the most significant Scandinavian composer before Grieg and I would be happy to hear this work instead of a couple of Sibelius.

Duparc’s Lénore, a single-movement symphonic poem, is a Franco-Wagnerian gem, much more interesting than the sprawling four-movement symphony by Joachim Raff based on the same poem by Bürger.  I have conducted Massenet’s Scènes alsaciennes and they are a delight in four movements, richly melodic (including a choral protestant which turns out to be Wachet auf), beautifully scored, with fine instrumental soli, and wrought in harmony of impeccable taste.  Debussy praised his former teacher for his peculiarly French gift for writing music purely to give pleasure.  Those who are turned off by Manon and Thaïs will find something different here.

Beethoven’s complete Ruins of Athens music could be substituted on my No. 1 program because its Chorus of Dervishes, which sounds more like Rimsky-Korsakov than Beethoven, is sensational; the men’s chorus would be used also with the Busoni and Stravinsky’s Zvyezdoliki (in whose Boston premiere in 1962 I played a minor role).


Debussy: Trois poèmes de François Villon (never)

Ravel: Deux mélodies hébraïques (never)
Stravinsky: Scherzo fantastique (12 x, last 2009)
Stravinsky: Agon (9 x, last 1965)


Debussy: Khamma, ballet (never)
Liszt: From the cradle to the grave (never)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 2 in C minor (“Little Russian”) (43 x)


Stravinsky: Scherzo à la russe (7 x, last 1970)
Stravinsky: Symphony in three movements (35 x, last 2001)
Bartók: The Wooden Prince (never)


Martucci: Notturno (never)
Lambert: The Rio Grande (5 x, last 1934)
Holst: Egdon Heath (never)
Weiner: Hungarian Folkdance Suite (never)


Schumann: Overture to Genoveva (never)
Liszt: Totentanz (20 x, last 1987)
Mahler: Symphony no. 1 in D major (1893 version) (never)

There are a few sleepers in this collection.  The BSO has taken justified pride in promoting French music, but it’s preposterous to neglect some of these important works by Debussy even if they are not of the same popularity as Faune or La mer.  I remember that La boîte à joujoux got its BSO premiere only in the 1992, under Knussen.  Not many have heard of Martucci, who was a pre-Puccini Italian Wagner, but his Notturno is a lovely short piece, and I wonder if anybody has heard of Léo Weiner, whose Hungarian Folkdance Suite is an orchestral spectacular that would be a hit on any program.  The second version of Mahler’s First, for a Brahms-sized orchestra and including the “Blumine” movement, should be commended to any good orchestra; one of the most polished and sensitive performances I ever heard by any student orchestra was of this work in the summer of 1967 at Harvard, conducted by Joel Lazar.  I was present in 1957 when Munch conducted the Boston premiere of Stravinsky’s Agon.  It shared the program with Rameau’s Dardanus and Bruckner’s Seventh (!), which suffered because so much of the rehearsal had been given to the new work.  Agon made the BSO programs only once more, in 1965.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert in Alban Berg, also Ravel and Debussy. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (PhD, 1967), he has published extensively on these composers and many music subjects, most notably, music harmony.


81 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. It should be said that Leinsdorf, a deplorable personality and a tight-ass musician whose memoir, Cadenza, was Nixonian in the way it unremittingly cast blame for failure on others, DID, in fact, give us music of the second Viennese school that, before his tenure, had either been little-performed or not at all. He also gave us Britten’s wonderful War Requiem. Prof. DeVoto puzzlingly chooses not to mention James Levine’s advocacy of Schoenberg, Harbison, Babbitt, and especially Elliott Carter, all of whom were more or less ignored by previous BSO music directors. He also got the orchestra to play well again, and occasionally with the intensity we had not heard from it since Koussevitsky’s time. When war-horses are played in convincing ways, we can hear again the qualities that made them original and exciting in the first place. Thanks to Prof. DeVoto for his thought-provoking essay.

    Comment by Dan Farber — March 28, 2011 at 10:02 am

  2. OK Mark, I’ll bite.

    Like you, what I’d really like to see is programming that audiences would like but that have dropped out of the repertoire or were never in it. A big lacuna in modern BSO programming has been the earlier American composers, whom the BSO served so well in its early days. We should hear the Chadwick symphonies, the Beach symphony, the Paine symphonies, the tone poems and other miscellaneous orchestral works of these plus the entire New England Romantic school (Foote, Converse, Gilbert, Hadley, MacDowell, Mason, etc.). Then there are non-New England American composers of great merit who have been neglected, the top one on my list being John Alden Carpenter, whose Piano Concertino was a favorite of Percy Grainger and is a truly seminal work, as were his three ballets. Ernst Bacon is also worth exploring, as are Marion Bauer, Leo Sowerby, Quincy Porter, and Douglas Moore. Henry Holden Huss and Amy Beach wrote great big bow-wow piano concertos that would go down very well, and Ezra Laderman has a very nice clarinet concerto. And is anyone ever going to do right by Alan Hovhaness, even in his centenary year?

    Lots of non-American music needs presenting as well. When was the last time the BSO did the Finzi Cello Concerto? It’s an absolute masterpiece. We don’t get to hear live performances of Robert Simpson or Havergal Brian. Levine has been okay about performing high-modernist work, but there’s a lot more to hear than that: Birtwistle sure, but what about Judith Weir? Is there orchestral work by Grisey or Murail we can hear? What was the last time we heard Penderecki’s later music, or Panufnik?

    And oh yes, the Pops should forever jettison the 1812 Overture on July 4 (can someone explain with a straight face why we play a Russian piece about a French invasion on our national holiday?) and replace it with the Ives Second Symphony, whose finale provides plenty of opportunities for fireworks.

    Comment by Vance Koven — March 28, 2011 at 11:28 am

  3. Fascinating Article, Mr. DeVoto!

    Vance, I second many of your suggestions particularly regarding the New England composers and would like to add several of my own choices both American and European.

    The two long neglected MacDowell Piano concertos are marvelous… Liszt heard # 1 and thought it was a work of genius. Cliburn seems to be the last to champion the more popular # 2 back around 1960 and he recorded it. The earlier Howard Hanson 9ymphonies deserve a hearing as does the Suite from his opera “Merry Mount”.. the locale of the Opera was Quincy circa 1635.

    Among unjustly neglected Europeans… Max Reger’s Piano Concerto is a brilliant piece championed by both Serkins but even the recordings are “out of Print”.. Mieczyslaw Karlowicz’s amazing Symphonic Poems..Op/ 11. 12 + 14 are true masterpieces written shortly before his untimely death @ age 34 in 1909 but a couple of his earlier works are dreadful. Nikolay Myaskovsky’s Symphony # 24 & 25 may be considered reactionary but they are so well-written that they should be given a hearing. Both Paderewski”s Piano Concerto and Polish Fantasy would certainly win approval with many audience members. The UK’s Arnold Bax is strangely neglected elsewhere.. he composed some wonderful Symphonies and Tone Poems.
    There are many neglected early Lutoslawski works which have not been heard here or deserve repeating.

    I am certain others will offer their own examples of unjustly neglected composers etc.

    Comment by Ed Burke — March 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm

  4. I would like to hear the Eugene Goosens’s derangement of Messiah which Beecham famously recorded with an all-star quartet of dramatic opera singers: Jennifer Vyvyan, soprano; Monica Sionclair, mezzo-soprano; Jon Vickers, tenor and Giorgio Tozzi, bass. With the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and modern counterparts of the famous soloists we could have a performance that would send early music mavens scurrying for their narrow lairs.

    Then there are some great silent movies for which serious composers wrote scores. Cecil B. DeMilles’s 1915 version of Carmen actually had its gala premiere at Symphony hall with members of the BSO and Geraldine Farrar (who appeared in the silent movie) under the famous Hollywood composer-arranger, Hugo Riesenfeld. There are many others which played Symphony Hall in their original releases.

    What about some piano concertos of Anton Rubinstein or some organ and orchestra works of
    Guilmant and other Frenchmen?

    Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher of Honegger should come back.

    Virtually anything with TFC

    What about Vaughan-Wiiliams?

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — March 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm

  5. I’ve attended a live performance of the Busoni Piano Concerto by the CONCORD (Massachusetts, just to be clear in case Michelle Bachmann should ever view this website) Orchestra, with Randall Hodgkinson as soloist. He played from score because The Busoni Concerto makes the Rachmaninoff 3rd seem like “Chopsticks”. I enjoyed it very much and thereafter purchased a CD by the Cleveland Orchestra with Garrick Ohlsson. A short time ago, I heard the “Rustic Wedding” Symphony by Karl Goldmark on the radio…a real crowd-pleaser I can’t figure out why it fell from the repertoire.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — March 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm

  6. Mark: You wrote ” I’ve been examining the BSO’s database for numbers and dates of BSO performances since the orchestra’s founding, and my information given with these titles should be correct.”

    Is the BSO database accessible to the general public? I’d love to be able to refresh my ofen faulty powers of recall as to the particulars re: past performances by the BSO. I don’t remember seeing any direct reference to such a database on the BSO regular website. The Met Opera has a wonderful detailed one re: operas, casts, debuts etc.

    Comment by Ed Burke — March 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm

  7. Ed Burke, I agree with you on Hanson. I was just listening to the two MacDowell concertos and think #1 is a bit too derivative from Grieg, but #2 is remarkable and quirky and deserves restoration to the repertoire.

    Lee, on RVW I agree with Mark that #5 may be getting overplayed (same, by the way for Sibelius 5), and the same goes for both composers’ #2, but I think RVW 3, 6, 9, and especially 8 deserve more play. Another English work that deserves revival is Parry’s Third Symphony, which is really very good, along with the “Irish” Symphony of Arthur Sullivan (plus some of his overtures, like Di Ballo and In Memoriam). Mendelssohn was very keen on Sterndale Bennett’s piano concerto, so that should get a look-over, and poor Norbert Bergmüller’s small oeuvre should be heard as well. We hear so much recorded stuff on WHRB, like the works of Stenhammar, that deserve the benefit of live performance.

    I still treasure my recording of the Busoni concerto with John Ogdon. If Randy H has it under his fingers, then say no more and bring it on!

    To be a little more specific on some of the New Englanders, it has come to my attention that the Foote cello concerto may never have been publicly performed in Boston, which should be rectified post haste. Poor old Horatio Parker deserves better than he has gotten in the last eight or so decades, and one should look beyond Hora Novissima as well (though a good performance of that would not be amiss). There has been a complete absence of Edward Burlingame Hill–not only from the concert hall, but so far as I can make out, there isn’t a single recording of his music extant. He was an influential teacher (Bernstein, for example, was his student), and what I’ve heard or read in score is quite lovely. As a general matter, there should be a policy of reviving everyone that Paul Rosenfeld ever said a bad word about–his was as baleful an influence on American musical taste as Clement Greenberg’s was in the area of visual art.

    Another American composer who should get a hearing, though I personally am not very keen on his work, is George Templeton Strong (Jr.), who was a friend of MacDowell but who expatriated himself for most of his (very long) life.

    Comment by Vance Koven — March 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm

  8. I forgot to mention above on the subject of Vaughan Williams that his piano concerto is a fascinating piece, very different in sound from a lot of what we think of as classic RVW.

    Bottom line, I think Boston concert audiences should not be treated like nincompoops. They will respond to intelligently deployed esoterica, especially in Romantic and intelligible modernist idioms. Our orchestra was once at the forefront of educated musical taste, and there’s no reason why we should abandon that to the likes of Louisville or San Francisco or Seattle. Or Baltimore, which I mention because I think the leading candidate to replace Levine should be Marin Alsop, who seems quite open to the sorts of things we have been discussing here.

    Comment by Vance Koven — March 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm

  9. Let’s get this thread up to 100 comments and then BMInt will do a spreadsheet and present same to Mark Volpe and get his response.

    Don’t our readers know what BSO should be playing?

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — March 28, 2011 at 5:49 pm

  10. A very alert reader notified us that the Schubert Symphony no. 9 in C major, D 944 (“Great”) in Prof. DeVoto’s list of suggested BSO programs (the third) should be “8”; we looked it up and found numerous references to that. But Prof. DeVoto, asked for his input, wrote to BMInt:

    “The official numbering, by the New Schubert Edition, is that the “Great” C Major Symphony, D 944, must now be numbered 8. It used to be called 7 (in the old Schubert Edition) or 9 (most of the time in the 20th century) but sometimes 10 (when Sir George Grove was convinced — understandably but incorrectly — that there was a lost “Gmunden-Gastein” Symphony of 1825, to which a D number of 849 was provisionally assigned). The new 7 is the old 8, the B minor “Unfinished,” D 759, which was, of course, composed in 1822, before the Great C major. In the days when the Great was 9, the fully sketched but otherwise almost completely unfinished and unscored Symphony in E major, D 729, was for a while called 7. This is as clear as mud, isn’t it? The numbering problem is too extensively discussed in my new book. But for now and the foreseeable future, and not very happily, I call the Great C major Schubert’s 8th. (You may post this as a comment if you wish.”

    We so wish. The Source has spoken.

    Comment by Norton, Bettina A — March 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm

  11. Three cheers for DeVoto and an extra one for a ban on the 1812 Overture! Once in another city I watched July 4th fireworks to a mash-up of the 1812 and the Great Gate of Kiev and something else by (I think) Prokofiev!

    Here’s another strategy. It’s not necessary to have a festival limited to one or two seasons to explore specific repertoire, like we’ve had recently with the Beethoven symphonies or Schoenberg. The NY Philharmonic many years ago did a Schubert Mass *annually* for a few years. Why not one unperformed Haydn symphony per year until we hit them all? Or the Liszt symphonic poems at a similar rate. Maybe build a cycle of Berlioz songs as an alternative to “Les nuits d’été” for voices other than soprano. Baritone one year, tenor the next, etc.

    Much of this doesn’t have to wait for a new Music Director. Sharp management could send out lists of works we need to hear and maybe find they pique a conductor’s interest as (s)he’s designing programs. We’re only days away from the announcement of a new season and I wish I were more optimistic.

    Comment by Bill — March 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm

  12. I’m very happy to see so many alert and sensible responses. When I was at Conductors Institute in 1989, Harold Farberman made a vehement case for greater inclusion of American composers on American symphony programs, and I can only second that motion. In my next posting (Programs 6-10)I have some major American works. I’m glad to see Henry F. Gilbert mentioned; he and Alan Hovhaness are two major figures who are natives of Somerville. Sowerby’s _Canticle of the Sun_ won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946 but I know only his organ music. But although I would urge a revival by the BSO of several of the American works from a century ago, I would even more urge the other local orchestras to take some of these on; Dudley Buck’s _Festival Overture on the Star-Spangled Banner_ and Gottschalk’s _A Night in the Tropics_ aren’t great music but they’re good, and would surely be successful without the BSO. About clarinet concertos: I don’t know the one by Laderman but the one by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, a British epigone of Brahms, is really striking. I don’t agree that MacDowell’s First Piano Concerto is derivative from Grieg, other than that both are in A minor; it’s not as good a piece as the Second, but it’s well worth hearing from time to time. (I love the Grieg Concerto but surely for every ten times we hear it we could stand to hear the MacDowell Second just once.)

    About the Boston Symphony database: I consulted it by permission in person at the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives for most of one afternoon. My information is that at some future time it will become publicly accessible on the Internet.

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — March 28, 2011 at 7:54 pm

  13. I was glad to read Laurence Glavin’s comment about the Concord Orchestra; Richard Pittman is one of the most adventurous programers around.

    Take a look!

    Comment by Michael Beattie — March 28, 2011 at 8:55 pm

  14. Regarding Schubert:
    I suggest everyone follow the policy that the BSO program office does: since the final completed
    Symphony has been referenced as the Symphony No. 7, 8, 9 and even 10, how about the following:

    Symphony in C major “The Great”, D. 944

    No confusion. There’s only one Deutsch listing.

    Comment by Brian Bell — March 28, 2011 at 8:58 pm

  15. If some of the suggested pieces are too “lightweight” for the BSO, they would be great for the Pops. And I bet the Pops audience would really go for a good dose of Ives. All the “old ladies of both sexes” Ives complained about are dead and gone; today’s Pops audience can “take a dissonance like a man.” (hmmm … is that sexist these days?)

    Comment by Mark Lutton — March 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm

  16. BSO database…You wrote “My information is that at some future time it will become publicly accessible on the Internet.” Yes, in typical BSO fashion that means the year 2020!

    RE: George Templeton Strong.. his hour long Symphony # 2 (1887-88) is a wild, insane. unique and shocking work which makes anything the more gifted Ives wrote seem tame! Strong (1856-1948) spent much of his life in Switzerland and was championed by European Conductors during the late 19th and early 20th century.

    I’d be curious to hear Leo Ornstein’s piano concerto circa 1917?. Ornstein (1893-2002) yes. he lived to 106! and composed from 1911 until 1990…mostly for solo piano and chamber pieces.. he was considered by many musical authorities to be the most radical, modernist in the world pre 1920!

    Please..let’s hear some Walter Piston whose wonderful works have all but disappeared from BSO programs in recent years.

    Comment by Ed Burke — March 28, 2011 at 11:27 pm

  17. Another programming thought: a little cross-fertilization. While festival-like cooperation isn’t necessary, why not play off one another? Our opera companies have had some notable successes of late. This year the BSO missed chances to play something by Ullmann or Hindemith or Britten within a few weeks of the performance of their operas. Next year: Peter Maxwell Davies.

    Comment by Bill — March 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm

  18. May I offer a dissenting opinion?

    I have been listening to classical music for over fifty years. I have little use for modern music, which I define as anything after The Rite of Spring. Instead, I’m a Bach to Mahler man. I know of no work by an American composer that I consider great.

    An ideal conductor would specialize in the classical era. Anyone brought in for audition would be required to conduct a Haydn symphony. If he couldn’t conduct it as well as (say) Szell, Monteux, or Colin Davis, he would be eliminated from the competition.

    An ideal season would consist of about a half dozen Haydn symphonies, about fifteen works of Mozart,
    a half dozen works by Beethoven, and two or three works by Brahms, Dvorak, Bruckner and Mahler. Modern music would be played in separate concerts. Big works would include a Mozart opera every year. Subscribers could continue to choose their own series. I wonder how many would choose modern music concerts. Or the BSO could experiment: play something like the Schubert Great C Major before intermission, and, say, works by Babbitt after intermission. I wonder how many people would stay.

    I don’t mean to offend here; I realize most people who read this journal probably would not agree with me. I hopepeople will not respond vituperatively. Perhaps I should say that I have little use for 20th century modernism in general: for me the emperor wears no clothes.

    Comment by Allan Kohrman — March 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm

  19. I suggested in another blog that the BSO could reinvigorate the programming with works by William Schuman, Diamond, Persichetti, Lees just to mention a few from my CD collection. I agree with the lists of the other bloggers eve though Ligeti’s name was missing.

    Mr. Kohrman doesn’t offend me, but I do think that any responsible conductor must program what he/she believes to be the best modern composers. Even though I think that Levine probably did more Cage than he might have,given the list of other worthy living composers who should be heard. As much as I think that Wozzek the greatest opera of the 20th century, with Lulu a bit further down the list, I wonder if the Met audience thinks these operas are being shoved into their ears played in alternate years as they have been. In other words I think that Levine has not spread his wings far enough to embrace composers other than the few he champions.
    David Robertson would probably solve the major issues Prof. De Voto raised. I wish he had mentioned Chavez who is at least as worthy as Chabrier.

    Comment by Ed Robbins — March 29, 2011 at 11:47 pm

  20. I suggested in another blog that the BSO could reinvigorate the programming with works by William Schuman, Diamond, Persichetti, Lees just to mention a few from my CD collection. I agree with the lists of the other bloggers eve though Ligeti’s name was missing.

    Mr. Kohrman doesn’t offend me, but I do think that any responsible conductor must program what he/she believes to be the best modern composers. Even though I think that Levine probably did more Cage than he might have,given the list of other worthy living composers who should be heard. As much as I think that Wozzek the greatest opera of the 20th century, with Lulu a bit further down the list, I wonder if the Met audience thinks these operas are being shoved into their ears played in alternate years as they have been. In other words I think that Levine has not spread his wings far enough to embrace composers other than the few he champions.
    David Robertson would probably solve the major issues Prof. De Voto raised. I wish he had mentioned Chavez who is at least as worthy as Chabrier.

    Comment by Ed Robbins — March 29, 2011 at 11:47 pm

  21. Mr.Kohrman is a good representive of the typical BSO audience and I’m pleased that he has expressed his views here.

    My real “education” in listening began in a unique way: in 1959 at the age of 18, I became an usher @ Symphony Hall. Quite often I would hear a “modern” work which I immediately disliked. When the work was repeated at the next concert, I would “give it a second chance” and often liked it a bit more. With repeated hearings I sometimes fell in love with a piece that was initially hated.

    Being present at for many visiting orchestras, solo recitals and ensembles as well as
    The Aaron Richmond “Celebrity Series” which presented far more concerts in those days
    gave me a wonderful musical listening “educational” experience second to none.

    It’s interesting to recall that back then performances of Mahler were extremely rare and were not greeted with the enthusiasm shown by today’s audiences.

    BSO, indeed all orchestras hope to “educate” their audience by performing seldom heard and contemporary works. Knowing full-well that scheduling a “modern work” as the concluding piece results in the early departure of a sizable portion of the audience: it makes perfect sense to introduce it at the concert mid-point.

    Oh, Ed Robbins, very pleased that you mentioned Ligeti..

    Comment by Ed Burke — March 30, 2011 at 12:48 am

  22. Just a few facts. The Metropolitan Opera has performed Lulu 36 times over approximately 33 years. The last two seasons it appeared were 2001-2 (8 performances) and 2009-10 (3 performances). As for Wozzeck, limiting the data to Levine’s 40 years, the figures are 42 performances over 36 years, most recently 4 times in 2001-2 and 4 times in 2005-6.

    Even a regular Met subscriber has to work to catch a performance of these works. “Shoved into their ears”?

    I’ll second Ed Burke’s comment about repeated hearings. The unfamiliar, strange, and exotic becomes less so upon rehearing. You literally hear more upon second and third hearings. Even if we consider a series of performances of different contemporary works, one hears more with experience of the different works. There are other venues for easy listening.

    That said, and just to make it clear that we can still have our likes and dislikes, I’ll add my voice to the call for more Ligeti, but if I’m ever at a concert where his Double Concerto for Flute, Oboe, and Orchestra</i is performed, the work we had a few weeks ago, I'll spend my time in the bar.

    Comment by Bill — March 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm

  23. This is a terrific discussion with lots of interesting ideas. I hesitate to start naming pieces, or even composers, for fear of never stopping. I would love to hear many rarely heard pieces of the romantic era and a judicious selection of classical works in addition to the inevitable Haydn, Mozart,and Beethoven, great as they are.

    But I do want more, and more varied, music of the 20th and 21st centuries, and I would like to have it often enough that I have the opportunity to take its measure and even grow to love it. I vividly remember first starting to learn The Rite of Spring and Wozzeck as a college undergraduate almost entirely innocent of contemporary music and realizing that a single hearing never does much more than pique one’s interest, if that. A few years earlier, I had gotten the same response from the Eroica Symphony, which I was simply unable to take in in any meaningful way. Eventually, with all three works, I became an ardent devote’ by virtue of hearing them over and over again. Some parts appealed at once, and on each rehearing, I looked forward to those parts. But in doing so, I began to anticipate them, since I was simultaneously learning what it was that led up to them–and gradually becoming just as enamored of those passages. Gradually the entire piece would reveal enough of its secrets that I found I adored it. I clearly remember playing an LP of “Wozzeck” in my dorm room, as a background to studying (!), and humming along with it as if it were Puccini.

    Of course, people who are not quite that gripped by music in general may not want to take the time or effort to listen to something many times, especially if it involves paying for a ticket to hear another live performance, though I still think that is the best way to learn to love any piece of music. Even in the most abstruse, apparently rebarbative new piece, I have found that if something catches my attention strongly enough at a first hearing, I will give it the benefit of the doubt and try it a few more times. By then, I should be able to tell whether that area of attraction is going to expand to include more of the piece (not necessarily all of it) or not. I know that my musical life would have been sorely lacking today if I had not tried the procedure of listening again (and perhaps again and again) for those little bits that caught my ear the first time.

    I think I’d better put programming suggestions in another message.

    Comment by Steven Ledbetter — March 30, 2011 at 6:46 pm

  24. Will the Times let you look at this?

    If not, forget about it.

    Comment by Richard Buell — March 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm

  25. Personally I’d like to hear/see more performances of those big Romantic works for voice and orchestra, not just Mahler’s Das Lied von Erde or Haydn’s Creation, but some of the rarer and no less interesting works like Schumann’s Paradies und die Peri, Weber’s Kampf und Sieg, or Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht.

    Comment by Joseph Morgan — March 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm

  26. I agree with Mark’s general point, but I am amazed that no one has yet mentioned the great neglect of Shostakovich, Schnittke and other modern Russian composers (even Khrennikov, justly maligned for his role as Soviet political enforcer, wrote a pretty neat violin concerto….) under Levine’s tenure. And what about Hindemith’s wonderful works, not just Mathis, but also the E-flat Symphony, the Symphonie Der Welt, the Requiem (on Walt Whitman’s text!), Nobilissima Visione, the Violin Concerto, and the delightful Weber Variations. And then there is Dohnanyi, whose fantastic First Violin Concerto has not been performed by the BSO since 1921! (Dohnanyi also wrote a Very interesting Symphony and a Second Violin Concerto almost as great as the First..) How about Bartok’s FIRST violin concerto? Etc., etc. Actually, I think Mr. Volpe, or the new Music Director of the BSO could do worse than consult David Eliot of WHRB. David has a knack for finding music that is actually music, but which has been unjustly neglected by the folks who keep programming Warhorses. BTW, nothing against “modern” music (I think Schoenberg’s Moses & Aron and Survivor from Warsaw are absolute masterpieces), but let’s face it: an awful lot of the new stuff is just noise. It has turned people off “modern” music, and classical music concerts in general. What a pity, since there is still a lot of “new” music out there that Does connect with people’s lives and emotions.

    Comment by Lawrence Franko — March 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm

  27. I just re-read some of the comments and realized that I had forgotten the music of the composers of my “other” home: Switzerland. Honneger and Frank Martin in first place. When was the last time we heard their masterpieces in Symphony Hall? Jeanne d’Arc au Bucher, Le Roi David, Petite Symphonie Concertante, etc. And then there are quite a few French works that might be programmed. Poulenc’s Organ Concerto, once a semi-warhorse, ought to be rescussitated. And then there is Martinu, who was once championed by Koussevitsky! His concerto for double string orchestra, piano and tympani is one of the masterpieces of all time. Why do we never hear it??? I could go on.

    Comment by Lawrence Franko — March 30, 2011 at 8:06 pm

  28. If I may, I’ll weigh in with a simple, heartfelt composer wish list for a future incarnation of the BSO. My motive is the desire to strengthen appreciation for the excellence and sheer breadth of Western musical culture, whether its summits and main boulevards are visited often or sparingly. Chestnuts are not really the question, nor is banning them a constructive answer. Some heavily played scores are indeed best heard at generous intervals.

    Of course, I’m dodging the polemic. Sans aucune honte, je dois l’admettre.

    • Josef Bohuslav Foerster — A fascinating symphonic voice whose influence extended beyond his national school, a cherished contemporary of Mahler. His symphonies and many suites are among the glories of the outgoing Romantic era.
    • Viteszlav Novák — The spectacularly gifted symphonic and chamber composer whose unabashedly Czech persona in music got him banned under Third Reich cultural policies, only to soar into a geat posthumous glow in Europe in the ‘60s-90s. Why on earth are his blisteringly lovely song cycles and sensuous orchestral suites eseentially unknown here? Please try to imagine a bit of benign genetic engineering amongst the entwined DNA strands of Debussy, Dvorák, Janácek, and — not at all implausibly — blessed RVW.

    • Gottfried August Homilius — Dresden-based creator of sweepingly melodic oratorios and cantatas that almost shock by the ease with which they bridge the big gap between the Bach of the Weihnachts-Oratorium and the transitional Classicism of Mannheim-Prague-Vienna. As the brilliant director of Protestant music in Dresden, he presented such splendidly appealing music by his own hand that, Himmel-Herr-Gott, he is known to have emptied the city’s Catholic churches of music lovers. Go for it, modern-day programmers!
    • Georg Phillip Telemann — Good heavens, one of the great “early music” traversals on CD is an integral set of GPT’s many Overtüren — suites, by the other name — played joyously and very stylishly on, can you believe it, modern instruments. They redefine what we can do in our modern concert halls. But are we ready for so radical a bit of archæology?

    • Guy Ropartz — An urbane francophone who played the organ (a Franck student) and wrote tellingly for it, and who enjoyed remarkable success dishing up his Celtic-Breton roots for the hotly competetive early-20th-c. French orchestral scene. There are fine ensemble and chamber works, too. Ropartz lived from the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th, and he earned the esteem of the very French figures we esteem now.
    • Joseph Canteloube, an ethno-musicologist and brilliantly colorful pianist who wrote rather more than just the gorgeous Chants d’Auvergne. Late in life, he accompanied some quite special French singers in his own chanson arrangements, for various French and English labels. These latter folksongs beg for sensitive, vivid transcription, swiftly followed by presentation to astonished, enraptured, LARGE North American audiences.

    Les voilà. Good warhorse antidotes all. Allez-y, mes braves.

    Christopher Greenleaf
    Avondale, RI

    Comment by Christopher Greenleaf — March 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm

  29. BRAVO Steven Ledbetter:

    Your comments are brilliantly stated and very perceptive.

    RE: The “Rite of Spring”.. I wish it could be played EVERY season… Many would agree that it is the greatest of 20th century masterpieces…. after 98 years it continues to shock and amaze the listener.

    There have been some great postings… Yes, let’s make the number increase to over 100!

    Comment by Ed Burke — March 30, 2011 at 8:54 pm

  30. Two thoughts:

    RE repeated hearings of new music: No piece of music worth listening to can be fully comprehended in a single hearing. The same is true of great literature, art, or drama. Could the BSO diversify its selection of contemporary composers? Certainly. But new music should, and must, and (I’m sure) will remain a regular part of all future BSO seasons. The BSO has premiered several of the masterworks of the 20th Century (Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra being the most prominent) and none of them were critical or popular successes overnight. Certainly none became repertoire staples overnight. New works must be repeated to be appreciated.

    RE over-playing of standard rep: Before a performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass, Robert Shaw once said that every time he performed that work he was “conscious of the fact that someone in the audience is hearing it for the first time, and someone is hearing it for the last time.” This is a sentiment which I think should be applied to all compositions, not just the towering pillars of Western culture. Warhorses are warhorses for a reason. Great orchestras like the BSO should play these works because these works deserve the best performances. Those audiences members hearing a Beethoven 9 or a Tchaikovsky 5 or a Brahms 1 for the first time should have the best possible experience. On the other hand, look at the average hair color of a BSO audience. The audience for classical music tends to be older (on a side note, I think the notion that the audience is aging out of existence is a myth – look at concert videos from the 1940’s-1960’s and the average age in the audiences appears to be about the same as today). Those of us performing always have to be aware that today’s concert may be the last one someone in the audience ever sees. Doesn’t that person also deserve to hear the best possible performance of the greatest possible music?

    Comment by Nathan Lofton — March 30, 2011 at 9:10 pm

  31. Sorry, I do NOT wish to hear second-rate 19th- or 20th-century music taking up large amounts of BSO concert time, even if it is by New England composers. And I don’t mind warhorses if they bring in audiences who haven’t heard them before, or if they help pay for a repeat of Carter’s Symphony of Three Orchestras–I remember meeting the composer after Ozawa (?) conducted its Boston premiere–the Ives Fourth Symphony or music of similar audacity. I teach students for whom it is still a thrill to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony “live” for the first time–and of course it ought to be a thrill every time one hears it. So I think that Mark’s idea of, in effect, ALTERNATING between conventional and unconventional programs is a good one. I personally would go elsewhere to hear music composed before 1800; when I go to Symphony, it’s to hear new music or 20th-century classics that I can’t hear anywhere else (and I commute to New York, where I couldn’t have heard the music I heard BSO play with Levine, except when they played at Carnegie Hall). But I hope that whoever succeeds Levine will continue projects like his pairing of Beethoven and Schoenberg over the course of a season, while maintaining his practice of letting us hear major recent works by major living composers–something that actually has been the BSO’s tradition for most of its existence.

    Comment by David Schulenberg — March 30, 2011 at 10:05 pm

  32. I am delighted by the discussion so far and certainly sympathize with where everybody’s coming from. I may not agree that Chavez is more worthy than Chabrier; Chabrier is the most important French composer between Berlioz and Debussy but he doesn’t have that many well-known orchestral pieces — his strengths lie more in piano music, songs, and opera. But with the mention of Chavez I need to add the name of Revueltas, whose _Sensemaya_ is one of the best pieces by any Latin American composer, a genuine Aztec “Danse sacrale”, and it has never been performed by the BSO (9 minutes long). I’m commenting now because today is the 98th anniversary of the _Skandalkonzert_ in Vienna where Alban Berg’s _Altenberg Lieder_, op. 4, were incompletely and catastrophically performed; the result was that these incomparably beautiful songs remained unperformed complete until 1953. (Full disclosure: I wrote my dissertation on the songs.) The scandalous concert got Berg’s name into the New York Times for the first time, but it was completely overshadowed by a much more notorious scandal in Paris less than two months later, on May 29, 1913. Centenaries are coming soon and the BSO, and the rest of us, should be prepared.

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — March 31, 2011 at 7:51 am

  33. Ligeti was a genius and the BSO’s performances of his pieces prove it. More Ligeti, please! That music is gorgeous.

    I also agree with the comment on the Russians, especially Shostakovich, whose works are endlessly fascinating. Not warhorses, are they?, but so beautiful.

    Agree on Berg. Genius. BSO performance of the Chamber Symphony was life-changing for me.

    Finally, Mr. Kohrmann’s point of view is important, and I am so glad he shared it. The BSO’s core mission is to build the audience for great classical music played by its world-class musicians in our city. They should not only continue to present the core canon, they should renew their evangelical efforts to get people of every age and from every corner of our region hooked on these sumptuous, soul-nourishing works of art.

    Comment by Owlish — April 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm

  34. I would love some Revueltas and Ginastera. To ignore music so greatly influenced by African and native rhythms, European harmonies and genius orchestration is to do great injustice to all listeners, for the wholes left in the ears of what is possible it too massive. I do think our BSO players could adjust to rhythms that groove and are still linear and complex. I recall the Golijov Passion was quite a success on many levels.
    I hope our music policy is more open than our immigration policy.

    Comment by Aaron Larget-Caplan — April 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm

  35. holes!

    Comment by Aaron Larget-Caplan — April 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm

  36. I think instead of fantasizing about “ideal” repertoire, balance between styles, fame of works and many others factors I think we need to ask yourself what we would like to hear – a great performances by the orchestra the works that it can perfume or just to hear again the tunes that we like. Any symphonic orchestra has own repertoire tendency – it greatly described by personal preferences of Music Director but many other factors. To play Mahler VI, Kalinnikov First and Bach’s Brandenburg concertos would take different “sides” of orchestra and if I was in position to advise to BSO what to play then I would ask myself what BSO is good for. I do not how you but I do not care about BSO repertoire. If BSO would play very stimulating ANY music they play them I can live with it as it itself would be a great opportunity for me to extend my listening horizons. I do not mind to go for a concert with the works that I do not like or even hate and to discover that what BSO show off did change my view. However, we do not have it. We have rather BSO play more or less “secure” works and the result is very frequently not so exiting.

    So, I would disagree with Mark DeVoto and pretty much with anybody else. It is not about the war with warhorses or peace with warhorses. It is able a war with indifferent performances, poor play and boring interpretations.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — April 1, 2011 at 10:30 pm

  37. Thank you, Mr. DeVoto, for articulating something I have been thinking for a while now (as I hinted when I commented that another performance of “Till Eulenspiegel” was unnecessary). Following up on that, it seem to me that maybe some programs should include a “TBA,” not with respect to the artist, but the work. This would give the opportunity for repeat performances of worthy works within a single season or two, without depriving audiences of the chance to hear the works they were expecting. If, instead of the “Liebestod” they had said “TBA”, they could have repeated the Harbison Third Symphony or the Adams “Doctor Atomic (or they could have done the “Liebestod).”TBA” instead of “Till Eulenspiegel” would have provided the option of Harbison 1 or 2, or “Till” with the audience none the wiser. A “TBA” rather than “Bolero” could allow a repeat of one of the items from Thomas Adès’s program, or possibly they could play something that got bumped from the week when Maestro Levine was unable to conduct Mozart and Schoenberg, But either they should schedule repeats of new or unfamiliar works, or they should make space for impromptu repeats.

    And give us some Weber once in a while. I’d even attend a Pops concert to hear some Weber.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 2, 2011 at 4:07 pm

  38. Vance — Marin Alsop? Really? I would hope the BSO is only looking at real conductors.

    Comment by Ern Henkin — April 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm

  39. As I read through Mr. DeVoto’s piece, my instant ‘YES!’ response to the heading had turned to vexation well before the last paragraph. And the mind-numbingly fusty repertory suggestions offered by most respondents sent me tumbling down to the darker realm of misanthropy. “These are BOSTONIANS,” I sez to myself — “citizens residing in the the best-educated region of the empire. Am I to believe that NOT ONE of these high-achieving Yanks thought to mention, let alone cite ONE PIECE, by ANY of the following masters? To wit: John Coolidge Adams John Luther Adams Samuel Barber (whose Adagio deserves a nice long nap; what a scandal his late, searingly confessional masterwork, “The Lovers,” has never been heard in Boston) John Becker Robert Russell Bennett (whose Violin Concerto only deepens my curiosity about the symphony Fritz Reiner thought enough of to program during his final CSO season; RRR was far more than a brilliant orchestrator of Broadway shows) Benjamin Britten Alfredo Casella (whose 3rd Symphony is a drop-dead masterpiece) Castelnuovo-Tedesco (not everything he wrote was sugar-water) Luigi Dallapiccola Henri Dutilleux Georges Enescu (and I’m NOT referring to either of those Rhapsodies — albeit even those have vanished from the concert hall) Morton Gould (in championing his rather than Bernstein’s “serious” works, Dimitri Mitropolous wasn’t being vindictive; he was displaying his infallible sense for the real thing) Hans Werner Henze (whose dazzling Third Symphony, given half a chance, could easily become standard repertory) Artur Honegger (apart from “Jeanne d’Arc,” though even that would be nice for starters) Paul Hindemith (apart from you-know-which two pieces; his current neglect is inexcusable) Vincent d’Indy Erich W. Korngold (starting with his magnificent Symphony) Charles Ives (remember him?) Franz Liszt (especially the later tone poems that exerted such a powerful influence on Mahler) Frank Martin Jean Martinon (whose infectious Third Symphony, the “Irlandaise,” would be an instant hit, especially in Boston) Gian Francesco Malipiero Bohuslav Martinu Olivier Messiaen Carl Nielsen Nino Rota (whose Concerto Soirée per Pianoforte e Orchestra is an utter, impudent delight) Carl Ruggles Albert Roussel Franz Schrecker (whose gorgeous operas Edo de Waart has championed with such success in Europe) William Schuman Roger Sessions Jean Sibelius Bedrich Smetana (whose astonishing “Macbeth and the Witches” is so far ahead of its time, one look at the score would send Pierre Boulez into squeals of delight) Alexander Tcherepnin Virgil Thomson (why has the BSO NEVER played his orchestral masterpiece, the Three Pictures for Orchestra? Or the delightful Cello Concerto?) Sir William Walton (when was the last time Boston audiences were treated to the SECOND Symphony?!) And that’s just for openers… Last, and most appalling of all: what on earth possessed Mr. DeVoto to ban living composers? Don’t look now, but I just saw a huge cloud of steam rising from Koussie’s grave.

    Comment by Chicago Steve — April 5, 2011 at 8:37 am

  40. For Chicago Steve and everyone: I haven’t sent through all my possible programs yet and I can name only so many works at once, so there’s no deliberate intention to slight anyone. Surely I would support many of the works and composers you name. Speaking of Barber and scandal, his _School for Scandal_ Overture is excellent. Robert Russell Bennett surely deserves more exposure; his _Victory at Sea_ is one of the great film scores, notwithstanding that it is “wall to wall music.” I was present when the BSO gave the premiere of Dutilleux’s Second Symphony (“Le Double”) in 1959 and again that summer at Tanglewood; it is a major work of the 20th century. And I praise Ozawa for bringing excerpts from Messiaen’s _St. Francis_ to the BSO even though I thought it was one of the dullest pieces I ever heard in my life (I say this as one who seriously loves _Turangalila_, another BSO premiere, for its truly breathtaking pretentiousness). Walton was honored by the BSO’s performance of _Belshazzar’s Feast_. I’ve never heard Virgil Thomson’s Three Pictures and I hope I will hear them. Of course I admire Sessions; didn’t I study with him? Schreker’s _Vorspiel zu einem Drama_ is a magnificent specimen of a little-known 20th-century direction, German impressionism, and well worth hearing. “What possessed Mr. DeVoto to ban living composers?” I stand by my initial statement: many of them are my personal friends and surely I could recommend many of their works but I don’t want to appear to be playing favorites. It’s really a separate issue entirely in our present context, especially when many listeners really are not interested in any of the newest music no matter how good it might be. (There were a lot of empty seats at Schoenberg’s _Gurrelieder_, which is rich, expressive, lush TONAL romanticism, but many seem to have written it off as despised Schoenberg without further thought.) I definitely want to hear Smetana’s _Macbeth and the Witches_. And that Casella Symphony. I wonder if he performed it when he was conductor of the Boston Pops? (He might have written it only after then.) Ruggles? Definitely. As he said, when a friend of mine placed headphones on his ears while _Sun-Treader_ was playing: “Damn fine music!”

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — April 5, 2011 at 4:23 pm

  41. The mention of empty seats at Gurrelieder should remind us that BSO marketing has its work cut out for it no matter what the programming. They couldn’t fill the hall for the 2 Ades performances either, but when I look at their efforts I wonder if they are trying. They couldn’t fill the hall for the Sunday 2-part Les Troyens!

    They don’t seem to know how to do anything other than their cookie-cutter stuff. Starting a few Friday concerts an hour early doesn’t count for much if you don’t sell it. I wasn’t the only one who discovered at the last moment that we could stay after for a free glass of wine and snacks and a chat with the composer. Are they afraid people will actually stay? Why wasn’t it announced from the stage? Someone needs to step up and not use the lack of a music director as an excuse to sit back and wait a few yeas.

    I offer this comment in this conversation just to point out that programs need to be sellable. I’m all in favor of backing off the warhorses, but programs of obscurities/rarities may not be quite the way to go. Programs designed to attract the relatively adventurous mature audience may not be the best strategy for audience development. But maybe audience development is another thread.

    Comment by Bill — April 6, 2011 at 10:02 am

  42. Yes, Mark, Griffes, please. Why is he so neglected by local orchestras and by pianists as well?
    As to the warhorses to put on the shelf for a bit, Brahms’s symphonies are the warhorses they deserve to be. However, how about requesting a two-year BSO moratorium on them?
    (But we know that will never happen.)

    Comment by Ed Dente — April 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm

  43. Is something a warhorse just because it gets played often? Was Pachelbel’s Canon not a warhorse until that record came out in the 1960’s, and now it is? Or is it not, just because the BSO never plays it? How many times can they play Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony before it becomes a warhorse?

    The reason nobody ever plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata anymore is that everyone plays it all the time.

    Comment by Mark Lutton — April 6, 2011 at 10:54 pm

  44. I think frequency of play is the thing that makes a warhorse, so something can become a warhorse and it can stop being a warhorse. I’m not sure how Mr. DeVoto feels, but I don’t see a need for the BSO to play (other than infrequently) something that other local orchestras are doing all the time.

    Nice Yogi Berra paraphrase at the end.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 6, 2011 at 11:42 pm

  45. *** The reason nobody ever plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata anymore is that everyone plays it all the time.

    …but how many true great performance you can name? Yes, everyone plays Moonlight Sonata everywhere but “everyone” and “everywhere” do not play it well. We are some accustom to the warhorses status of the work that we neglect demand a caliber performance of the please, BTW the caliber that you would hardly hear from “everyone” and “everywhere”. Let take for instance another famous work that is being played everywhere – Eine kleine Nachtmusik. No one disagree that it the most overplayed work by the composer. Still, I would hardly remember any interesting and truly memorable live of recorded performances of the Nachtmusik. Again, I do not feel that it is about popularity of the work abut a quality of a given interpretation and performance. No one would tolerate BSO to play let say the Haydns’ Clock Symphony for a few weeks. Ok, bring a dozen really interesting and really different Haydns’ conductors (where to get them?) and set up 12 performances of the SAME Clock Symphony over 3 week, but performed so differently that the deferens in interpretation itself would be worth the admission. The point that I am trying to make is that in my view people do not get sick from too frequent play of overly popular music or buy too frequent play of the music that they hate. People get sick from music plays badly and uninspired. I for instance truly detest a lot of contemporary composed music that I feel is more brushed Sounds instead of music. Still, while in while I come across contemporary performances that played “meaningfully” and this does persuades me to pay attention what is doing on.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — April 7, 2011 at 9:02 am

  46. Here’s where I part company with Romy, because I’m tired of hearing the same pieces played over and over in an effort to get the “perfect” performance (which of course is impossible), to the exclusion of music I’m not familiar with that might be inherently interesting, played “merely” very well.

    While it is true that there will be people who have never heard Beethoven’s Fifth or Mozart’s Jupiter or Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphonies, at least live, after a while people assimilate them as part of the cultural background, so it is only necessary to play them sparingly. I don’t know how many times Mark Lutton has heard Shostakovich’s Fourth (as opposed to the Fifth), but I doubt it’s nearly as well known by the larger public; and of course the Shostakovich Fifteenth is a mysterious gem of a piece that needs to be played more, until there’s a consensus as to what it’s about and how it goes. One might say the same about Vaughan Williams’s Sixth and Ninth, or Sibelius’s Sixth and Seventh.

    Comment by Vance Koven — April 7, 2011 at 9:57 am

  47. I have heard the Shostakovich Fourth only once in concert and I had to wait several years for it because the originally scheduled performance was cancelled due to the guest conductor’s illness. I have two recordings of it that I have listened to many times, but no recording does the piece justice. Recording technology is just too limited; it cannot be reduced to two or even five channels coming out of two or five little boxes.

    But my question is: is warhorseness intrinsic to a piece or is a warhorse just a piece that is played often? If the former, Reinhold Gliere’s Third Symphony, “Ilya Muromets” is all about warhorses and should be the ultimate warhorse itself. If the latter, well, calling Beethoven’s Fifth a warhorse is like complaining that Shakespeare used cliches all the time. It’s hardly Beethoven’s fault.

    Comment by Mark Lutton — April 7, 2011 at 11:15 pm

  48. It seems to me that a warhorse is a piece that is frequently performed — regardless of its quality. Thus Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and “Till Eulemspiegel’s Merry Pranks” are both warhorses. When, as with the Beethoven, the piece has become a warhorse because of its good qualities — rather than meretriciousness, as can be the case in other instances — having composed a warhorse is a credit to the composer. The complaint isn’t that all warhorses are bad, just that it’s time to give them a rest and listen to other things.

    And IMO if some warhorses are laid permanently to rest, that’s okay. Just bring back the good ones every once in a while.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 8, 2011 at 12:02 am

  49. Re Mark De Voto’s April 5 post:

    “Victory at Sea” was a TV series (NBC 1952-3), not a theatrical film, and its music was a joint effort by Robert Russell Bennett and Richard Rodgers.

    Comment by Richard Buell — April 9, 2011 at 12:24 pm

  50. Let me correct the above. “Victory at Sea” did eventually become a film in 1954, but its contents were drawn from the 26-part TV series of the two years preceding. The Wikipedia article is well worth reading, not least for what it says about the program’s many lapses in authenticity.

    Comment by Richard Buell — April 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

  51. Richard Buell’s comment that “Victory at Sea” was “a joint effort by Robert Russell Bennett and Richard Rodgers” is true in the sense that Rodgers is given credit for “composing” and Bennett for “arranging,” but I heard a superb scholarly paper a few years ago at the annual meeting of the Society for American Music which demonstrated how unbalanced the relationship was. Rodgers actually “composed” about a dozen themes in piano score, none more than a minute long. Bennett “arranged” 13 hours of symphonic music from those themes–plus many of his own, for which he gets no compositional credit. The paper in question, taking the piece as “the longest symphony ever written” (of course it is hyperbolic calling it a symphony) referred to it as quintessential work for hire, in which the man who did far and away the bulk of the work (including brilliant polyphonic combinations, among other things) himself always referred to it as “Mr. Rodgers’s music” in recording session and public statements. Rodgers referred to Bennett in his autobiography as “my good friend,” but in fact they barely knew one another, and Rodgers never came close to crediting Bennett for the extraordinary part he played in expanding a dozen pages of simple, undeveloped thematic ideas into those 13 hours of orchestral music.

    Comment by Steven Ledbetter — April 10, 2011 at 11:39 am

  52. As a long-time member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, I’d certainly be up for singing in the Busoni Piano Concerto, as long as we don’t go too far in the direction of authenticity–apparently the composer requested that the men’s chorus be naked! I remember a remarkable performance in Symphony Hall by Garrick Ohlsson, the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and Christoph von Dohnanyi, but I remember the discussion of the nude chorus in the program notes particularly vividly. (And no, the Cleveland men didn’t pursue that degree of authenticity either!)

    Comment by Stephen H. Owades — April 10, 2011 at 11:00 pm

  53. Did Busoni say why he wanted the men to be naked?

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 11, 2011 at 1:44 am

  54. Stephen H. Owades

    as much I enjoy most of the time of being prolifically-discourteous about nowday’s BSO play I always have admiration to the performance level of your Chorus. Usually the Tanglewood Chorus does not have much of “expressed view” but taking advantage that you are posting in here I would like to ask you what king BSO programming is considering to be stimulating for the Tanglewood Chorus? For sure you can’t speak for the whole Chorus but still it would be interesting to know what music in your estimation makes the Chorus member excited to perform.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — April 11, 2011 at 6:45 am

  55. I shouldn’t let Mark hang out there as the only one to come up with specific programs, so I have devised my own ten, focusing on the points I made in my first comment. Admittedly, some choices are fairly arbitrary when I had several of the same type to go with (e.g. symphonies of Brian and Hovhaness, piano concertos of Field and Sterndale Bennett), and I haven’t heard all these pieces but would be happy to hear any and all of them. There are one or two quasi-warhorses in the lot; and I’d sure love to see Ives 4 in a position to become a warhorse. I generally follow the conventional programming style of short piece/concerto/major symphony. Here goes:

    Program 1: Americans I
    Gottschalk, Symphony No. 1 (A Night in the Tropics)
    Carpenter, Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (preferably with Carpenter’s later cadenza)
    Chadwick, Symphony No. 2

    Program 2: British I
    Brian, Symphony No. 22
    Finzi, Cello Concerto
    Parry, Symphony No. 3

    Program 3: French
    Franck, Les Djinns
    Schmitt, Symphonie Concertante for piano and orchestra
    D’Indy, Symphony No. 3

    Program 4: Russian
    Miaskovsky, Molchaniye, op. 9
    Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 2
    Medtner, Symphony No. 2

    Program 5: Americans II
    Gilbert, Dance in the Place Congo
    Huss, Piano Concerto in B major
    Paine, Symphony No. 1

    Program 6: Irish (a bit of a cheat in the case of Sullivan)
    Stanford, Irish Rhapsody No. 1
    Field, Piano Concerto in E-flat OR Herbert, Cello Concerto No. 2
    Sullivan, Symphony in E (“Irish”)

    Program 7: British II
    Weir, The welcome arrival of rain
    Sterndale Bennett, Piano Concerto No. 4
    Walton, Symphony No. 2

    Program 8: Americans III
    Mason, Chanticleer
    Foote, Cello Concerto
    Carpenter, Skyscrapers

    Program 9: Nordic
    Alfven, Dalecarlian (Swedish Rhapsody No. 3)
    Stenhammar, Piano Concerto No. 2
    Gade, Symphony No. 7

    Program 10: Americans IV
    Hovhaness, Symphony No. 5
    Sowerby, Organ Concerto in C
    Ives, Symphony No. 4

    Comment by Vance Koven — April 12, 2011 at 7:51 pm

  56. Some fascinating and very worthy choices re: your specific programs… I’m familiar with quite a few of the pieces.

    I do think however that Sullivan was a third rate composer and re: his partnership, it was Gilbert who was the brilliant one.

    Comment by Ed Burke — April 12, 2011 at 8:55 pm

  57. Somebody (Deems Taylor?) described Sullivan’s music as “highly watered Mendelssohn.” He went on to say that this made it popular, since Mendelssohn’s music was very popular in Victorian England. I haven’t heard his serious music enough to have an opinion of my own.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm

  58. That’s the trouble with most people’s attitudes towards unfamiliar work: they rely on second- and third-hand descriptions and evaluations by people who may have had axes to grind (especially true in the rejection of earlier American composers by the modernists of the 1920s). I apply this to the fellow who wrote that there were no great American composers. And Deems Taylor, whose music is also worth reviving, was too close to the Victorian age to be trustworthy in evaluating its music (although to cite Mendelssohn as a strong influence was not completely wrong).

    Sullivan was certainly not, at least in the area of “serious” music, at the top rank, although his opera Ivanhoe is worth considering, unprejudiced by attitudes toward Victorian aesthetics (this applies even more strongly to the libretto than the music). I strongly differ with Ed Burke on the Savoy operas, which I think are as brilliant musically as they are theatrically and literarily (if that’s a word). But as to Sullivan’s concert music, there’s no doubt he was influenced by Mendelssohn, as a listen to the Irish Symphony will attest, but also to Schubert (ditto). And he wrote some very strong works that owe little to anyone else–or at least, as with most of us, owe debts to everyone but which assimilated all the influences. The Overture Di Ballo and the Overture in C are both quite strong. And the symphony, too, once you listen to its own music, is very well constructed and quite effective: good motivic development, good drama, lovely tunes, strong orchestration. I can’t say the same for his cello concerto, which is a very odd thing indeed–he may have thought its structure experimental, but Saint-Saëns did a similar turn better.

    Comment by Vance Koven — April 13, 2011 at 9:36 am

  59. I’d love to hear a performance of Sullivan’s “The Golden Legend.” I became fascinated simply because we have a piano-vocal score which goes back to my grandfather’s singing as a tenor in the chorus in a performance in Lowell about a century ago. I picked out a number of the melodies on the piano and enjoyed singing them (not sure anybody else who heard enjoyed my singing). I thought they were quite appealing, especially “Slowly, Slowly up the Wall,” “O Gladsome Light,” “Sweet is the Air,” and “The Deed Divine.” I finally managed to find a CD, and I was amazed at the amount of dissonance in the orchestral parts.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 13, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  60. You could add James Taylor and a troupe of elephants to Vance’s programs and you’d still have an empty hall. There’s a difference between compiling lists of music you’d like to hear the BSO perform and programs that will fill the seats. Getting interesting programs that an audience will buy into is the challenge.

    Comment by Bill — April 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm

  61. P.S. Perhaps, given the fact that there’s “so much great music” and so few BSO concerts, another organization will have to give us “”The Golden Legend.”

    There is also an American connection, as the libretto is based on a much longer “dramatic poem” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm

  62. You can find samples from the 2001 Hyperion recording of Golden Legend on Hyperion’s web site (and of course you can buy the recording, either in CD or download), and you can find MIDI files of some numbers on the Gilbert & Sullivan Archive site (I can’t embed links here, so you’ll have to Google for these).

    One concert program that might be interesting would be European (and other non-US) composers’ music based on American literature. There is, of course, Vaughan Williams’s First Symphony, which sets Whitman, and Rachmaninov and all those French composers were hot on Poe, etc.

    Comment by Vance Koven — April 13, 2011 at 2:57 pm

  63. Steve Ledbetter is right about Robert Russell Bennett’s contribution to _Victory at Sea_; indeed, in terms of musical substance it amounts to about 95% of the whole, and in terms of actual notes about 99.999%. Rodgers’s contribution, for which he got so much credit, was about twelve melodies, and that’s all. The Wisconsin musicologist George Ferencz is the one who has studied this subject most closely. The story I love is the one told by Milton Babbitt, very likely with much exaggeration: that after the _Victory at Sea_ score received parise and awards, Rodgers called up Bennett and said, “Bob, I just wanted to thank you once more for the wonderful job you did with my _Victory and Sea_ music. Do you know — it’s my first symphonic composition!”

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — April 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm

  64. Even at the time — the naive 1950s — many television viewers must have sensed (certainly this one did) that Richard Rodgers’s contribution to “Victory at Sea” (see April 10 post above) was twofold — first, a handful of tunes; and second, the use of his name, for purposes of prestige. But his name did indeed go onto it. We can’t leave really leave it out can we?

    It’s the wonderfully bizarre appearance of the Perry Como hit tune “No Other Love” — orchestrated to the nines and minus the words — that sticks in my memory most of all. What else does? The “Guadalcanal March.” And that grand, somewhat Wagner-evoking signature tune. That’s not so bad a haul.

    Comment by Richard Buell — April 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm

  65. Tonight I heard Roussel’s Symphony No. 3 in place of Sibelius’s Fifth. I’ve heard the Sibelius enough to know that I really like it, and I was looking forward to hearing it again. So it was a disappointment when the announcement was made that Roussel (and Ravel) would replace (displace?) Sibelius.

    Having heard the Roussel symphony, I’m glad the switch was made. It was interesting, often exciting, sometimes beautiful, and generally lively: a truly engaging piece of music which deserves to be heard once in a while.

    Score a victory for the war on warhorses.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 15, 2011 at 1:11 am

  66. I too enjoyed the Roussel and had never heard it before. The Ravel was a good hearty reading. But I thought the Beethoven Emperor was a strange pairing and wondered why something by another of Les Six or R. Strauss or even Gershwin would have been great (given the urban sophisticated 1920s quality of the Roussel). I had forgotten about the change – which explains it, I think.

    Comment by Norton, Bettina A — April 15, 2011 at 6:29 am

  67. Thanks to Mark DeVoto for reminding me that it was George Ferencz who did the research on “Victory at Sea” — the passages he played as part of his lecture (accompanied by slides of RRB’s score), showing how much imagination Bennett used in expanding the musical ideas he had been presented with, caused me to view the entire 26 half-hour TV programs again, so that I could hear the whole thing for myself.

    Some of the works mentioned as desiderata have indeed been performed recently by the BSO — but by “recently”, I am really thinking of my own experience, which goes back to 1979, and I understand that that is hardly recent in the view of most concertgoers. When you get right down to it, I think of something as “recent” if I wrote a program note for it, for a BSO performance. (Schumann’s “Paradies und Peri” was one of those, a work that I enjoyed learning and singing with the TFC.) When I think back on it now, I realize how many things were programmed in the early 1980s in conjunction with the BSO centennial (including Roussel 3, a wonderful piece, and one that surely deserved to be performed at least ONCE between 1981 and this week, when it finally came back.

    I need to comment at least briefly, too, on the Sullivan “Irish” Symphony, which is surprisingly effect (surprising, at least, to some!), though he was in his early 20s when he wrote it. His incidental music to “The Tempest”–written as his graduation piece from Leipzig and obviously inspired by Mendelssohn’s example–has some very lovely and effective things, though it is not uniformly interesting throughout.

    Comment by Steven Ledbetter — April 16, 2011 at 1:49 pm

  68. Thanks to Steven Ledbetter for introducing this fascinating forum to some non-Bostonians. And thanks to Vance Koven for writing that “Ernst Bacon is also worth exploring,” (March 28). As Bacon’s widow (44 years younger than he), I’d like to recommend his “Ford’s Theatre” suite, which Leonard Slatkin recorded on his 2009 NAXOS CD, “Abraham Lincoln Portraits.” Several orchestras, including the Orlando Philharmonic and Ronald Knudsen’s New Philharmonia, performed parts of it in Lincoln’s bicentennial year; and now that we have begun to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, this piece, describing the scene and events in the week leading up to Lincoln’s assassination, would be a timely introduction to a “Forgotten American.”

    “Forgotten Americans” is the name of an upcoming CD recorded by cellist Joel Krosnick and Gilbert Kalish. It includes a work that they performed at the Louis and Adrienne Krasner memorial service at Sanders Theater in 1997, which Richard Dyer called “one of the great works for cello.” Joel, who discovered “A Life” at the American Music Center and recognized it as “the diamond in the haystack,” wrote: “Gil and I feel strongly that Ernst Bacon has not received his due recognition for the eloquent master he is.” (Juilliard Journal, Dec. 7, 2007).

    Here is an excerpt of a review of “Ford’s Theatre” from the “American Record Guide,” (July/August, 2009): “‘Ford’s Theatre’ ……is an utterly inventive, superbly orchestrated series of romances, laments, marches, etc., including a terrific ‘Telegraph Fugue’ and a go at ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home; that surpasses even Gould’s famous “American Salute.”

    Information abut Ernst Bacon’s life and works can be found at Besides Bacon, I’d like to see orchestras play more Virgil Thomson, William Schumann, Roy Harris, Lou Harrison, Howard Hanson, etc. – composers from that pioneering generation that sought a voice for American music.

    Comment by Ellen Bacon — April 17, 2011 at 4:03 am

  69. Thanks to Ellen Bacon for reminding us of the Ford’s Theater suite, which reminded me also that Daniel Gregory Mason’s Third Symphony, his Lincoln Symphony, was considered in its day his best orchestral work, and was never included in any of the Lincoln bicentennial concerts. His Second Symphony was also very highly regarded. As to Thomson, his First Symphony gets a fair amount of play (not by the BSO, to my knowledge), but his Second, which I like better than his Third (that’s a transcription of his second string quartet, which I like better in its original form, though Thomson’s orchestration is always razzle-dazzle), deserves revival on orchestra concerts, as does his wonderful Cello Concerto, which I believe Emanuel Feldman has recorded.

    As to Bacon’s chamber music, which is a bit off-topic here, I would add that his cello sonata is arguably one of the small handful of truly great American cello sonatas, along with Barber, Carter, and Ornstein #1 (Foote wrote one too, but I’ve never heard it). Bernard Greenhouse recorded the Bacon, and it’s well worth finding.

    Comment by Vance Koven — April 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm

  70. I have copied and pasted this so I can read it when I’m not on line and have more time,


    I could not live without Beethoven, done well. I was lucky to catch some of Levine’s Beethoven last year and I listened and heard with new ears and heart. So lucky.

    Each conductor conducts what he/she does best. Why would they conduct something they didn’t understand? Jimmy always said he loved Bruckner but left Bruckner to conductors who conducted Bruckner better. Seems sensible.

    I, too love new works and yearn for something I’ve never heard at every concert, but we are all not lucky enough to be able to go twice or three times. I wish my budget (even with the jump seats and volunteer passes, would allow me to return a second time. I catch new music FREE all the time at the conservatories. How exciting! How exhilerating! But then I never hear the works again-I have to stop buying CDs, and CDs just don’t make it after the real thing.

    I, for one, would not have changed a thing on this week’s program at the BSO. I had never heard the Roussel, the Ravel was new and fresh and there were parts of the Beethoven marvelous warhorse Emperor that woke me up and made me listen.

    I also attended the Boston Artists Ensemble (twice) this weekend. Lovely Schumann, Exciting Piazzolla (and since I only was introduced to Piazzolla two years ago- I’m still in the throes of first love) Scott Wheeler, and a Brahms Piano Trio I had never heard(go figure!) which had me in a quivering state of rapture!
    How bad is that? This same group always plays music I have not heard, new and old. I am lucky to be able to attend twice in one weekend and even then, the ,music is different, for we are all different people on Sunday from who we were on Friday.

    The BSO , I think, plays as much new music as the public will bear, and any more the Hall would be empty despite the marketing campaigns to colleges and high schools and “people under 40″ What about those of us over 65 and retired and needing help, too?

    I look forward to a new leader who will give us well-performed war horses and new work and old work never performed. I could not live without the Tchaikowsky 4th and 5th symphony slow movements heard live. I will always welcome a Bruckner, well-performed, Beethoven well-performed, and Mozart ( those of you who know me might say, WHAT?” but there’s plenty of Mozart that is not played 10 times every week on the radio, and when it’s played as Jimmy, or Sir Colin, or Haitinck conducted it, I’ll listen any time.

    Is anyone playing Brahms Opus 60 in C Minor? That quartet wull always give me shivers and I cold listen every day to a live concert! And what about the Beethoven 131, as played by the Jupiter last week? Is there anyone of you out there that wouldn’t have been happy to have them sit down and encore the whole piece after the Mendelssohn?

    Really now, there are two sides to every story and good performances are good performances.


    Comment by Leslie Miller — April 18, 2011 at 8:24 am

  71. Just a note on the Busoni concerto: Busoni calls for “Coro d’uomini (invisibile)”. An inept translator turned that into “Chorus of men (naked)” and the legend lives on.

    Coming up at the BSO this week: Bach’s St. John Passion. Not a warhorse; worthy of being one.

    Comment by Mark Lutton — April 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm

  72. A few random thoughts occasioned by reading this attention-grabbing forum:

    I, too, served as an usher in Symphony Hall in my college days during the 1940s….a Golden Era in the history of the BSO! During that time I heard the world premiers of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, the Copland 3rd Symphony, the American premier of Prokofieff 5, etc. etc. all of course conducted by Koussevitzky (whom I subsequently came to know as a friend). A few years later, when I was broadcasting the BSO concerts (during the last 5 seasons of Munch), it was the premiers of Honegger’s 5th and Martinu’s 6th Symphonies, among others that grabbed our kishkes. In the case of every one of them, most of us privileged to have been present at the premiers knew instantly that we had been present at the birth of works certain to be absorbed into the standard repertory. Where the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra was concerned Koussevitzky knew what he had and repeated it four weeks later for the same Friday-Saturday subscription audience. And the performance on Saturday evening, December 30, 1944 was broadcast nationwide on the ABC Radio Network—hence the availability of that (recorded) performance in the invaluable CD set of great historic BSO performances.

    Concerning Schumann’s “Genoveva” Overture: Munch and the BSO recorded it. One has to assume that they played it in concert prior to recording it.

    Comment by Martin Bookspan — April 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  73. I actually had trouble finding any online references to the naked chorus. But now that this discussion has been indexed by Google, it’s easier!

    Comment by Bill — April 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm

  74. @ Joe Whipple, re: “The Golden Legend”. Sorry to be tardy putting in my contribution here. I took part in a performance of Sullivan’s “Golden Legend” (and other pieces) in February in Portland, ME. The Longfellow Chorus and a fine cast of singers and orchestra gave a warmly received performance. The good news for you is it will be reprised next year. (See for further details.) These performances take place at First Parish Church in Portland, the church Henry Wadsworth Longfellow attended while growing up. Much history there . . .

    Comment by Geoffrey Wieting — April 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm

  75. Re: Martin Bookspan’s comment on Schumann’s Genoveva. Bridget Carr, archivist of the BSO, informs me that Munch conducted it at Symphony Hall on January 12, 13, AND 30, 1951. Between the latter two dates he and the BSO played it in DC, Newark, Brooklyn, and Carnegie Hall. The recording was made on January 18. (Munch and the BSO also performed Genoveva in 1961.)

    So Genoveva, like the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra mentioned by Bookspan, also was repeated by the BSO less than a month later? What an interesting idea, especially for new music. How many of our reviewers have noted, “I hope to hear this again” about the performance of a new piece that is new, or one they had never before heard?

    Comment by Norton, Bettina A — April 20, 2011 at 10:11 am

  76. …..and on the subject of repeating new music I KNOW that Koussevitzky sometimes repeated a new piece ON THE SAME PROGRAM. Here Bridget Carr would again fill in details, but my (hazy) memory suggests that the premier of Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” was one such occasion.

    Comment by Martin Bookspan — April 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm

  77. @ Geoffrey Wieting — Thank you very much for the info about the Longfellow Chorus. I’m sorry I didn’t know that you were giving it in February, but I’ve already entered it on my e-calendar for next March. I should be able to get to one of the performances unless a blizzard hits.

    And maybe we can persuade WCRB to send somebody to record it for broadcast!

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 21, 2011 at 1:13 am

  78. “Having heard the Roussel symphony, I’m glad the switch [from Sibelius 5] was made. It was interesting, often exciting, sometimes beautiful, and generally lively: a truly engaging piece of music which deserves to be heard once in a while.”

    Mr. Whipple’s post reminded me of a startling and (to me) revelatory comparison the late Wilfrid Mellers made, in 1938, between Roussel and Sibelius. The last paragraph is sufficiently apt to be quoted here in full:

    “I think it is significant that though [Roussel’s] language was universally recognized as an accomplishment utterly dependent of and comparable in importance with the various revolutions of the most influential of modern composers–Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Hindemith–this language has had absolutely no influence on practicing musicians–and this despite the fact that young composers looked to him, as a commanding personality, for guidance. (Satie took a course of strict counterpoint under Roussel but if there is any question of influence here it is … the pupil who influenced the master. And it is not as surprising as it superficially appears that the Parisian-American, completely anti-traditional revolutionary Edgar Varese, should have been among Roussel’s pupils). In his way, Roussel was as lonely a figure in his generation as Sibelius.”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — April 15, 2011 at 1:11 am

    Comment by Chicago Steve — April 21, 2011 at 10:43 am

  79. @ martin bookspan:

    re: two performances on the same program… K planned the premiere of “Symphony of Psalms” that way- once before intermission, once after intermission. The plan never came to fruition because of his illness, so another conductor did a different program. Michael Steinberg has the details in “Choral Masterworks”. Always fascinated me.

    Comment by josh nannestad — April 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

  80. –Mr. DeVoto–

    I took the time between the ages of 12 and 21 to hear all of Haydn’s symphonies (including alternate versions of #63) using mostly FM radio; lots of classical stations then but in my senior year I broke down and finished off the still remaining 21 using the Dorati recordings at BU with Nos. 42 & 76 being the last ones “nailed down” in 1973. I must note that some Haydn is better than others and can offer my services on which Haydn to do in preference to others.
    I have long wondered why musicians/performers choose the pieces they do. I at last have concluded that performers are trained and practice to perform a “good show” but often lack a comprehension of what they’re performing. Too much concentration on the Sizzle rather than the Steak. This explains why the Mozart piano sonatas are overplayed and the Haydn sonatas ignored, except for a few Haydn sonatas that have the same fancy flashy superficial brilliance with little development which is characteristic of so much of Mozart (think Haydn sonata #37 in D in the Old Listing; no one ever does #36 in c-sharp with its C-sharp major minuet trio–I doubt Mozart ever wrote in 7 sharps!). I should note that the explanation may lie in that Mozart was a career performer unlike Haydn who while a musical director was at best merely a competent instrumental performer; Haydn had to rely on making the piece “interesting” for other performers or for sale to amatuers rather than showing off his own talents as a fancy performer so consequently so much of Haydn requires that the performer/listener “think” while Mozart streams by as a stream of flashy piano trifles only vaguely comprehended.

    The same can be said of conductors most of whom seem to betray a lack of understanding of how a piece “works”. Small examples may suffice: (1) the “beached whale” problem of Beethoven’s 3rd wherein a conductor decides not to do the repeat of the Exposition–consequently the proportions are wrong; the Developement seems too long and important cross-connections in the music are missed, etc. and the result is that one of the greatest conceptions in Music comes across as an overwrought overripe fruit. (2) The mystery of why Christopher Hogwood thought Haydn #38 was a Sturm und Drang symphony–it’s late early Haydn: choose #41 or 50 instead for an early Sturm & Drang “trumpet symphony”.
    So, a sampling of what Haydn to do…

    Early: #1 because it may be the first, the first movement crescendo suggests a first symphony by the “flashy brilliance” angle). #2 because it seems a throwback to pre-Haydn practice. #3 is good but actually from 1763 and feature 1 of 3 fugue finales in the Haydn symphonies (#’s 40 & 70 are the others). Ignore #4 and especially 9 & 10 but do do 5-8 with #5 being the first sonata da chiesa slow-movement-first symphony. Do do #12-17, #15 is the closest to a French overture Haydn ever came, and also #20-26 but forget #27-29 –except for #29 they won’t be missed. Do do #31 (or the woefully out of order #72) as a “horn symphony” with lots of writing to showcase individual performers both with theme and variation finales with final “musicians want to go home” pickup wrap-ups at the end–a type everyone thinks Beethoven invented for the Eroica but Haydn did it in 1765.

    Middle: Start with #39 (minor mode:early Haydn meets Sturm & Drang), forget the early #40 and 58 (do forget #58, but for the occasional odd rhythm in its finale no one would miss it) and plunge into #41-65. Take a good look at 42, 44, 45-48, say farewell on Good Friday to the sonata da chiesa with La Passione #49. Then take the plunge of 50-57:
    50 A good trumpet symphony
    51 stratospheric horn parts in the slow movement, an early rondo finale–Haydn didn’t write as many as people think. In all movements the music is intellectually demanding–and rewarding.
    52 The last minor mode Haydn to end in the minor. Very Sturm & Drang. Force the horns to play as written in C alto. “Rabbit-wrenching music” think of rabbits being chased and caught by a pack of feral dogs–rabbits squeal as they are torn apart. Very violent music and it should be performed WITH ALL REPEATS as a cutting edge piece and not as genteel salon music..think The Sorrows of Young Werther written at almost esactly the same time.
    53 The “Chinese Restaurant” symphony #1. Excellently written composition with drums no trumpets. Slow movement became a popular 19th century hymn. Performance problem: Editions exist with FOUR different finales so choose one from Column A, Column B, Column C, or Column D.
    54 A strange work from 1774. Haydn re-orchestrated it in 1794 adding trumpets & drums and tacking on a slow intro to the first movement. Showeast slow movement tempo in all of Haydn: Adagio Assai featuring weird “stopped notes” from the horns. Overall #54 is a rare case of Haydn overreaching himself. See general performance note.
    55 Fine opening movement. Slow movement strict time variations tests the limits of dynamics and once was suggested as music for a D/s Discipline Scene. Theme and variations finale tries to pass itself off as a rondo.
    56 Some say this is the peak of the Trumpet Symphonies in C major. Don’t Miss and do all the repeats–even if it makes the slow movement too long. Minuet is miniature sonata form. This one is well constructed in all 4 movements.
    57 A long slow intro leads into a breakneck paced opening fast movement. Minuet really is a Viennese waltz from 1774. Perpetuum mobile buss saw finale.
    59 Sturm & Drang in A major–very similar to #65 but better. I have suspicions Haydn tried symphony layouts in pairs.
    60 “That old pancake” Haydn himself called this 6-movement behemoth with an extra slow movement (featuring the first irruption of trumpets & drums in Haydn) and Finale. No one ever performs this one as written–the violins are SUPPOSED to be mistuned and retune after playing for a dozen bars. Then they start over again this time in tune. See my remarks about musicians’ looking good..
    63 “Chinese Restaurant” Symphony #2. TWO different versions! One with trumpets & drums (yes, C major again!) and one without. The first two movements are the same with different orchestration in both versions; two separate minuets and finales! I prefer the Trumpet Version but WCRB always plays the non-trumpet version.
    Here’s an idea: program BOTH versions in the same concert. Note why there are the different versions. Hey, this is Boston–we’re intelligent and we go to concerts because we think and we like music that “tastes good”–Not like New Yorkers who go to concerts because they want people to think they have “good taste”. Sorry Charlie–er–Yankees. (Best thing to come out of New York was the train for anywhere else.)

    OK I could go on but I have to go…

    General Performance Note: Musicians (except for the early music crowd) seem to have been steeped in the idea that intruments are to be blended together in a Romantic mush; consequently rich details like middle-Haydn horn parts in #52 get covered up to deliver a proto-Brahmsian blend. Also, 18th Century music generally gets treated as a precursor to Beethoven so it is generally played too softly as “aristocratic elitist” background-music museum pieces rather than as what it often was: cutting edge stuff intently listened to. (Background music is written differently: not too intrusive as to disrupt things but not too banally boring as to get the musicians booted out.)
    Think, people. And think, BSO!

    Comment by Thomas Engel — May 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm

  81. All I can say is WOW. Great to have such a passionate Haydn advocate. I would put in a modest endorsement for #18, a funny quasi-chiesa form with a minuet finale (and all very lovely and interesting).

    As to the Werther connection, it always amused me that Goethe preferred Haydn to Beethoven.

    Comment by Vance R. Koven — May 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm

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