The great composers, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, etc., had contemporaries (Ries, Mayr, Onslow, Dittersdorf, Pleyel, etc.) that were as technically skilled and knowledgeable as the masters, yet produced no lasting “hit” that the average classical music fan can easily hum today. Why is that?

125 viewsOther

Almost everyone has heard Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor somewhere or another, whether in a video game, cartoon, horror movie, or elsewhere. Is the gift of writing hits really that elusive or did some composers just prefer not being in the spotlight?

In: Other

4 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

What gets passed down through the years from generation to generation depends on many factors, sometimes luck, sometimes the work of people who came later.

A lot of “famous” pieces of classical music actually became famous because of its later use. Think about how many films used a piece of previously obscure classical music and made it mainstream (e.g. Death in Venice making the Adagietto from Mahler 5 his most famous symphonic movement or Apocalypse Now immortalising Flight of the Valkyries).

Similarly, use in big events like a royal wedding or funeral in the 19th Century immortalised works like Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Chopin’s Funeral March from his 2nd Piano Sonata.

And you mention Bach. Bach was much more obscure than we think and we owe a lot of his recognition to later composers like Mendelssohn. Ironically Mendelssohn who was incredibly famous in his time suffers from obscurity thanks to his Jewish roots and Wagner’s (who was rabidly anti Semitic) attempts to erase his musical legacy.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I think a lot of it has been dumb luck over the centuries. Bach for example is considered one of the most important composers of all time. During his life, while he was considered a very talented composer and performer (he came from a very musical family) it wasn’t until after his death that someone compiled his complete works and he started to be boosted to the great status he has today.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The less popular composers didn’t bend or break the rules as much, if at all, so we find their music less interesting. It is predictable and doesn’t surprise us, so is less memorable

Anonymous 0 Comments

I wonder if it is akin to chefs where the master is able to produce recipes which are legendary for the time, the apprentice can faithfully prepare them but their skill is tuned to a specific moment in time. As a result, they make great works but nothing memorable.

It would be akin to studying under the master of fidget spinners in 2017 and trying to carry on the tradition today.