Thursday, September 2, 2010

Overrated? Underrated?

British concert pianist Stephen Hough, no stranger to this Web log, has a great thing going right now on his Web log about which composers are overrated and which are underrated.

That is a discussion that never grows old! We did a whole Sunday story about it once in The Buffalo News. That was when I got in trouble for writing I thought the Beatles were overrated. Wow, just the memory of that kills me. Before the story ran I went into the editor's office asking if I could pull it. I did not want to deal with the fallout.

She said, "No! That stays."

She was right. What the heck, you know? Sometimes you gotta be brave.

I like how Stephen Hough starts out his discussion, by defending Tchaikovsky. I was just thinking the same thing the other day, remember, about the "1812 Overture." Darn good piece, darn good composer. Not overrated in my not so humble opinion.

There are something like 100 comments on the Hough Web log as people weigh in. It is a lot of fun and in general the discussion is smart and entertaining. Although you know what, don't go on and say Mozart or Beethoven is overrated, you know? Glenn Gould sounded like an idiot making statements like that and anyone else does, too.

What an overrated/underrated composer discussion usually comes down to is distinguishing the first-tier composers from the second-tier. This is a parlor game that can eat up whole days. My mother and my brother George and I sometimes play that game.

George says that when push comes to shove, Mom thinks that Chopin, pictured above, is second-tier.

"Ask her," he says. "She doesn't like to admit it but that's what she thinks."

I like the one guy in Hough's discussion who declares that the modern minimalist composers are overrated. Say it! Tell 'em! To my way of thinking a lot of contemporary music will go down in history as a quaint fad that lasted longer than it should have.

It is fun to sling around opinions.

If you do not watch out it will eat your whole day!

1 comment:

  1. Ned Rorem has a secondary version of this game: Identifying first rate second raters and second rate first raters. Example: Bruckner fits the second category because his inborn talent was limited, but he used it to it's fullest. Others composers (I'll name no names here, you and your buddies figure it out) are in the first category because their natural gifts were limitless, but they coasted on them rather than pushing them to their possible limits.

    Anyone is free to like, dislike, or simply not respond to any composer. However, individuals like Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy had first class gifts and virtually never sold out those gifts for an easy out , so I question whether personal taste about the compositions of any these first raters classifies them as overrated.