Insults And Praise On The Classical Campaign

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Nicolas Slonimsky's book, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven's Time, is a collection of classical commentary Peter Schickele calls "a supermarket tabloid of classical music criticism."

Tchaikovsky (300)

Tchaikovsky was not shy about expressing his distaste for the work of Johannes Brahms. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the waning days of the presidential campaign, music commentator Miles Hoffman offers a classical variation on a theme: insults and endorsements among the great composers. Just like politicians, many classical composers hurled invective at their colleagues and competitors. (They could also be nice when they wanted to.) Sometimes, music critics might even commit a flip-flop, endorsing a certain composer at one point before taking it all back later.

Hoffman calls the evaluation of composers' work by their peers "a continuous campaign for the future of the art form," and at its heart lies the competition for the praise of critics and attention of patrons.

Many examples of criticism cross the line from constructive to destructive, but there are also instances of composers and critics using their respected opinions to encourage positive attention. Enthusiastic endorsements, whether they stood the test of time or not, shaped public opinion just as effectively as insults.

However, as with politics, criticism of any kind, when taken out of context, is little more than biased opinion. In the end, the merits of a musician's (or politician's) work are illuminated only through time.

What The Critics Say

Cover for Brahms: The Piano Quartets, Opp. 25, 26 & 60

Johannes Brahms

  • Artist: Various
  • Album: Brahms: The Piano Quartets, Opp. 25, 26 & 60
  • Song: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25

"Brahms' music is made up of some indefinable something skillfully welded together." -- Tchaikovsky on Brahms

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Song
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25
Album
Brahms: The Piano Quartets, Opp. 25, 26 & 60
Artist
Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo-Ma, Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo
Label
Sony
Released
1990

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Cover for Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1; Grand Valse Brillante No. 2; Variations on "La ci darem la m

Frederic Chopin

  • Artist: Emanuel Ax
  • Album: Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1; Grand Valse Brillante No. 2; Variations on "La ci darem la mano"
  • Song: Waltz for piano No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34/2, CT. 209

"Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!" -- Robert Schumann on Chopin

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Song
Waltz for piano No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34/2, CT. 209
Album
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1; Grand Valse Brillante No. 2; Variations on "La ci darem la mano"
Artist
Emanuel Ax
Label
Sony
Released
1998

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Cover for Horn & Harp Soiree

Gaspare Spontini

  • Artist: Various
  • Album: Horn & Harp Soirée
  • Song: Divertimento for horn & harp

"My religion is that of Beethoven, Weber, Gluck and Spontini." -- Hector Berlioz on Gaspare Spontini

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Song
Divertimento for horn & harp
Album
Horn & Harp Soirée
Artist
Erica Goodman
Label
Bis
Released
1993

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Cover for Portraits of Freedom

Roy Harris

  • Artist: Gerard Schwarz
  • Album: Portraits of Freedom
  • Song: American Creed

"No composer makes such shameless use of patriotic feelings to advertise his product. One would think to read his prefaces that he had been awarded by God, or at least by popular vote, a monopolistic privilege of exposing our nation's deepest ideals and highest aspirations." -- Virgil Thomson on "American Creed" by Roy Harris

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Song
American Creed
Album
Portraits of Freedom
Artist
Gerard Schwarz
Label
Delos
Released
1992

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Cover for Wagner without Words

Richard Wagner

  • Artist: George Szell
  • Album: Wagner without Words
  • Song: Die Walkure (The Valkyrie), opera, WWV 86b

"But apparently you think all music must leap out of the wall and shake the listener to his very intestines. Only then do you consider music effective, but on whom are such effects achieved? On the mass, on the immature, on the blase, on the sick, on the idiots, on Wagnerians." -- Friedrich Nietzsche on Richard Wagner

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Song
Die Walkure (The Valkyrie), opera, WWV 86b
Album
Wagner without Words
Artist
Richard Wagner
Label
CBS
Released
1990

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