On Thanksgiving: Classical Composers Are Not Always Thankful Music commentator Miles Hoffman talks about the things some famous classical composers were not thankful for. Composers have also felt as though the world should be thankful for them.
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On Thanksgiving: Classical Composers Are Not Always Thankful

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On Thanksgiving: Classical Composers Are Not Always Thankful

On Thanksgiving: Classical Composers Are Not Always Thankful

On Thanksgiving: Classical Composers Are Not Always Thankful

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/783551093/783551094" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Music commentator Miles Hoffman talks about the things some famous classical composers were not thankful for. Composers have also felt as though the world should be thankful for them.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Over the years, commentator Miles Hoffman has been here on Thanksgiving to regale us with stories behind important works of classical music. Usually, Miles gives us reasons to be thankful in the process. Today, though, he talks about things famous classical composers have not been thankful for.

MILES HOFFMAN: The things, or people, that composers have probably most often not been thankful for are music critics.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAX REGER'S "SINFONIETTA, OP. 90")

HOFFMAN: That's the music of the German composer Max Reger, his "Sinfonietta, Op. 90." The piece got a bad review at its premiere, and Max wasn't happy. And perhaps the most famous response to a bad review was the letter that Reger sent to the music critic who reviewed the "Sinfonietta." I am sitting in the smallest room of my house, Reger wrote. Your review is before me. In a moment, it will be behind me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAX REGER'S "SINFONIETTA, OP. 90")

HOFFMAN: Composers are thankful for good reviews, of course, but it's the bad ones that are harder to forget and that rankle. Then again, if we're talking about rankling composers, we shouldn't forget the great divas of the opera world, some of whom think the world should be thankful for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "THE BARBER OF SEVILLE")

KATHLEEN BATTLE: (Singing in non-English language).

HOFFMAN: Music from "The Barber Of Seville" by Gioachino Rossini who gave singers plenty of opportunities to show off their talents but who didn't have much patience for singers whose pretensions got the better of them. The composer and the poet are the only serious creators, Rossini once wrote. Some skillful singers occasionally try to show off with additional embellishments. And if this is to be called creative, well and good, but it is a form of creative work that is quite often unsuccessful and frequently spoils the composer's ideas.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "THE BARBER OF SEVILLE")

BATTLE: (Singing in non-English language).

HOFFMAN: One thing that composers have sometimes not been thankful for is other composers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ADELAIDE")

JUSSI BJORLING: (Singing in non-English language).

HOFFMAN: That's the tenor Jussi Bjorling singing "Adelaide" by none other than Ludwig van Beethoven. I confess I love that song, but Claude Debussy didn't. Here's what he said about "Adelaide." (Reading) I think the old master had forgotten to burn this song. And we have to place the blame for its exhumation on the backs of his overly greedy heirs.

Now, to be fair, there's no question that Debussy recognized Beethoven's greatness, but he could also be pretty snarky about Beethoven and about German composers in general. Debussy said that with a few exceptions, Beethoven's works should have been allowed to rest. And when it came to Richard Wagner, he said that Wagner's music was a beautiful sunset that people mistook for a dawn. But speaking of snarky...

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHANNES BRAMS' "SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN C MINOR, OP. 68")

HOFFMAN: ...That's the music of the immortal Johannes Brahms, who was described by the equally immortal Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky as - and I quote - "a potbellied boozer, a self-inflated mediocrity who never expresses anything or when he does never expresses it fully." I'd love to tell you what Brahms said about Tchaikovsky, but according to one historian, Brahms considered Tchaikovsky shallow and self-indulgent and didn't even take him seriously enough to consider him a rival. Oh, well. These days, we love them both. And it wasn't on Thanksgiving, but Brahms and Tchaikovsky did once manage to sit down to dinner together.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHANNES BRAMS' "SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN C MINOR, OP. 68")

HOFFMAN: For NPR News, I'm Miles Hoffman.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHANNES BRAMS' "SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN C MINOR, OP. 68")

MARTIN: Oh, thank you for that, Miles. He is the violist of the American Chamber Players and the author of the new book "Inside The World Of Classical Music: 205 Illuminating Mini-Essays."

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