ain't baroque! :||
Don't Fix It

Is it good because it’s famous?

It quite famously annoyed the hell out of Ravel that his most famous work was Bolero. “It has no form, properly speaking,” he said, “no development, no or almost no modulation.” And also: “It constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything different from, or anything more than, it actually does achieve.” (Thanks Wikipedia!)

And yet the most well known work he ever wrote is Bolero. People who aren’t into classical music may not know the piece by name, but they’re sure to know it when they hear it. Which makes me wonder: is a composer’s most popular work necessarily his best work?

Ravel certainly didn’t seem to think so. In Fantasia, it is claimed that Tchaikovsky really detested the score to The Nutcracker, but what classical music is more universally beloved? But then Wagner seems to have had no problem with “Ride of the Valkyries,” even going so far as eventually permitting it to be performed outside of its opera. No one will contest that The Firebird is fantastic music, but coming so early in Stravinsky’s career, can it really be called his best?

Is it a question of the popular opinion being a crappy one? Ouch. Or maybe some otherwise good music becomes so ubiquitous that it gets played out? Or is a composer’s most famous work automatically best by virtue of the fact that it’s the most famous? Thoughts?

Btw, don’t forget about the BSO preview concerts and gala this weekend!


About Jenn

Despite being the former digital marketing intern at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Jenn German does not like Mozart. Beethoven could've totally beaten him up. Also she has an arts management graduate degree from American University, but this changes nothing.


3 thoughts on “Is it good because it’s famous?

  1. …combine this observation with the unspoken inexplicable qualities of music that musicians employ but rarely explore, and perhaps we have an answer: there is no clear reason why ANY piece touches us more than any another. ?

    Posted by Stephen P Brown (@Stephen_P_Brown) | September 6, 2011, 8:16 am
  2. Am reminded of Mendelssohn’s revivals of Bach’s music – without Mendelssohn, Bach would not have been “great” through to our day. And then there’s cases like Louis Spohr, who was a titan in his day, but is all but forgotten now. After the lifetime of the artist, fame and greatness are left to the whims of the culture around them, their faulty memory, and what they choose to perpetuate as great art (also, Dukas’ Sorceror’s Apprentice totally overshadowing the rest of his career). Unfortunately, that’s the nature of art and evaluating art over time.


    Posted by asiyclassical | September 19, 2011, 2:11 pm


  1. Pingback: Also Sprach Concert Roundup « If it ain't Baroque… - January 18, 2012

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