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!