Rescued from Obscurity

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 03:08 PM

The Naomi Lewin Theory of Obscure Music says that obscure music is usually obscure for a good reason. But every once in a while, a piece comes along that disproves the theory. This week, the New York Philharmonic is playing one of them: Gyorgy Ligeti’s Concert Românesc – his Romanian Concerto.

If you think you know Ligeti – whether from the concert hall, or from 2001: A Space Odyssey – you’re in for a surprise, and a treat. Like Georges Enesco’s Romanian Rhapsody #1, the Concert Românesc is based on regional folk music. Think Bartok’s Romanian Dances on steroids, and you’ve got Ligeti's wonderful, wild, and wooly treck through Transylvanian tunes, including a terrific gypsy fiddle solo for the concertmaster.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many recordings of the Concert Românesc, and I don’t remember seeing it on a concert program until last fall, when I lucked into a performance by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich. It was love at first hearing, and you better believe I’ll be there to hear it again in Avery Fischer Hall on Thursday night.

I’m always thrilled to find a piece that blows my theory of obscure music out of the water. I’d love to hear about your discoveries. Please leave a comment below:


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Comments [34]

Stephen Starr from Philadelphia, PA

Having just listened to hermann Scherchen conduct "The Bells" by carl orff, I agree wholeheartedly. This is a wonderful piece of music that should be played, and played frequently. I know i will be listening to it many times again.

Mar. 23 2012 04:43 PM
Steve from Bronx

Generally, I agree that obscure composers and their works are obscure for good reason. Listening to the Symphony #1 of Kalinnikov last night demonstrated the validity of this notion. However, there are exceptions. Such are the STRING QUARTETS OF CHERUBINI. Beethoven was effusive in his praise of Cherubini, and the great man did know a thing or two. So, let's hear some of these wonderful examples of unjustly neglected post-Haydn chamber works.

May. 17 2011 10:09 AM
rick o'connell from queens ny

A neglected piece that desreves a hearing on your station is the symphony #4 of the Portugese composer Joly Braga Santos written around 1950. It is on a grand scale with lots of good tunes, including a truly great and memorable final tune with a grand climax.

May. 16 2011 10:30 PM
Frank Feldman

Play more adventurous stuff during the overnights. We can take it!

Apr. 03 2011 08:58 PM
Michael Meltzer

It looks like Constantine has gone to a lot of trouble to come up with excellent lists of exploratory repertoire for WQXR. There's much there that I haven't heard and would like to. Two comments:
1. The Scharwenka was (were) aired as a new release about two summers ago by either WQXR or WNYC, you must have it. If they were recorded by someone well-known here like Kissin, they would become standard repertoire tomorrow.
2. Grant Johanneson made an entire, long concert career out of refuting Ms. Lewin's premise, particularly in romantic through contemporary French repertoire. His entire discography is a collector's must and his playing was absolutely beautiful.

Mar. 31 2011 01:34 AM
Constantine from New York

Felix Mendelssohn's 7 characteristic pieces, Opus 7 for piano, especially nos. 4 and 7 (recorded by Benjamin Frith)
Bedřich Smetana, piano music, especially:
Czech Dances, Bagatelles and Impromptus, Etudes in A minor and C major, Romance in G minor, many polkas (especially op. 12 and 13)
Recorded by Jan Novotný and (even better) Věra Řepková
Xaver Scharwenka, Polish Dances for piano (especially Opus 58) (recorded by Seta Tanyel, who is fantastic)

Mar. 30 2011 09:41 PM
Constantine from New York

Franz Berwald's Symphonie Singuliere
Ferruccio Busoni's Indianisches Tagebuch (Indian Notebook) for piano. (The better of the two performances I have heard is by one Stephen Manes)
Ernest Chausson's piano suite Quelques Danses (some dances) (there is a recording by Grant Johannesen)
Antonín Dvořák's Two Furiants, opus 42 for piano (the complete piano music of Dvořák has been recorded by Radoslav Kvapil, among others)

Mar. 30 2011 09:30 PM


Thank you for your thoughtful, topical post. We believe your comment did fall within fair use, but we also considered our comment guidelines, which encourage brevity:

Mar. 23 2011 10:11 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

I'm surprised that you ( pulled the pull quote out of my post. Under the "fair use" provision of copyright law excerpting is legal, though in current America "law" is only as good as the budget size of one's legal department. If you think would pull an "AP" and make threats over the slightest excerpting, then why not remove the link too? Why support the abuse of copyright and provide viewers for the Times web ads?

Incidentally, was destroyed by copyright law (though for a feature the owner never should have tried). That avenue around the recording industry for non-Britney Spears type "artists" is no longer available. I haven't noticed Facebook doing anything comparable to what did for aspiring artists.

Mar. 23 2011 09:38 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

This post reminded me of an old article in the New York Times about the original, a site where anyone could upload their musical creations and, if lucky and hard working (in terms of artistry and self-promotion), get the recognition that wasn't available through the standard music industry pathway.

One of those hard working and creative artists was a classical pianist and composer, Ernesto Cortazar. Unfortunately Mr. Cortazar died only a few years after being discovered by an appreciative world wide audience.

Home page -

Hmmm. Ken Thompson, composer of that great tune, Unix?

Mar. 21 2011 09:19 PM
Michael Meltzer

Ken thompson's choice is a good piece, it was performed also in the early '60s by the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra with Nicholas Flagello conducting. The way it was programmed at the time, though, was as "William Byrd: The Bells, arr. Carl Orff." I remember that because I was already familiar with the keyboard original (I say keyboard because I don't think the Baroque harpsichord had quite emerged yet).

Mar. 18 2011 12:54 AM
Ken Thompson from New York City

A favorite piece of mine that really deserves to be better known is "Entrata" by Carl Orff. It is one of his early works, based on William Byrd's keyboard compositon "The Bells", which Orff arranged for double orchestra. Hermann Scherchen recorded Entrata, along with Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory", for a release on the Westminster label back in the early 1960's. Audiences would love "Entrata" if they just had the chance to hear it!

Mar. 17 2011 10:31 PM
Robert from Brooklyn, NY

I'd like to submit five pieces by well known composers. These are truly great but were overshadowed by other complositions. My favorites are Tschaikovsly's Piano Concerto #2 (complete version), and the Maid of Orleans, especially the overture. Also, Gershwin's Second Rhapsody and Catfish Row, and finally Richard Rodgers' Ghost Town.

Mar. 17 2011 08:19 PM

Thank you for connecting the dots for me, Legeti and the music in 2001-A Space Odyssey.

My obscure discovery last year was orchestral works by Josef Suk: A Summer Tale, and Fantastic Scherzo. And then lo and behold, I heard Fantastic Scherzo on QXR one weekend in the past months. I was thrilled.

Mar. 17 2011 08:14 PM
Alan Polinsky from Brooklyn

Far from obscure, but the performance is rather wonderful. Today on they featured a ukulele player starting with the habenera and then morphing into to Back's toccata. You might give it a listen.


Mar. 17 2011 04:29 PM
Neil Schnall

I totally agree that a listener playlist would be super.

There are many truly obscure works that deserve to be heard now and again, at least to get some idea of them. But what about the many many items from the standard repertoire that are boycotted entirely by the programmers in favor of constant repetition of the same items over and over. Instead of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony every two days, how about blowing the dust off Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini? How about Barber's Piano Sonata instead of the Barber of Seville Overture yet again? How about substituting Strauss's Metamorphosen the next time you would trot out Don Juan?

There are 32 sonatas for piano by Beethoven, not just the handful we get. There are lots of listener-friendly chamber works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann beyond the few that get on the air.

Yet again, I throw down the challenge. You guys said "we answer to you, the listener". Words are easy to say when you want our dough. Let's see if you really do.

Mar. 17 2011 12:40 PM
Frank Schramm

I agree with Mr. Meltzer.
Why not create a listener - playlist.
At least once a month.
Or, make it a part of your fun raiser.....
Pay to Play......
No matter how you look at it, this would be good for the station, the composer, and the listener.

Mar. 17 2011 12:33 AM
nina kiliszek

I would like to hear more of Samuel Barber's recording of Symphony # 1 opus 8. What a rich piece of music that was.

Mar. 16 2011 10:51 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

I think the music of Anton Bruckner is undeservedly neglected.

Mar. 16 2011 08:48 PM
Michael Meltzer

What an exciting musical day it would be for New York if WQXR took all these suggestions and made them into a playlist, between 8 AM and 11PM.

Mar. 16 2011 08:05 PM
Emily Kreis from Hastings-onHudson, NY

Especially at this time of year I would love to perhaps introduce you to a beautiful "For Us the Living:A Requiem" by Alfred V. Fedak, b.1953
For "Organ, Harp, Violin, SATB Chorus, and Conductor". Maybe only obscure as it is not yet well known; but worth knowing.

Mar. 16 2011 05:27 PM
Lorraine from New York

Lukas Foss' Elegy for Anne Frank - it could run circles around Barber's Adagio for Strings in terms of its conjuring of the tragic element of the human condition. We hear Barber's (admittedly beautiful) piece to the point over-playing and yet Foss' remains hidden. I wonder if it's because facing the truth is so hard and this piece rings true.

Mar. 16 2011 04:01 PM
Ken from nj

How about Kalinnikov Symphony No 1 in G Minor.

Mar. 16 2011 02:39 PM
William from In a Manhattan, NY office.

Almost anything by Penderecki is a pleasant surprise to me. Dvorak's Requiem is an obscure piece that I stumbled across and loved.

Mar. 16 2011 02:04 PM
Frank Schramm

There are so many.... Great topic
But, I have three.
Penderecki's Symphony #4.
George Walker Lilacs
Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony

Mar. 15 2011 11:38 PM
Michael Meltzer

The "deserved obscurity" conundrum is becoming less and less true simply because there is now so very much music in the world, and less simply because in the recording industry, positions of editorial and production oversight are more & more often filled by people whose background and orientation is in accounting, not music.
That being said, the most undeservedly neglected piece from the 20th century is,to me, the piece I've always considered the "7th Brandenburg," the Hindemith "Concerto for Orchestra." There's a Decca recording with the composer conducting, it runs about 13 minutes.

Mar. 15 2011 11:36 PM
Dirk Digler from Brooklyn

Shostakovich Symphony No. 15

Weinberger's Schwanda Polka and Fugue

Anything by Rautavaara

Mar. 15 2011 11:02 PM
Rich from New Jersey

I'm very dedicated to the work of Frank Zappa and I wish his classical compositions would be given a chance. Two great albums come to mind, The Perfect Stranger conducted by Pierre Boulez, and The Yellow Shark.

Mar. 15 2011 10:47 PM
Dan O'Neill from Brooklyn, NY

Edouard Lalo - Norwegian Rhapsody

So obscure now it's hard to find it mentioned in any bio, yet it is a delight to the ear.

Mar. 15 2011 06:41 PM
Frederic Wile from New York City

I'd like to offer the Franz Clement violin concerto in D major.

Mar. 15 2011 04:11 PM
Barry from Millburn NJ

Una Cosa Rara, the opera by Vicente Martin y Soler. I happened to hear a performance of it about 20 years ago. Just a terrific opera. A tune from it is quoted in the last act of Don Giovanni, because this opera was blockbuster successful during Mozart's time.

Mar. 15 2011 03:58 PM

Consider neglected pieces by English Composer John Hebden!

Mar. 15 2011 03:47 PM

I would love to hear a live performance of Andre Jolivet's Concerto for Piano & Orchestra!

Mar. 15 2011 03:47 PM
An Di

Francis Poulenc Sonata for Cello and Piano

Mar. 15 2011 03:22 PM

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