5 Musical Works Time Left Behind

Wednesday, December 07, 2016 - 10:11 AM

Music compositions that have been lost by time. (Flickr)

Last week, the International Şefika Kutluer Festival premiered a “lost” Mozart composition, the Wendling Flute Concerto. A product of his time as a student (and roommate) of Johann Baptist Wendling, the concerto was not widely performed and had never been recorded.

Besides that Mozart concerto, there are hundreds of compositions that have been lost to time. A few standouts are below. Some have been lost in their entirety; others have surviving fragments, with which composers have tried to reconstruct the original.

Dafne — Corsi

Anyone interested enough to ask “what was the first opera?” gets excited when they learn that there is a definite answer: Jacopo Corsi’s Dafne. A retelling of the ancient Greek episode of Daphne and Apollo, the opera was first performed in 1597 in Florence to an audience that included Don Giovanni Medici and several other powerful members of the city. The libretto survives, though Corsi’s music does not. But there is some silver lining for those who want to know what early opera sounded like: Corsi’s sophomore effort, Euridice, is still sticking around and you can listen to some of it below.

St. Mark Passion — J.S. Bach

Some critics consider Bach’s St. Matthew Passion one of the greatest pieces of music of all time and his sprawling St. John Passion is held in similar esteem. But several other passion settings have been attributed to Bach, including St. Mark. In what some would call a hefty dose of self-plagiarizing, Bach worked a few of his earlier cantatas into the piece and actually used some of the original St. Mark choruses in his Christmas Oratorio. The libretto survives, though Bach’s music does not. Several composers have attempted to reconstruct the piece, but none will sound like the first performance on Good Friday 1731.

Thespis — Gilbert & Sullivan

W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s first collaboration was for a "Christmas Operatic Extravaganza." Their bawdy comic opera told the story of a group of thespians who swapped places with the gods of Olympus. Desperately in need of a vacation, the gods decide to take a furlough on earth and leave a group of mortals in the charge of Olympus ... and impart their divine powers. The opera’s premiere was just as disastrous as Thespis's rule. The music was hastily written and the production was quickly thrown together and under-rehearsed. Critics weren’t kind, either. Only a handful of musical passages survives, including a chorus that was repurposed for their opera Pirates of Penzance.

A whole lot of everything — Gottschalk

Back in the 19th century, New Orleans was arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the United States. French Louisianans, Creoles, Haitians, Cubans and African slaves all mingled in the same space and their unique cultural traditions created a melting pot like none other. Born into this cultural mélange was a virtuoso pianist by the name of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the son of a Jewish Londoner and a Haitian Creole mother. He fused all those disparate musical traditions into his own work and was famous for playing his compositions from memory. But that means he never wrote a lot of them down — and many that were notated were destroyed after his death. A number of pieces survive today, but who knows what else we’re missing?

The Giant — Prokofiev

Have you ever visited home and found an ugly picture you drew or an embarrassingly cheesy song you wrote as a kid? Well, if Sergei Prokofiev were to take such a trip, there’s a good chance he might have rediscovered his first opera. The Giant was composed when he was just 9-years-old and inspired by games he and his friends used to play. Because most 9-year-olds don’t really have the resources to hold their own auditions, the boy Prokofiev wrote each part for members of his family. The short opera premiered in his uncle’s home to an enthusiastic audience of six. It hasn’t been performed since. Until it turns up, we can still enjoy several of the other operas Prokofiev left with us. 

Anything we missed? What are some other lost works that you someday wish to hear?

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Comments [7]

Alison from KCMO

Carol from NY is correct. Peri composed the music for La Dafne. Jacopo Corsi was the patron and collaborator behind the opera; he and Peri (and the librettist Rinuccini, among others) came up with the idea to put what the Florentine Camerata had been talking about (fully-sung drama based on classical mythology) into practice. Most of the music for La Dafne is lost, but yes, Euridice survives. Monteverdi may have heard Euridice during a trip to Florence around 1600, and later composed the more famous L'Orfeo. The composer Giulio Caccini (famed for his treatise/set of monodies called Le nuove musiche) also composed a version of Euridice around the same time of Peri's.

Jan. 12 2017 12:59 PM
Pam from Westchester

Carol from NYC - I had also always heard it was Jacopo Peri who wrote Dafne, but according to Wikipedia Jacopo Corsi collaborated with Peri on the work. I'd never heard of Corsi before.

Dec. 09 2016 09:26 AM
Barry Owen Furrer from Lake Monticello, VA

The title of this blog could be true of the operettas by John Philip Sousa, who was greatly influenced by Gilbert and Sullivan. Other than his 1895 opus "El Capitan," most have all but disappeared besides a rare revival of "The Glassblowers" by NYC Opera in the spring of 2002 and themes extracted from others to form the basis of marches that share the same name such as "The Bride Elect" and "The Charlatan."

Dec. 09 2016 08:27 AM
Paul Mauffray from New Orleans, Louisiana

There is also the recent discovery of a once highly successful American comic operetta about spicy Tabasco sauce "THE BURLESQUE OPERA TABASCO" by George Whitefield Chadwick which was last heard in 1894. The opera was premiered in Boston, played 48 times on Broadway, and then was taken on tour throughout at least 35 cities in America (see wikipedia entry). When the composer discovered that changes were being made to the content of the opera on tour and that the producers were no longer paying the composer his share of ticket sales, Chadwick had the police intervene and subsequently locked the music away to never be performed again! That same year, Chadwick was awarded a composition prize bestowed upon him by Antonin Dvorak (who surely must have heard "Tabasco" since he was in New York during its many performances there), and Chadwick's orchestral works were later championed by none other than Gustav Mahler with the New York Philharmonic. The style of the opera is not only similar to Gilbert & Sullivan, but Chadwick even studied composition at the Leipzig Conservatory just a few years after Arthur Sullivan had studied there too. The autograph manuscript sources were only recently discovered, and as the reconstruction is being completed excerpts are available on youtube. The opera is scheduled for a fully staged premiere in January 2018 in New Orleans.

Dec. 08 2016 03:48 PM
Carol from nyc

Are you sure it's not Peri's opera Dafne which was noted as the first "opera" in this genre, his Euridice next, followed by Monteverdi's "L'Orfeo" in 1607?? Monteverdi's L'Orfeo is still being performed in opera houses throughout the world. Only fragments of Peri's operas are known and rarely performed.

Dec. 08 2016 12:00 PM
Nick from Tampa

Concerning "Thespis". Gilbert published the libretto, but Sullivan never published his music. There is evidence that he "recycled" much of it in other works, not just "Pirates of Penzance". The women's opening chorus was pasted onto the "Pirates" original manuscript!

Attempts have been made to "reconstruct" the opera using Sullivan's music from other compositions. There is also a fine recording of the ballet music.

Dec. 08 2016 08:02 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

What a treasure trove this post has revealed. Before now, I've never heard any of the works documented.Fortunately, the world has heard Stravinsky's "Funeral Song" written in memory of Rimsky-Korsakov at a Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra performance on 2 December 2016 conducted by Valery Gergiev in a program also comprising Rimsky-Korsakov's Suite from "Tale of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia" and the complete 1910 "The Firebird". Shostakovich, in 1962, in order to get censor's approval to have his Symphony No. 13 "Babi Yar" performed --- the history of which is well documented --- write a two-piano version of it expressly for that reason that's never been published. I'd be interested in hearing that some day. That article was in "The New York Times" of 27 September 2006. Beethoven wrote a piano version of the "Grosse Fuge" with many corrections and deletions that reveal some of his thought processes that I'd also love to hear some day. That article was in "The "New York Times" of 13 October 2005. Fragments and sketches abound that I'd love to hear some day. Mozart's melody sketch of a "Credo" for a Mass with no harmony or orchstration is written about on the BBC website of 18 September 2008. Beethoven wrote a Largo movement for an early piano concerto about the time of the Second that was reconstructed by the Dutch musicologist Cees Nieuwenhuizen discussed on the BBC website dated 1 February 2005 which also describes a Largo movement from a concerto for oboe by Beethoven. I'd also love to hear any of the complete works of Carl Czerny, most known for playing the premiere Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 and for his exercises, but his complete works total over 800 opus numbers,none of which I've ever heard. I'd like to hear his Symphony in D and Variations for Piano and Orchestra out of curiosity.

Dec. 08 2016 05:57 AM

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