Posts Tagged ‘David Hurwitz’

Composer duels!

July 11, 2020

On his YouTube channel, David Hurwitz recently set the cat among the pigeons by proposing a series of “composer duels”. It’s a fun parlour game, and I can’t resist setting them up and knocking them down myself.

Here are the duels he suggested:

Bach v. Handel: The easiest of the bunch. Bach all the way. Endless invention, dazzling playfulness, inexhaustible enjoyment. Sure, Handel wrote Messiah, for which I am grateful, but set beside the B Minor Mass, the Magnificat, the Passions, the motets, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Art of Fugue, the Musical Offering, the Passacaglia and Fugue (582), the English Suites, the GOLDBERGs, the music for solo violin, the cello suites — well, it’s no contest.

Scarlatti v. Couperin: No strong opinion on this one, as neither means much to me. Probably Scarlatti, just to spite the French.

Haydn v. Mozart: For his operas alone I have to pick Mozart. Then there are the Requiem, and Laudate Dominum, certain piano concertos, and the string quintets, and the clarinet concerto. Although I like and enjoy Haydn’s music a great deal, I don’t think I love anything of his as much as I love what I love by Mozart.

Dvorak v. Brahms: A tough one, but I’ll go with Brahms, if only for the late piano and clarinet works, which are the Brahms I love most. In orchestral music Dvorak has the edge with his wonderful tone poems, but it’s not enough for me to give him the palm.

Schumann v. Chopin. Chopin. Schumann makes me nervous and unhappy.

Sibelius v. Nielsen: Well, Nielsen’s music leaves me cold, so it’s not a fair fight. Sibelius, hands down. Violin concerto, late symphonies, tone poems.

Bruckner v. Mahler:  Both great symphonists, and there are times when I think Bruckner is God’s greatest gift to the nineteenth century, but pushed to choose I pick Mahler, whose marvellous symphonic landscapes have given me so much joy, and who wrote my very favourite symphony (No.2).

Ravel v. Debussy: An easy one for me: Debussy. The mysterious and evocative piano music, La Mer, the Nocturnes, the greatest mood opera of all time in Pelleas et Melisande. Apart from Gaspard I can’t say that I love anything of Ravel’s, and I have a marked dislike for his piano concertos.

Verdi v. Wagner: The biggest, baddest composer duel of them all! Verdi has the good tunes, which counts for something, I guess, but for sheer luxurious sound there’s nothing like Wagner, and I can’t cast my vote against the man who gave us Tristan and Parsifal

Stravinsky v. Schoenberg: Who-berg? Stravinsky is such a sunny, witty composer — Haydn for the twentieth century — that he wins easily for me. Even his serial music, however regrettable it may be in the grand scheme of things, nonetheless beat Schoenberg at his own game. 

Some other possible duels that come to mind: Shostakovich v. Prokofiev (though it would be fairer to Prokofiev to match him up against Weinberg); Beethoven v. Schubert (ouch!); Ockeghem v. Dufay (ouch!); Janacek v. Bartok (Janecek, without hesitation); Cage v. Feldman (Feldman in a heartbeat); Berg v. Webern (Webern, even though he was a Nazi). There are some good comments attached to the video chat:

Hurwitz recommends

June 7, 2020 might be the best — most reliable, most discerning, least willing to write puff — of the classical music review sites. I’ve been reading it for at least 15 years, I believe. The lead critic — sorry, the “Executive Editor” — is David Hurwitz. In the last few weeks David decided to launch a YouTube channel devoted to talking about music, and thus far it has been terrific.

Some of his entries are record reviews, some are interesting “music chats” (on, for example, demented Bach transcriptions or parody music), but my favourites are what he calls “Repertoire” videos, in which he surveys what he takes to be the finest recordings of a particular piece. If, like me, you’ve spent a long time building a music library, you might enjoy seeing where your favourite recording lands in his estimation, and you might appreciate getting tips for new recordings to try.

It has also been fascinating for me to see how another person’s musical world can be so different from my own. The centre of my musical world is Bach, with medieval and renaissance music in close orbit, and an armful of twentieth-century composers further out. From this point of view, Hurwitz’ choices for pieces on which to focus is odd: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition? Ravel’s Piano Concertos? Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat? Does anybody really love this music? Apparently so.

But he has also posted excellent discussions of pieces for which I think most classical music lovers will have an affection: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Schubert’s Ninth, Debussy’s La Mer, Bruckner’s Fifth. He’s opinionated, and his opinions might rankle at times, but he knows the music very well, and he knows the history of recorded music backward and forward, and I’ve been finding him very much worth listening to.