Classical Music We Love to Hate—Midget Faded Rattlesnake

 

Our most recent thread on classical music favorites revealed a surprising amount of hate for Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Or maybe it’s not surprising. Perhaps there’s no surer way to torture a music lover than to force him to listen to music that doesn’t, for whatever reason, meet his expectations of what music should be. And that got me thinking about classical music that I hate. Turns out there’s a fair amount of it.

I can’t be the only one around here who feels passionate hatred for certain pieces of classical music, so I thought it would be fun to start a thread on what classical music we hate and why. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite hates:

The first and last movements of Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I love Vivaldi. I love the Four Seasons. Except for these two movements. I suppose they’re nice enough when they’re played by a skilled group, but indelibly etched on my memory is the sound of our school orchestra tunelessly sawing its way through these two pieces, which it did every year without noticeable improvement. Even when I listen to skilled performers, my inward ear still returns, like a salmon to the stream in which it was spawned, to the sour, phraseless noise that constitutes my earliest memory of Vivaldi. Shudder.

Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart. Again, this isn’t bad music. In fact, it’s a miniature gem of balanced, bland niceness. Which is probably why I don’t like it. Too nice is boring. Moreover, such a bloodless setting of what is, after all, a rather bloodthirsty bit of devotional poetry strikes me as rather impious.

The choral portions of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Beethoven wrote music for his heroic ideal of what singers should be, not for singers as they really are, and it shows. Most singers just don’t have the stamina necessary to sing this work without shouting or shrieking. I’m not sure I can imagine anything more disorienting than being trapped in the middle of the soprano section on this piece as most of the sopranos (several of whom are inordinately proud of their A5’s) try to outdo one another on the held high notes. When high notes are held that long, you can’t help but become acutely aware that the singers around you each have their own idea of where the pitch is supposed to be. If I’m destined for Hell, Satan would have to work hard to devise a torture for me worse than surrounding me by sopranos, all of them shrieking slightly different versions of A5, and demanding that I “match that pitch and timbre”.

Wagner’s operas, at least half the time. Yes, I know. Not a terribly original hate. But I’m married to a Wagner nut. Which means every time there’s a Wagner opera in town, off we go. Often the music is heartbreakingly beautiful. Until the singers open their mouths. The singers believe that, since they’ve been chosen to sing Wagner, it must be their destiny to make themselves heard over the orchestra at any cost, even if it means singing ugly. The orchestra members also believe that, because it’s Wagner, for once they don’t have to hold back – it’s the job of Wagnerian singers, after all, to make themselves heard no matter what. A fierce battle between singer and orchestra typically ensues. You could say that the orchestra usually wins, but, in reality, nobody wins. It’s a pity, because on the rare occasions you hear singers naturally powerful enough to carry their part over the orchestra without effort — or an orchestra sensitive enough to hold back — the results are extraordinarily lovely. I think that’s what’s meant by Wagner’s music being better than it sounds.

The Fanfare-Rondeau by Jean-Joseph Mouret. You may not think you know this piece, but you probably do. Thanks to PBS, this might be the most widely-recognized piece of Baroque music aside from Pachelbel’s Canon in D. As a TV theme song, it’s fine. As one of the few Baroque pieces most people can recognize as such, it’s not. It is music that’s unbearably pleased with itself. If this was your idea of Baroque music, you could easily be forgiven for thinking of Baroque music as nothing more than smug, repetitive tootling that never reaches beyond itself, though Baroque music needn’t be any of those things. I find this piece much more annoying than Pachelbel’s Canon.

In fact, I still enjoy Pachelbel’s Canon. Once in a while. Yes, it’s overused. And yes, it’s sad that more people’s musical horizons don’t extend beyond it. But the reason Pachelbel’s ghost follows musicians everywhere, tormenting them, is precisely because the bass line Pachelbel used is so effective. A composer could do much worse than to write the first really famous piece of music using that bass line. In fact, many composers have.

I still haven’t gotten around to my hatred of many madrigals (if I ever see fair Phyllis I will strangle her), Maria Callas, atonality, or polytonality. Or my ambivalence toward countertenors. But that will do for now.

What about you? What classical music do you love to hate?

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  1. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Eine Kleine Nachtsmuzik – loathe it deeply, overplayed, over ornate. Twee.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Anything after 1750, with very few exceptions.

    • #2
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Arahant:

    Anything after 1750, with very few exceptions.

      How come? Care to name any exceptions?

    • #3
  4. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    skipsul:

    Eine Kleine Nachtsmuzik – loathe it deeply, overplayed, over ornate. Twee.

     That was my husband’s choice, too, though I’m not sure why.

    It’s frivolous and a bit silly, but then, that’s Mozart for you. If I were ever asked to take it seriously, I  would  be deeply irritated. (“Ave Verum Corpus” by its nature must be taken seriously.)

    For some reason, Eine Kleine reminds me of the flamingo and yo-yo bit from Fantasia 2000.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtlfZrPDGNs

    • #4
  5. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    I have yet to find anything by Britten, Elgar, or Vaughan Williams that I enjoy listening to.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: How come? Care to name any exceptions?

    I suppose the “How come?” answer is sort of like the guy who was born in 1920 who doesn’t care for Rock and Roll.  He’s thirty-five years old and this new music starts showing up that all the kids are listening to,  It’s loud and raucous and gets on his nerves.  Since I remember other incarnations, all this new, jangly music bothers me.  I like stuff from when I was a younger soul.

    Exceptions?  That depends on my mood.  I like three pieces that have a lot in common: Beethoven’s 6th, Morning from Peer Gynt, and a piece from William Tell that is featured as part of the overture, but I can’t remember it’s name offhand.  I sometimes have trouble telling which of the three it is if I turn on the radio in the middle of one.

    Strangely enough, I also love Glazunov’s Stenke Razin Suite.

    • #6
  7. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Samuel Barber’s Adagio.  Ugh.  Overwrought and maudlin.  If anyone attempts to play it at my funeral I will rise from the coffin protest. 

    The techno remix was worlds better (though still ghastly).

    • #7
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    skipsul:

    Samuel Barber’s Adagio. Ugh. Overwrought and maudlin.

    Funny, I first heard that piece in its choral arrangement as “Agnus Dei”, which I would describe as chaste, a bit severe, and oddly joyful, with excellent melodic propulsion despite its deliberate tempo, and fantastic friction on the dissonances:

    I guess if I had thought it was  supposed  to be a tear-jerker, my reaction might have been different.

    Soundtracks using this piece to convey “sadness” do irritate me, though. Perhaps because I don’t think of the piece as sad.

    • #8
  9. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Son of Spengler:

    I have yet to find anything by Britten, Elgar, or Vaughan Williams that I enjoy listening to.

     Son,

    How about this Elgar:

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #9
  10. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    James Gawron:

    Son of Spengler:

    I have yet to find anything by Britten, Elgar, or Vaughan Williams that I enjoy listening to.

    Son,

    How about this Elgar:

    Regards,

    Jim

     I gritted my teeth through 1:23 before I couldn’t take it any longer. Thanks for trying, though.

    • #10
  11. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Son of Spengler:

    I gritted my teeth through 1:23 before I couldn’t take it any longer. Thanks for trying, though.

     But what was it that got to you? Jitteriness? Bombast? A flatulent brass section?

    I have yet to find anything by Britten, Elgar, or Vaughan Williams that I enjoy listening to.

    I used to think I hated Vaughan Williams, too – too lush and atmospheric for my tastes. But my husband is slowly converting me. I’m not sure I’m terribly familiar with Elgar, but my favorite works by Britten are Christmas carols.

    • #11
  12. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Son of Spengler:

    I gritted my teeth through 1:23 before I couldn’t take it any longer. Thanks for trying, though.

    But what was it that got to you? Jitteriness? Bombast? A flatulent brass section?

    I have yet to find anything by Britten, Elgar, or Vaughan Williams that I enjoy listening to.

    I used to think I hated Vaughan Williams, too – too lush and atmospheric for my tastes. But my husband is slowly converting me. I’m not sure I’m terribly familiar with Elgar, but my favorite works by Britten are Christmas carols, actually.

    An overall boringness, a feeling that it was sucking up my time without giving me anything back. What was interesting was not novel, and what was novel was not interesting. I’d have to listen again in order to be more specific, and I’m not going to do that.

    • #12
  13. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    The piano pieces by the virtuosos of the 19th century never caught my fancy. Think Liszt. I like violin grandstanding, however. 

    • #13
  14. Caroline Inactive
    Caroline
    @Caroline

    Two words: Carmina Burana.

    • #14
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Caroline:

    Two words: Carmina Burana.

    Oh, I totally get this one! Not that I personally hate it – yet. But I easily could.

    Have you ever seen it staged the way Orff wanted it staged? The cheesy staging does a lot to deflate the pretense. It’s like a painting by Bosch brought to life, only tackier.

    Pick a random point in this video of the fully-staged version – say, eleven minutes and 45 seconds in – and you’re almost guaranteed to see something a bit silly. Like the phallic shrubbery. It really adds… something.

    http://youtu.be/D0MVjeT_Zm0?t=11m45s

    There’s an epic hay fight, too. Wonder how the performers kept from sneezing.

    • #15
  16. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Wagner’s operas, at least half the time.  …Often, the music is heartbreakingly beautiful. Until the singers open their mouths. 

     
    Bingo.

    I always liked Giaochino Rossini’s comments on Wagner: One can’t judge Wagner’s opera Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don’t intend to hear it a second time.  Which is only slightly less famous than Wagner has beautiful moments but awful quarters of an hour. 

    • #16
  17. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    anonymous:

    I love Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but from the very first time I heard it (on vinyl—I have never heard it live), I’ve always thought that as a compulsive copy editor I’d drop the last 10 minutes of the fourth movement as an anticlimax.

    As a business fantasist, I imagine:

    “OK, you want the choir and you’re only going to use them in the last movement?”

    “Well, yes—that’s where I pull all of the themes together from the first three movements and it only makes sense to use the choir once we’re ready for the final resolution. Would you like to see all of the charts where I track the themes and how they come together at the end?”

    “Yeah, we get that, but a whole choir standing there doing nothing until the last ten minutes? We have to sell this to the trustees.”

    “All right: how about another ten minutes in the choral part?”

    “Done.”

     John,

    Exactly why I prefer the 4th movement of the 5th symphony.

    http://youtu.be/MJybhTIKxTw

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #17
  18. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Son of Spengler: I have yet to find anything by Britten,

     not even “Simple Symphony”? 

    • #18
  19. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Son of Spengler: I have yet to find anything by Britten, Elgar, or Vaughan Williams that I enjoy listening to.

     maybe Vaughan Williams’ “Rhosymedre”?

    • #19
  20. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Wagner’s operas,

     I’m with you: Wagner. I’ll skip it. I have days & days of music on my computer/ipod, and I don’t think I’ve ever willingly added Wagner. I might endure a snippet or theme, that is all.

    • #20
  21. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Julia PA:

    Son of Spengler: I have yet to find anything by Britten,

    not even “Simple Symphony”?

     Thank you – I hadn’t heard this one, and I want to listen to it more!

    • #21
  22. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Julia PA:

    Son of Spengler: I have yet to find anything by Britten, Elgar, or Vaughan Williams that I enjoy listening to.

    maybe Vaughan Williams’ “Rhosymedre”?

     Most definitely not. I wanted to like this, but again did not get past the magical 1:23.

    • #22
  23. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    this link of Simple Symphony, the first movement is incredibly fast. quite fun–def NOT simple! what is nice is that the entire work is short, so if you don’t like it, it is over before you want to drown the ensemble!

    • #23
  24. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Son of Spengler:

    Julia PA:

    Son of Spengler: I have yet to find anything by Britten, Elgar, or Vaughan Williams that I enjoy listening to.

    maybe Vaughan Williams’ “Rhosymedre”?

    Most definitely not. I wanted to like this, but again did not get past the magical 1:23.

     so the question is, if you are a musician who PERFORMS, is there a difference to liking something to perform it versus liking it as an audience member? I’m not willingly being an audience member or performer of Wagner, and I’ll agree the Rhosymedre is a bit ‘boring’ but the sonority of it as a performer in an ensemble…totally different effect. 
    John Cage…I might perform it, just for giggles, but as a member of the audience, I’d fight to be assigned the part of “bearer of the sledge hammer” just to make it all stop. :)

    • #24
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Julia

    …so the question is, if you are a musician who PERFORMS, is there a difference to liking something to perform it versus liking it as an audience member?

    Definitely.

    I can think of many examples, but for me the most sobering was Bach’s B-minor Mass.

    While I was in college, the professional orchestra of a nearby city invited our college choir to provide the chorus. It was a tremendous honor to be invited, and it’s a beautiful piece, at least in theory. However, the texture is quite dense.

    Our choir director had the choir stand completely mixed, in little quartets. I secured myself a spot in a really great quartet and practiced my part extra hard.

    Because my quartet was good, and because, with such a dense texture, I relied heavily on my inward ear to fill in the parts I couldn’t easily hear, I though our overall performance had been fantastic. Then one day years later, I listened to a CD of the performance…

    I still love the piece, but I would have hated that particular performance as an audience member. Not nearly precise enough overall. An impenetrable wall of mushy sound. Yuck!

    • #25
  26. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Now, Bach’s B-minor Mass  can  be performed well. For example, this group does it well (judging by the  Et Resurrexit):

    ^ Mentally, while I was performing the Mass, this was the quality of music I was hearing in my head. It was not, however, the quality of music we left on the recording…

    • #26
  27. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Mentally, while I was performing the Mass, this was the quality of music I was hearing in my head. It was not, however, the quality of music we left on the recording

     ha ha, So long as I leave the instrument in the case, I’m on equal footing with Itzhak Perlman.  In my head…my fingers are as nimble and certain as his. For Realz? not so much! 

    • #27
  28. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Julia PA:

    Son of Spengler: I have yet to find anything by Britten,

    not even “Simple Symphony”?

     Beautiful.  Thank you.  

    • #28
  29. profdlp Inactive
    profdlp
    @profdlp
    …Pick a random point in this video of the fully-staged version – say, eleven minutes and 45 seconds in – and you’re almost guaranteed to see something a bit silly. Like the phallic shrubbery. It really adds… something…

    The babes in the haywagon weren’t half bad.

    (The rest of it wasn’t half bad either – it was all bad.)

    • #29
  30. user_115955 Member
    user_115955
    @AlanMartinson

    I don’t understand why so many people enjoy Ravel’s Bolero.

    • #30

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