Forgotten Composers

When I was in college, I read a book called Sidelights on a Century of Music – 1825-1924 by Gervase Hughes. It talked about forgotten works by well-known composers, composers who only had one big hit, and, finally, overshadowed composers. It began a lifelong interest in the little know and forgotten music of the past for me. Some of the composers mentioned now seem quaint – Reger as an overshadowed composer, Bruch as a one hit wonder, etc. Musical tastes move on and sometimes the forgotten become popular once more.

I discovered my first forgotten composer quite by accident. In the 1980s and 90s in Kansas City, member of the Overland Park Orchestra would get together a couple of times a year to play the Mendelssohn Octet, along with other works, like the Brahms String Sextet. Anything larger than a quartet that was not commonly performed. Since we had such a large group, I was always interested in finding other larger ensemble pieces for us to try. This was long before the internet, so I hit the UMKC Conservatory library card catalog and found a string octet by Woldemar Bargiel (1828 – 1897). It was a very nice piece of music, that no one had ever heard of. The quick biography – he was the half-brother of Clara Schumann and worked with Brahms on the first complete edition of Chopin’s piano works.

Since moving to Florida, I’ve been playing a lot more small chamber music – string trios, piano trios, and piano quartets. Bargiel came into my life again when we tried his Piano Trio #3, a lovely work. We’ve performed the whole thing, but the second movement is our favorite – such a beautiful melody! I also discovered the Bargiel Piano Sonata. It has only been recorded once that I can find – an obscure European recording that is long out of print. Everything I’ve discovered by Bargiel has been well written, melodically and harmonically interesting, and very accessible for modern audiences. Why is he forgotten?

More forgotten composers – Dora Pejačević (1885 – 1923). We’ve played some of her Piano Trio and Piano Quartet. I’ve also performed her first Violin Sonata. We’ve also performed quite a few of her solo piano pieces – many from Blumenleben (Life of Flowers), including this one – Red Carnation.

Albert Dietrich (1829 – 1908) studied composition with Schumann and was a friend of Brahms. We’ve played his second Piano Trio.

Georges Onslow (1784 – 1853) – he was called the French Beethoven. He was mainly a composer of chamber music. He wrote 36 string quartets and 34 string quintets – including this lovely one – String Quintet Op. 34 (first movement only, unfortunately).

Hyacinthe Jadin (1776 – 1800) – yes, he died far too young, during the French Revolution. His few works are all interesting and well ahead of their time. His piano sonatas sound like early Schubert, although most were composed in the mid-1790s. Here’s the first movement of the Piano Sonata Op. 4, No. 1. And here’s an example of a string quartet – the first movement of the String Quartet Op. 3, No. 1.

t’s much easier now to find forgotten composers. When I started, you had to rely on libraries that had copies of the music you were looking for, if you even knew what to look for. Now there is the internet. is a wonderful resource. And YouTube has lots of recordings. Music like Jadin’s is very difficult, though, as it was published once in the late 1700s and is very difficult to read. Plus, many pieces haven’t been scanned. Jadin, for example, wrote four sets of three String Quartets. Only two of the four sets are available. The others exists in libraries somewhere, but have never been scanned, and being so old are not available to check out. Still, it’s well worth it to pursue the more esoteric composers. Their music should never have been forgotten.

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