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I got the idea for this post because one PW professional pianist (who I shall not name) has given many recitals/made recordings of many neglected works. I would say he specializes in neglected/rare repertoire.

My question applies to both amateur and professionals. Some pianists play almost exclusively well known works from the piano literature, while others tend to play a lot more neglected/rare/out of favor pieces by less well known composers. I'm talking about playing just for oneself or playing in concerts or making recordings.

Here are some reasons I can think of:
1. The pianist is tired/bored with the standard literature.
2. The pianists wants to make a recording but who needs and what record company wants another recording of Beethoven's Moonlight unless the pianist is in the superstar category.
3. The pianist really thinks the neglected work is much greater than its reputation.
4. The recording is a world premiere.
5. The pianists specializes in contemporary music which is automatically a mostly neglected territory
6. The pianist think the well known piece has been played and recorded by so many great pianists he has little more to say and too much competition.

Which of these reasons do you think make the most sense? What other reasons would you add?

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I think you have done a good job capturing the reasons. As an amateur, I often choose to learn lesser known pieces because they sound fresh and hold my interest. I get pretty tired of hearing the same old things over and over, (your #1), such as Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu or Rachmaninoff’s C# minor prelude. They are great pieces but I’ve heard them played badly so many times, they make my ears bleed. I know I’m going to spend many months with a piece so it’s got to be fascinating to me.


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Mid 20th century repertoire might not be contemporary, but tends to be neglected by those who prefer more traditional harmony. Perhaps this performer has a liking for atonality/dissonance.

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The obvious answer is (2) or (6) which are in the same vein : the pianist hopes that by resurrecting a "neglected" work he has a better chance to be noticed and be listened to.

But I seldom fall for that trick, in music as in other arts. My view is that "neglected" works (or theories, or beliefs, etc..) usually display plenty of good reasons why they have been neglected.

We are lovers of classical music, and to me "classical" means having stood the test of time. Of course it does not hurt our vanity when the test of time seems to coincide with our subjective preferences...

The creative geniuses who composed this music in the first place were innovators, but nevertheless operated within the framework of the ideas, tastes and even ephemeral fashions of their times. Some of their contemporary critics could be as biased, unimaginative, or stupid as some of today's Instagram influencers or New York Times brahmins. In the end it was left to posterity to sort out the grain from the chaff. This does not however imply that the "neglected" chaff has no part to play. It must exist for the gems to be compared and shine. Mozart needs Salieri. So your fame-seeking pianist does have a lot of neglected material to work with.

And to be honest, the "test of time" does take a lot of time, probably four or five generations. The first will adore anything new. The next raves about its own fashions and dismisses the previous crop. The following will re-discover Paul but label Peter a derivative copycat. Eventually the canon is agreed to like consensus on Wikipedia. Even Bach and Mozart spent time in the doghouse.

One late trend really turns me off: the politically correct approach to de-neglecting works of art. Clara Schumann and Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre composed masterpieces. Let's listen to them and not to the second-rate work of so many neglected "gendered" (or any other classification à la mode) persons.

Last edited by Vikendios; 01/11/22 03:35 PM.

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I'm not sure who this pianist is, so I am definitely not trying to point any fingers but another reason is that there is a certain level of "credibility" you get when you dig further and further into the underground of any style/genre of music. I think it's easy to form a bit of an ego around listening to and playing music that is "outside the mainstream". Even the mere listening of classical music can be seen as this sort of a cool hipster thing to do. I think the reasons you listed are likely the reason for this pianist and many others, but I wouldn't discount the edgier, more disdainful side to it.

Maybe I've just heard so many people champion Ka, Aesop Rock or other more underground names while calling Kendrick Lamar, Kanye and others as boring and overplayed. I really do not want to be making blanket statements because I think everybody should enjoy what they like, and I have a fair share of underground and popular musicians in my rotation on Spotify, but I won't deny there is an appeal to the unique niche of lesser known artists. I've fallen for it myself back when 100 gecs were still sub 100,000 listeners on Spotify and then they blew up.

I'm also fairly young and don't personally know many classical musicians, so I will acknowledge that classical music has its own weight around it and is already treated as a symbol of "class" and "taste". This alone can be a driving reason to immerse oneself even further in it (very cynical, I know). Also, the reason to play or perform a work can be entirely different than the reason to listen to a work, which is mostly the way I've approached this thread. I definitely don't play many neglected works and don't really have the drive to when I've already got such a massive list of pieces to play, record and perform.

Anyway I didn't really answer your question, rather I thought out loud about a few different ideas. Regardless I'm curious what people think. This really isn't meant to trash any pianist who enjoys playing or recording lesser known works. I think it's a great thing so long as it's not approached in this elitist way I've described. The more music and recordings, the better in my eyes.


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Originally Posted by Vikendios
And to be honest, the "test of time" does take a lot of time, probably four or five generations. The first will adore anything new. The next raves about its own fashions and dismisses the previous crop. The following will re-discover Paul but label Peter a derivative copycat. Eventually the canon is agreed to like consensus on Wikipedia. Even Bach and Mozart spent time in the doghouse.
I think it's also important to think about who decides what the classics are. A vast majority of our favourite and most championed classical composers are German, and this seems to rise from the trend of 19th century German nationalism and the emergence of romantic values.

I think there's something to be said about these works withstanding the test of time, but there's also something to be said about the institutions and ideologies that prop up classical music to begin with. Don't get me wrong, I love classical music and think it has the right to exist, but it's important to remember that classical music is still widely believed to hold some sort of value that other music just doesn't have apparently.
Originally Posted by Vikendios
One late trend really turns me off: the politically correct approach to de-neglecting works of art. Clara Schumann and Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre composed masterpieces. Let's listen to them and not to the second-rate work of so many neglected "gendered" (or any other classification à la mode) persons.
I don't really understand what you mean by this. I think it really depends on the context that you are turned off by. I think a program of all female composers for instance is just as valid as an all Chopin program, or the existence of the International Chopin Competition.

I don't understand why you promote not listening to a "second-rate" composer either. What/who decides what is and isn't second-rate? Is it not subjective? Perhaps if the motivation for listening or programming certain music is just to win some sort of social justice points I understand what you mean. However, I don't see the harm in it either.


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For me, an amateur playing almost exclusively for myself and family, the reason for picking rather unknown (or at least rarely noticed) works is primarily that I don't want to walk the same path as everybody else. I'll pick whatever takes my fancy, but it gives me particular delight to play something that others have missed. In a way it's like having found a paradisiacal place in nature - undiscovered and un-spoiled. It yields a special kind of bliss.


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I play music which I enjoy playing, regardless of whether they are neglected or popular. But on the whole, I do think that popular pieces (not in the pop sense, but in the classical sense, if you get my drift) are popular for a reason - generally.

However, if you are a young up-and-coming professional or trying to make inroads, or trying to get noticed, you'll probably have to try your luck with avant-garde tuneless rubbish (which you know is avant-garde tuneless rubbish) just to get funding (or a grant from the Arts Council, in the UK) for public performance......where the composer turns up (and possibly, a few acolytes of the Emperor's new music who want to show how trendy and 'sophisticated' they are). You might end up improvising most of it, because the 'music' is unplayable as printed, and the composer himself doesn't even know what it's supposed to sound like, except on his MIDI file, so you'd be doing him a favour by making it sound like a better piece than it is. Maybe even like real music smirk .....and I've noticed how some young musicians who used to play that stuff turned away from it, and towards Mozart and Rachmaninov et al (no doubt breathing a huge sigh of relief) when they became known and started getting proper concerts with real paying audiences.

There is, at present, also undoubtedly also an element of political correctness (other terms are available) going on to 'right previous wrongs', as it were, with some young pianists playing one or two currently 'trendy' composers whose piano music is little more than second-rate salon music: 'homespun' is a term I heard a critic use for one of those composers' symphonies performed by a well-known American orchestra, and that's exactly what I thought too, before the novelty wore off.......

But then you also get pianists (and violinists) who enjoy playing neglected virtuosic pieces that hardly anyone else plays, not because they are total rubbish, but because for most concert pianists, the effort expended on learning and practicing them aren't worth their musical worth - which means that only those with immense natural facility who enjoy virtuosity +-schmaltzy tunes for their own sake play them. And why not? If you've got it, flaunt it, as Plato once didn't say.

Nobody pays me to perform, so I just play whatever I like in my recitals cool - amongst the four B's and other well-known composers of piano music, there's also Smetana, Paderewski, Bonis, Sinding, Sibelius, Ginastera, Merikanto and a couple of contemporary composers........which even Hamelin doesn't play. whistle


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There's a lot of great music that's not well known, even by major composers. Schumann's late music was regarded as too weird, including the wonderful Ghost Variations and violin concerto.

I've always found it odd that Albeniz is only well known for a small portion of his wonderful piano music. There are plenty of other lesser known works (and composers) that I like a lot.

As an almost fanatical fan of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, I believe they are worthy of their position in the musical world, and I could spend a lifetime happily studying their music, but I love going off the beaten track too.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I got the idea for this post because one PW professional pianist (who I shall not name) has given many recitals/made recordings of many neglected works. I would say he specializes in neglected/rare repertoire.

My question applies to both amateur and professionals. Some pianists play almost exclusively well known works from the piano literature, while others tend to play a lot more neglected/rare/out of favor pieces by less well known composers. I'm talking about playing just for oneself or playing in concerts or making recordings.

Here are some reasons I can think of:
1. The pianist is tired/bored with the standard literature.
2. The pianists wants to make a recording but who needs and what record company wants another recording of Beethoven's Moonlight unless the pianist is in the superstar category.
3. The pianist really thinks the neglected work is much greater than its reputation.
4. The recording is a world premiere.
5. The pianists specializes in contemporary music which is automatically a mostly neglected territory
6. The pianist think the well known piece has been played and recorded by so many great pianists he has little more to say and too much competition.

Which of these reasons do you think make the most sense? What other reasons would you add?

I agree with no.1 and no. in conjunction with the pianist feels that they have found a hidden-'ish' gem and wanted to share the moment with others, akin to telling people about a discovery that they have made.

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It looks to me like 2 and 6 are more or less the same reason; and 4 is a subset of 5.

In the end, each pianist has their own reasons for playing pieces that are not audience favourites. Best ask the pianist for the reasons.


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I think point no1 is the first absolute determinant.

How long in your life you can play over over the same Bach Partitas, Beethoven Sonatas, Chopin Scherzos and Rachmaninov Preludes?

Actually all of good pianists play for themselves a lot of lesser known works, some of them playing them in concert (latest Yuja Wang, Zimerman playing Godowski). Issue is somehow with labels - especially the big ones like Sony and DG. DG has huge problem who they are and who they want to be. On one hand side the released 10 versions of Karajan conducing the same symphony and over and over recording the same old repertoire, on other you have there Hania Rani and Max Richter (both of which I do not get how they record to DG as their long repetitive music is plain boring and is far closer to Einaudi than to what core DG is). So big hole in the middle, where - thankfully - Hyperion stands (and Naxos of course, but I find their recorings mediocre both artistically and technically, in recent years they went up a bit), there's Harmonia Mundi, and other brands (some new, some not existing anymore).

Point is - nooone ever recorded something like Kapustin, Godowsky, there is a bit of Szymanowski on DG. So at the end it all comes to fact, that major labels are set in stone as mentioned, that they will recording 1500th time Moonlight Sonata with encore of Fur Elise instead some great but less known music like Bortkiewicz.

On the other hand side it's good - as it gives space for a lot of pianists to sell their records with lesser known repertoire, who they just like (master of which is M-A Hamelin).

It's all compilated, and unfortunately to us some stupid managers and producers have a lot to say while pianist not a lot, especially in big majors. Fortunately smaller labels can provide us much better sound quality (especialy Naive - DG and thei Emil Berliner Studios should go there to study how piano and orchestra should be recorded), but others too.

There is also another point - lesserr repertoire is not so popular because it is not giving the same musical qualities as the standard one, not always, but often yes. But hey. Look at very first Rachmaninov pieces or very late Scriabin.

At the end, I think a musician should play what they feel comfortable with and what they feel need for, otherwise it will not sound good, or truthfully.

I miss rarer repertoire in piano concertos in my country, and recitals as well. Always the same 10-15 big composers name and it's end. Bach Beethoven Mozart Chopin Liszt Grieg Brahms Schubert Schumann Rachmaninov Scriabin Tchaikovsky Prokofiev Shostakovich Debussy Ravel thank this is the end.

Some time ago I was discussing with my teacher what I would to play and I told her: first of all nothing that I have played before (in case of composer), so we ended with XX century russian piano music, but of those "lesser" known to wide audience composers, pianists know them well. It is all overdose from the past.

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For me the question is this: why do some pianists only play standard repertoire?


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There is plenty of music that for various reasons is not frequently played, if at all. Many of those were quite successful in their time and there is no reason why they couldnt be played in concert or recorded. These pieces would be more than satisfactory for amateurs as well.

For example in the period 1800 to 1850, there are more than 150 composers that wrote and published music, most of which have piano pieces. Several thousands of compositions for piano have been listed for that period, of which several hundreds piano sonatas. The number of piano sonatas being frequently played for that period is probably less than 100 and likely much less than that.

Composers like Ries, Montgeroult, Weber, Czerny (11 sonatas, most very interesting, never played), Kalkbrener, Moscheles, Hummel, Alkan (other than his etudes), Crammer, Field (the nocturnes are rarely played, the sonata and concerto almost never), plus all the others, many of which would be unknown to most PW members.

Not all their pieces/sonatas reach the absolute top level, but many are more than worthwhile.

There are probably even more pieces from other periods like baroque which are almost never played. Other than Bach and Scarlatti, sometimes Rameau, Haendel and maybe Couperin (but always the same pieces), there are just a ton of outstanding composers which are worthwhile and were famous in their time. Those are occasionally played on harpsichord for very small and selected audience.

I would be generally less cynical than most and think that if a pianist choose to play an unknown piece it is because he/she mostly like the music to start with, whether it is a gem or not is probably secondary but if the pianist find it interesting, the music must have some merit.


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Originally Posted by maucycy
I think point no1 is the first absolute determinant.

How long in your life you can play over over the same Bach Partitas, Beethoven Sonatas, Chopin Scherzos and Rachmaninov Preludes?
Actually, if you include the complete or near complete works of the greatest/ near greatest composers for piano, there is far more music than almost any pianist could learn in their lifetime. For example, why limit the Chopin pieces to just the Scherzos or Bach pieces to just the Partitas?

I do think it's possible that some of the greatest pieces by the greatest composers become so familiar and frequently played by others that one might not be interested in learning them.

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One answer to the question of ubiquity of standard repertoire and the relative scarcity of lesser-known works on recordings may be marketing, which is determined to a considerable degree, is it not, by the recording companies?

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Originally Posted by MRC
For me the question is this: why do some pianists only play standard repertoire?

That is what makes it standard repertoire!


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One opinion I heard from a professional once: Plenty of obscure music has rightfully fallen into oblivion.
I guess that many pieces by lesser-known composers are simply not as interesting as pieces by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven.

But there are some composers who have failed to fall into oblivion, although their music is not that interesting IMO. But they have a famous name, or more precisely, a famous relative.
Examples: The Bach sons, or the father and son of Mozart.
A few months ago I checked out a sonata by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach; and concluded that it was simply not as interesting as a sonata written by his contemporary Joseph Haydn.

I wonder if a famous name or relative is a blessing or a curse.
On the one hand, the famous name prevents you from being completely forgotten; since Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are counted among the greatest composers of all time, and arise curiosity in the music of their relatives. On the other hand, your music is compared unfavorably to the music of your great relative.
What is the lesser evil: Being known as a lesser member of a composing family; or not being known at all?

Good thing neither Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach nor Franz Xaver Mozart have to answer this question.


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Originally Posted by patH
Good thing neither Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach nor Franz Xaver Mozart have to answer this question.
I pride myself on having heard (and played) a lot of obscure composers' music, but I'm even prouder of the fact that I've never (knowingly) heard J.C.F.B. nor F.X.Mozart (and the only piece of Papa Mozart I've heard is his Toy Symphony - because I love toys).

However, I've heard all the other relevant Bachs - J.S. (of course - far too much), C.P.E., J.C., P.D.Q. (of course).


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Originally Posted by patH
One opinion I heard from a professional once: Plenty of obscure music has rightfully fallen into oblivion.
I guess that many pieces by lesser-known composers are simply not as interesting as pieces by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven.

That is so true that it is almost tautological. However, on the other hand, it doesn't mean that all obscure music is completely without interest. It also seems that reaching the widest possible audience over the longest possible time is something like a recipe for finding some sort of common denominator, which in itself doesn't mean the music is more worthy than some more obscure stuff.

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