My Favorite Music

Copyright 1997-2001 Ronald B. Standler

Table of Contents

Authentic Performances
my favorite composers:
    J.S. Bach
    W.A. Mozart
obscure composers:
my favorite conductors
my favorite pianists


This essay describes my favorite music from the baroque and classical eras. I also list a few of my favorite compact disks and some notes on my favorite conductors and pianists. Please do not be offended by my blunt opinions about my favorite compositions and recordings. I could have added reasons to support my opinions, but they would still be only my opinions.

The original version of this essay in 1997 contained catalogue numbers of compact disks recordings that I especially admire. However, manufacturers of compact disks seem to change their catalogue numbers every few years, so I have deleted most of the catalogue numbers from this essay.

If you have questions about availability of recordings, please ask your local record store, as I do not have current catalogues of compact disks. If there is no classical record store near you, I have posted some links to stores in the USA and Europe.

Many of my favorite recordings were made between approximately 1950 and 1962, despite the fact that more modern recordings have better acoustical fidelity. I even have some recordings that the pianist Schnabel made between 1932 and 1937 that are fascinating listening. I think the performance is better on these old recordings than on a typical modern recording. But I am not convinced that older is better: mediocre recordings issued many years ago have been forgotten for years. Thus, time is a filter that concentrates good stuff. Still, it seems that most of the musicians that I really admire are either dead or quite old.

The famous pianist Artur Schnabel often played a few wrong notes, which even appear in his recordings. One recording engineer asked Schnabel if he wanted to play a piece again to avoid some wrong notes. Schnabel is supposed to have replied that he might play it better "but it wouldn't be as good". When modern performers play wrong notes during a recording session, they often finish the recording, then go back and re-record the offending passages. The magnetic tape is then edited by splicing, so that a "perfect" performance is created. However, there is often an abrupt shift in tempo or expression at the instant of a splice, since no two performances are identical. Some of these bad splices are more jarring to me than bad notes.

"Authentic" Performances

In the 1980s, it became fashionable to perform music composed prior to about 1820 in the way that the composer might have heard it, a so-called "authentic" performance. This style of performance involves two key ideas:
(1) scholarly research on the composer's manuscripts and contemporary documents in order to determine the composer's intentions and resources.
(2) performance on instruments that are either antiques or modern copies of instruments used by musicians who lived at the same time as the composer.
Conductors who specialize in authentic performances usually have their own orchestra. Some major groups are:
conductor, orchestra
Reinhard Goebel, Musica Antiqua Köln
Roy Goodman, The Hannover Band
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Vienna Concentus Musicus
Christopher Hogwood, The Academy of Ancient Music
Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert

Scholarly research is commendable. But be warned that the proper baroque style is that all instruments are equally important: there is no attempt to balance ensembles or give emphasis to the melody.

Before we can discuss the issue of original vs. modern instruments, we need to review some of the major changes in instruments in the last two centuries:

These physical differences between original and modern practices lead to some major differences in performance. The authentic wind instruments are much more difficult to play smoothly with good intonation than modern instruments: therefore, performances on authentic instruments have many examples of faulty intonation, which often gives noisy sounds (e.g., squawks, raspy sounds). The string section of an authentic orchestra, playing on gut strings, is often overwhelmed by the wind and percussion instruments, even when the string section is playing the melody.

Since Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven never had an opportunity to hear the modern instruments, how do we know what these composers would have preferred? Given the impossibility of deciding that question, I would suggest that we make the decision on authentic vs. modern instruments on the basis of what sounds better to us. The presence of noise from the wind instruments and what I consider bad balance between wind and string ensembles leads me to avoid authentic performances. It would be an act of mysticism to try to re-create an ancient performance style. Given that we can not re-create the ancient style, why go half-way and use the ancient instruments?

Actually, my rhetorical question at the beginning of the previous paragraph can be answered for J.S. Bach:
In both of these instances, Bach favored the use of the most modern technology of his era, instead of clinging to past tradition.

Many of Bach's works are independent of a choice of instruments. There are modern recordings of Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of the Fugue) for Klavier solo, for harpsichord solo, and for a string ensemble; Bach's manuscript specifies no instruments. As other examples, the Violin Concerto (BWV 1042) is also available as a Klavier Concerto (BWV 1054); the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto (BWV 1049) also appears as a Klavier Concerto (BWV 1057). If Bach's music is invariant when transported from one instrument to another, does it really matter if one uses "authentic" or "modern" instruments for Bach?

Certainly, the composers after the baroque era used the unique tone color of instruments, just as they used the pitch and duration of notes, to obtain an effect. When the tone color of the instrument is critical, then, of course, a transcription is unlikely to be successful. Parts of Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy are clearly written for Klavier and would sound strange on another instrument. Similarly, Beethoven's Violin Concerto is clearly written for a violin; Beethoven's own arrangement for a solo Klavier is an insipid failure, since the Klavier can not convey the dolce passages of the violin.

my favorite composers

J.S. Bach

Bach: Organ music
my favorite works include:
Prelude and Fugue in E flat major (BWV 552)
the famous Toccata and Fuge in d minor (BWV 565)
Fugue in g minor (BWV 578)
Passacaglia and Fuge in c minor (BWV 582)
I like the recordings by Karl Richter (e.g. DG 415 442) from the mid-1960's best.

Bach: Violin Sonatae, Partitae BWV 1001-6
The playing by Heifetz in the 1952 recording (RCA 09026-61748) is spellbinding. A number of critics have suggested that it is not "authentic Bach". Who knows what Bach's reaction would have been to hearing someone of Heifetz's ability playing his music? The sections with counterpoint on a single violin are particularly fascinating.

Bach: E major Violin Concerto Nr. 2 (BWV 1042)
Heifetz's 1953 recording (RCA 09026-61755) is my favorite.

Bach: Cantata 29, "Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir"
I like Rilling's 1984 recording (Hänssler 98 857). The right-hand continuo part of the Sinfonia is the same as the prelude of the violin Partita Nr. 3, BWV 1006.

Bach: Cantata 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme"
I think the Choral "Zion hört die Wächter singen" for two Violins, Viola, Tenor, and Continuo is one of the most beautiful melodies in all of music. The final choral has a very simple harmony; Bach probably intended to play it maestoso. I like Karl Richter's 1962 recording (DG 419 466).

Bach: Brandenburg Concerti 1-6 (BWV 1046 to 1051)
In my opinion, the performances by Karl Richter and the Munich Bach Orchestra in 1967 (Archiv 427 143) outshine the large number of other recordings of these famous works.

Bach: Concerto for three Klavier and Strings BWV 1063, also the two Klavier Concerto BWV 1060
Eschenbach conducts the Hamburg Philharmonic (DG 415 655). The Klavier are easier to hear than the traditional harpsichords.


Händel was born in Germany in 1685 (which accounts for the a-umlaut in his name) and, in 1710, became Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hannover, but spent most of his time on other projects in London. George became King of England in 1714; Händel continued to write music for his royal patron. This is a short explanation of why a German composer was living in England and wrote an oratorio, The Messiah, with English words.

My favorite works by Händel are:
The Water Music Suites (in F major, D major, and G major)
Concerti Grossi Op. 3
Organ Concerto Op. 4, Nr. 6
Concerti Grossi Op. 6
Music for the Royal Fireworks

There are many fine recordings of Händel's music on modern instruments (e.g., conducted by Karl Richter, Münchinger, Neville Marriner). My personal preference is for Marriner's interpretation. Be warned that the complete Water Music Suites and the Fireworks Music are too lengthy to fit together on one compact disk. A single compact disk that contains both the Water Music and Fireworks Music is using an abridged version of the Water Music.


The famous "Emperor Quartet" (op. 76, Nr. 3) whose second movement contains variations on the old Austrian national anthem, "Gott erhalte Franz der Kaiser", for which Haydn composed the music. Unfortunately, this song was adopted as the melody for "Deutschland Über Alles" and, after World War II, the Austrians adopted a new national anthem.

Haydn's Symphonies
Davis recorded Haydn Symphonies 93-104 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam around 1977. I think these performances are the best of the conventional interpretations of these Symphonies. Beecham recorded Haydn Symphonies 93-98 in 1958, and Symphonies 99-104 in 1960, both with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for EMI. Beecham's performances are marked (marred?) by a number of omissions and idiosyncrasies, but he approaches these works in a fresh and lively way. If you do not want to follow the performance in a copy of the printed score, then I would recommend Beecham's performances including all of his blemishes!

Nikolaus Harnoncourt (of "authentic performance" fame) began recording Haydn Symphonies with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, starting in 1990. I admire the clarity of Haroncourt's interpretation. For example, the fugue in the first movement of Symphony 98 (bars 132-209) is more clearly played by Haroncourt than by any other conductor that I have heard (Beecham, Dorati, Davis, Szell, Fischer). My only complaint with Harnoncourt concerns his choice of tempi: he takes the trio of the third movements slower than the minuet, he plays the Andante of Symphony 94 too fast, the first four measures of the first movement of symphony 98 are played faster than the second four, the minuet of Symphony 98 is much too fast, there are unjustified pauses at measure 145 of the fourth movement of Symphony 94 and measure 90 of the third movement of symphony 98,....

While Haydn's Symphonies 92-104 are his best known, some of his early symphonies are just as good. Symphony 30 (so-called "Alleluja") and Symphony 31 (so-called "Hornsignal") are pretty. I particularly like the recording by Mackerras of Symphonies 31 and 45 (Telarc 80 156).

Haydn wrote a large number of high-quality compositions, but many of them are unknown to most lovers of music. Perhaps for this reason recordings of Haydn's music do not sell well, so there are not as many recordings to choose from. It is a vicious, circular process. As one would expect from Haydn's position in time, his orchestration is more advanced than Bach's but simpler than Beethoven's. Haydn seems more willing than Mozart to use chords that depart further from simple octaves, fifths, and thirds.

W. A. Mozart

Clarinet Concert Brymer & Beecham mid 1950s (EMI 763 408)
all 4 Horn Concerti Brain & von Karajan 1953 (EMI 5-66898-2)
These old recordings are better than the more modern recordings that I have heard. Brain's playing of the horn is particular smooth and graceful. The recording by Brain was named as one of the 75 greatest recordings of the 20th Century by readers of Gramophone magazine in early 1999.

Ein Musikalischer Spaß (Philips 412 269)
Mozart wrote a large number of Serenades and Divertimenti. One of them, Ein Musikalischer Spaß, is usually treated as a grotesque caricature of incompetent composers and players. However M.J. West and A.P. King have argued (American Scientist 78:106-114, Mar 1990) that this work actually represents the song of a starling bird that Mozart owned as a pet for three years. The opening chords of the first movement are conventionally seen as an insipid passage with harmony in intervals of thirds, fifths, and octaves. There is a horribly dissonant passage for two French horns in the second movement, which is sarcastically marked dolce. The third movement contains a violin cadenza based on themes not found elsewhere in this work. The fourth movement has a gasping Fuge that should end mercifully near measure 402, not at measure 458 in a polytonal disaster of five different keys. Because of these gross defects (and many minor defects) in this work, it usually is not taken seriously, although it has been recorded by many serious conductors (e.g., Jean François Paillard and Willi Boskovsky). However, the defects could be patched up by an arranger who is familiar with the style of the late baroque, to produce a simple but beautiful little work. Apparently, no one dares tamper with Mozart's work in order to preserve the satire, which I find uninteresting. Ein Musikalischer Spaß is a mature work, which was composed in the same year as the famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, just four years before Mozart's death. Some commentators complain about the repeated notes in parallel thirds and fifths in sections of Ein Musikalischer Spaß. Similar passages appear in some of the best works in the classical repertoire! For example, J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto Nr. 6 has repeated notes in the first 15 measures of the parts for Viola da gamba, Violoncello, and Cembalo. Other examples are the first six measures of Mozart: Klavier Concerto Nr. 26 (K. 537) and the introduction of Mozart: Symphony Nr. 40 (K. 550). Mozart's harmony is often very simple, and very beautiful. Commentators should try to write something as good as these repeated notes, including parallel thirds and fifths!

I very much enjoy a three-CD set of all of Mozart's Chamber Music for Wind Ensemble. These charming performances were originally recorded in 1962 by a group of musicians in London including Jack Brymer (clarinet) and Alan Civil (horn). London 455 794.

I particularly like Mozart's Klavier Concerti Nrs. 21, 26, and 27, and the Rondo for Klavier and Orchestra K. 382.
Nr. 19, 27 Haskil/Fricsay 1956 DG 431 872
Nr. 21, 24, 26, 27 Casadesus/Szell 1965 Sony SM3K 46 519
Nr. 26, Rondo K. 382 Perahia 1983 Sony SK 39 224
Of the complete sets of Mozart Klavier Concerti, I most like Anda's playing (DG 429 001).

Mozart's Symphonies
I am still searching for good recordings of Mozart's Symphonies. The best that I have found are conducted by George Szell, Bruno Walter, or Karl Böhm. Walter's and Böhm's tempi sometimes vary slightly during the movement, while I prefer a strict tempo for most of Mozart. My favorite Mozart Symphonies are Nrs. 39 and 41.

There is an unusual dissonant passage for two oboes and one bassoon in the menuet of Symphony 41. This beautiful passage only lasts for eight measures; I wish that Mozart did something similar in the development section of the first movement, where he would have more time to explore this interesting idea.


Beethoven's Symphonies
All of Beethoven's symphonies are memorable and enjoyable, but my particular favorites are Nrs. 1, 2, 4, 7, and 9. Compared to the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven's Symphonies are much more complicated:
1. larger orchestra, additional wind instruments (e.g., piccolo, two clarinets, 4 French Horns instead of 2, trombones)
2. more expressive indications (e.g., crescendo, diminuendo, ritardando, dolce) and changes of tempo inside one movement
3. decisions to be made by the conductor in balance of ensembles: is a forte passage for Horns the same loudness as a forte passage for Violas?

The problems of interpretation are particularly severe in the case of the Ninth Symphony. For example in measures 9-15 of the first movement and again in measures 30-37 of the fourth movement, the figures in the first violin section are obscured by sustained notes in the woodwinds and horns. As another example, in measures 301-320 of the first movement of the Ninth Symphony, the fortissimo on the kettledrums, Horns, and Trumpets obscures the melody in the strings. As a third example, in the fourth movement of the Ninth Symphony the vocal soloists (and later the choir and winds) "Freude trinken alle Wesen an den Brüsten der Natur;...." overwhelm a delicate ornamental passage in the strings that includes trills. I have come to the conclusion that parts of the Ninth Symphony are unplayable. There are two possibilities: (1) Beethoven had been deaf for so long when he composed the Ninth Symphony that he had forgotten how the orchestral instruments sounded and (2) Beethoven suddenly broke away from the tradition that all of the instruments in the music should be independently audible and, instead, he created a large amorphous mass of sound (like Bruckner and Mahler). It may be that both motives are correct: Beethoven could "hear" in his mind what was not possible to achieve with an orchestra.

The technical decisions seem to overwhelm many conductors, who simply settle for getting all of the notes played "correctly" and having an emotional impact on the listener. Details, such as balance of ensembles, ornamental notes, and subtle phrasing are jettisoned in the process. There are only a few recordings that I can recommend of the Beethoven Symphonies:

  1. NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Toscanini, recorded between 1949 and 1952, are the best in my opinion.
  2. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, recorded between 1965 and 1970, are very good.
  3. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karl Böhm between 1970 and 1972 are also very good.
  4. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, conducted by René Leibowitz in 1961 are quite precise. Leibowitz was a professor at the Paris Conservatory of Music.
  5. group of musicians in Los Angeles, called the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bruno Walter and recorded in 1959 are also good. Walter takes this music slower than most other conductors, so you can hear more of the details.

Beethoven's Chamber Music
Sextet & Octet for Winds Wind Soloists of Chamber Orchestra of Europe ASV COE 807
The Beethoven Sextet for 2 Kl., 2 Cor., and 2 Fg. and the Octet for 2 Ob., 2 Kl., 2 Cor., and 2 Fg. are delightful pieces of chamber music. The counterpoint reminds me of several leprechauns dancing. The Sextet opens with the same horn melody, actually a military bugle call, as Tschaikowsky's Capriccio Italien.

There is a two-CD set of all of Beethoven's music for wind ensemble that was issued as part of Deutsche Grammophon's Beethoven Edition (vol. 15). DG 453 779.

Beethoven's Klavier Concerti
The playing by Schnabel is delightful. The ornaments are particularly well done. The antique sound (recorded 1932-1935) is not bad, although it is not high fidelity. The orchestral playing is not as good as many modern recordings, such as the 1961 series by Fleisher with Szell or the 1962-65 series by Rudolf Serkin with Ormandy and Bernstein. However, these performances by Schnabel are among my favorite Klavier recordings: he attacks these works somewhat marcato and con brio, a style that most pianists seem to avoid. The opening theme of the fourth Concerto is particularly striking and aggressive the way Schnabel plays it.

The Fantasy for Klavier and Choir of Beethoven really should be called the Sixth Klavier Concerto. It was composed in 1808 between the Fourth and Fifth Klavier Concerti, but published after the Fifth Concerto. The opening Klavier solo may be an example of Beethoven's improvisational style. Of the recordings that I have heard, the 1962 recording by Rudolf Serkin with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernstein (Sony MYK 38 526) has more of the fire and tension that I see in the score than other recordings.

Beethoven's Klavier Sonatae
My favorite Klavier Sonata by Beethoven is Nr. 12 in A-flat, which seems similar to Schubert's Wander Fantasy for Klavier. My favorite recording of Sonata Nr. 12 is by S. Richter.
My favorite pianists, who have recorded the entire set of 32 sonatae, are Wilhelm Backhaus and Artur Schnabel. The recording of the 32 Sonatae by Schnabel was named as one of the 75 greatest recordings of the 20th Century by readers of Gramophone magazine in early 1999.

Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Heifetz's playing (RCA 09026-61742) of the entire concerto is best I have heard. He uses cadenzae written by himself and his teacher, Auer. Not well known is that Beethoven made an arrangement of this concerto for Klavier (called op. 61a, the violin concerto is op. 61), and Beethoven wrote cadenzae for the Klavier arrangement but not for the violin soloist. Schneiderhan's recording (with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Eugen Jochum on DG 427 197) uses cadenzae that are Schneiderhan's arrangements of Beethoven's cadenzae for Klavier. If you do not care for the intense style of Heifetz, Schneiderhan's performance may be of interest.

In my opinion, Beethoven's arrangement for Klavier is not worth acquiring unless one wants to hear Beethoven's cadenzae. Most of the main text of op. 61a uses the violin solo as the basis for the right-hand Klavier part, rather than take advantage of the full resources of the Klavier. However, the cadenzae are quite interesting. The cadenza for the first movement uses a duet between Timpani and Klavier that foreshadows the duet in Beethoven's Fifth Klavier concerto and the duet between Timpani and Violin toward the end of the first movement of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony.

Beethoven: Triple Concerto
There are two outstanding recordings: The Concerto was composed between Beethoven's Third and Fourth Symphonies, and before the Violin Concerto and Fourth Klavier Concerto. We think of a concerto as a work that contrasts one solo instrument with an orchestra. However, in the time of J.S. Bach and Vivaldi, concerti for multiple instruments and orchestra were common.

Beethoven's Variations for Klavier
the six variations, op. 34
the 15 variations, op. 35, on themes from the Third Symphony of Beethoven.
the six variations, op. 76, on the Turkish March from the Ruins of Athens ballet score by Beethoven
the 33 variations on a theme by Diabelli, op. 120
In 1819, the publisher Anton Diabelli composed a simple waltz and sent it to fifty major composers, soliciting their variations for it. This was Diabelli's idea for promoting the sale of his music! The only variations on Diabelli's theme that are familiar today are those written by Beethoven. Beethoven wrote a heroic set of 33 variations on Diabelli's theme: it appears that Beethoven wanted to take no chances that one of the other 49 composers would submit better music than he. I think this incident illustrates Beethoven's personality well. Many composers (e.g., Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert) composed more pieces of music per year than Beethoven. However, the quality of a typical composition by Beethoven is greater than the quality of a typical composition by another composer. I think there is a lesson here for administrators in academia who judge scholars only by the number of papers published, without regard to the quality or importance of the content of each paper. Returning to the subject of Beethoven's Variation on a Theme by Diabelli, I particularly admire the recordings by S. Richter and R. Serkin. S. Richter also has an outstanding recording of the op. 34-35 and op. 76 variations.


Schubert: Wanderer Fantasy
The Wanderer Fantasy is a difficult large-scale work for solo Klavier, not a classical sonata. The name "Wanderer" comes from the theme of the second movement which is identical to the theme of Schubert's song "Der Wanderer", op. 4, Nr 1. (Schubert himself did not apply the name Wanderer to this Klavier work.) This Fantasy has several distinctive features:

I think the two most interesting recordings of the Wanderer Fantasy are:
S. Richter 1963 EMI 5-66895-2
Badura-Skoda Music & Arts 267
The recording by Richter was named as one of the 75 greatest recordings of the 20th Century by readers of Gramophone magazine in early 1999. Badura-Skoda edited a critical edition of this work in 1965, so his recording is of special interest. I think Sviatoslav Richter is a better pianist, but this is not to say that Badura-Skoda is in any way incompetent or inadequate. The recording of Wanderer by Badura-Skoda also contains Schubert's Moments Musicaux; Moment Nr. 4 seems similar to some of J.S. Bach's compositions. There is a 1968 recording by Wilhelm Kempff on DG 453 289 that also includes some of Schubert's less familiar piano music: the Andante (D. 604), the Allegretto (D. 915), the Scherzo (D. 593/1), and the Variations on a Theme by Hüttenbrenner (D. 576).

If I have a favorite piece of music, then Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy is my favorite.

Schubert's Songs
Schubert's Song "Der Wanderer" (D. 489; opus 4, Nr. 1; composed in 1816) has the following words by Georg Philipp Schmidt:
Ich komme vom Gebirge her,
Es dampft das Tal, es braust das Meer.
Ich wandle still, bin wenig froh,
Und immer fragt der Seufzer: "Wo? Immer wo?"
Die Sonne dünkt mich hier so kalt,
Die Blüte welk, das Leben alt,
Und was sie reden leerer Schall,
Ich bin ein Fremdling überall.

Ich wandle still, bin wenig froh,
Und immer fragt der Seufzer: "Wo? Immer wo?"
Im Geisterhauch tönt's mir zurück:
"Dort, wo du nicht bist, dort ist das Glück!"

Which translates to:

I come from the mountains,
the valley is misty, the sea surges.
I walk quietly, I am not merry,
and the Sigh asks over and over: "Where, always where?"
Here, the sun seems so cold,
the flower withered, life old,
and what they say [is only] empty noise;
everywhere I am a stranger.

I walk quietly, I am not merry,
and the Sigh asks over and over: "Where, always where?"
On ghostly breath, the answer comes to me:
"There, where you are not, is happiness!"
With words like these, one can understand the dark tone of the second movement of the Wanderer Fantasy. These words bring tears to my eyes.

Schubert's Song "Der Wanderer an den Mond" opus 80, D. 870, composed in 1826, has a similar message.

Schubert's Chamber Music
I really like the first and third movements of Schubert's E-flat trio for Klavier, violin, and 'cello, op. 100 (D. 929).

Schubert: Forellenquintett, D. 667
I like the recording with Serkin playing Klavier (Sony MYK 37 234) slightly better than the others that I have heard. However, the recording with S. Richter playing Klavier (EMI 747 009) is also quite good.

Schubert: Sonatae (Sonatinae) for Violin and Klavier
My favorites are op. 137, Nrs. 1 and 3 (D. 384 & D. 408).
I also like the Allegro vivace of op. 159 (D. 934) and the second movement, Scherzo, of op. 162 (D. 574).
There are several good recordings:
Isaac Stern and Daniel Barenboim (Sony S2K 44504)
Gérard Poulet and Noël Lee (Arion 26 8006).
Arthur Grumiaux and R. Veyron-Lacroix (Philips 426 385)

Schubert: Symphonies
If one wants a complete set of Schubert's symphonies, I recommend the set by Böhm (first choice) or von Karajan (second choice). My favorites are Symphonies 1, 2, 3, and 5. I really like the slow movement of Symphony 2, although this early work of Schubert is not well known.

Beecham rescued the early symphonies of Schubert from obscurity, but his interpretations (EMI 769 750) do not follow the standard edition from Breitkopf & Härtel. In particular, Beecham sometimes omits some measures of Schubert's work.


Hummel was a German composer, born in 1778 and died in 1837, so he was a contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert. During his life Hummel was famous as a pianist and composer, but today, he generally known for only one work, his E-major Trumpet Concerto. There is a wonderful recording of Hummel's Bassoon Concerto in F-major on Philips 432 081.


Hérold was a French composer, born in 1791 and died in 1833, so he was a contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert. In the early 1950's, RCA released a gramophone record (LM 1834, long out-of-print), entitled "Toscanini Plays Your Favorites" that included his 1952 recording of Hérold's Overture to Zampa. This delightful recording has been released on compact disk (RCA 09026-60310). Except for this one Overture, which is rarely played, Hérold is a long-forgotten composer.


The composer now known as Giacomo Meyerbeer was born in Berlin as Jakob Liebmann Beer in 1791. He changed his last name to Meyerbeer in order to get a substantial stipend from his maternal grandfather, Meyer. Meyerbeer moved to Vienna, but could not compete with the likes of Hummel and Beethoven. He moved to Venice in 1815, and competed with Rossini. While in Italy, he changed his first name from Jakob to Giacomo. He moved to Paris in 1826, where he was a tremendous success. Meyerbeer died in 1864.

He composed 18 operas, among them:
Il Crociato in Egitto (1824)
Robert le Diable (1831)
Les Huguenots (1836)
Le Prophète (1849)
L' Etoile du Nord (1854), known in German as "Der Nordstern"
L' Africaine (first performed posthumously, 1865)
Although Meyerbeer was a talented composer, who certainly understood how to orchestrate, he apparently composed no symphonies, no concerti, and few overtures. His audiences wanted operas, so he composed operas.

Today, his most famous work is the Coronation March from Le Prophète, a work that takes about 3½ minutes to play. Collections of arias from operas often include one or two songs by Meyerbeer.

He is also known today for ballet music from two of his operas, L' Etoile du Nord and Le Prophète, which was arranged in 1937 by the English composer Constant Lambert into a suite, called Les Patineurs. Meyerbeer shows his rich ability to orchestrate in this dance music, using 7 different woodwind and 4 different brass instruments, plus strings and percussion, as well as his ability to craft pretty melodies. If you are interested in the entire operas, there is one good recording of each:
Le Prophète, Henry Lewis conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (of London) in 1976, Sony M3K 79400.
L' Étoile du Nord, Wladimir Jurowski conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland in 1996, Marco Polo 8.223 829.31. This is a live recording, including the noise of the singers moving about on the stage.

Apparently, one of the reasons that Meyerbeer has been forgotten is that he was Jewish, and condemned by anti-Semitism prevalent in Europe during Meyerbeer's life and continuing until the middle of the Twentieth Century. Many anti-Semitic musicologists and critics have condemned Meyerbeer, which may have influenced musicians not to seriously consider Meyerbeer's works.

There are only a few recordings of Meyerbeer's work.
Decca had an excellent gramophone recording of Les Patineurs with Jean Martinon conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, but this old gramophone recording has not been issued on compact disk. The best compact disks of Les Patineurs are Decca 444 110 and Sony SBK 46 341, but the Sony recording is not the complete Suite.

I think it is a tragedy that record companies continue to release more and more recordings of familiar works like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but neglect composers like Meyerbeer.

notes about conductors

I think it is a legitimate function of a conductor to make amendments or corrections to the printed score, to patch problems in the music, if there is plausible musical justification. Indeed, there is often a real question of what the composer intended. Up until the mid-1850s, it was common for published editions to differ from the composer's manuscript. Differences might arise from typographical errors, editorial correction of the composer's (minor) mistake, or unauthorized revisions.

For example, Johannes Brahms edited the standard edition of Schubert's Symphonies, published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1884-85. Would the learned Brahms hesitate to correct the mistakes (e.g., in structure and harmony) of the amateur Schubert? There was a new critical edition of Schubert symphonies published by Bärenreiter around 1970, so the old Breitkopf & Härtel edition is certainly not the last word. Given the uncertainties about Schubert's intentions or what is "correct", it is reasonable to allow conductors to have discretion over details in the score. Of course, the conductor should be held accountable for the result of any changes that he makes.

Most of the compact disks have no information about the performing artists, so the following notes may be helpful. Furthermore, knowing something about the performers may be a useful guide to selecting recordings. Naturally, I list only my favorite performers.

Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961)
British conductor who founded the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946. Famous for introducing many lesser known orchestral works by Händel, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and Delius to modern audiences. Beecham was one of the first conductors to produce large numbers of gramophone recordings. Beecham was instrumental in rescuing from obscurity Haydn's Symphonies 93-103 and Schubert's Symphonies 1-5. There is no question in my mind that Beecham's interpretations captured the spirit of these symphonies better than most other conductors that I have heard. My major criticism is that Beecham sometimes omits some measures of Schubert's music, for unknown reasons. Beecham's omissions are jarring if you are following the score while listening, or if you are familiar with the complete work. Since Beecham was well known for his efforts to increase popular understanding of classical music, he may have been trying to eliminate passages that might bore his audience. I do not want to listen to music that has been "dumbed down" to have greater appeal to uneducated masses, so I would condemn this motivation.

Karl Böhm (1894-1981)
Austrian conductor, educated as a lawyer. Famous for his interpretations of Mozart, Wagner, and Richard Strauss. He was the first conductor to record all of the Mozart symphonies. I have never seen a picture of him smiling: he was apparently a very stern man. Despite his stern nature, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra appointed him Ehrendirigent (esteemed conductor).

Willi Boskovsky (1906-1991)
Former principal violinist of Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra between 1939 and 1981. As a conductor, in 1964-1966 he recorded all of the dances and marches of Mozart and many of the serenades. He is best known for his recordings of dances of Johann Strauss, but he also recorded dances of Beethoven and Schubert. It would seem that Boskovsky had an obsession with dances and marches, but we can be grateful to him for serious study and precise performances of works that are either neglected or given overblown performances. We really do not need another recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and it is high time that someone started recording less well known works.

Collin Davis (1927--)
English conductor, who moved to Germany in 1983. He is particularly well known for his Haydn, Mozart, and Berlioz. In my opinion, Davis is one of the finest of the present generation of conductors.

Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963)
Hungarian conductor, moved to Berlin in 1948 to become resident conductor of the Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) Orchestra, which was later called the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Fricsay is not a well known conductor in the USA, however all of his recordings that I have heard are absolutely first-rate: he was apparently a very precise man.

Bernard Haitink (1929--)
Principal conductor of Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam since 1961. Renowned for his interpretations of late-Romantic composers, such as Bruckner, Mahler, and Richard Strauss.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929--)
Cellist, founded Concentus Musicus Wien in 1953 to give performances of music written between 1200 and about 1800 (particularly Bach and Händel) on copies of authentic instruments. Beginning in 1981, he began to record works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven on modern instruments. When I listen to a recording by Haroncourt of a work that I have heard many times in recordings by other conductors, I am always struck by the freshness and clarity of Haroncourt's interpretation, and I hear things in Haroncourt's recordings that I have missed in recordings by other conductors. On the other hand, in nearly every recording by Haroncourt, I am also jarred by sudden changes of tempo that do not appear in the printed score. I think Haroncourt is the most interesting of the present generation of conductors.

Antonio Janigro (1918-1989)
Founded I Solisti di Zagreb in 1953, while he was teaching violoncello at the Zagreb Conservatory. He specialized in baroque music, such as Vivaldi, long before such music was fashionable.

Sir Neville Marriner (1924--)
He formed a private chamber orchestra, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, in 1957 and embarked on a recording career. In the mid-1970s he arranged for an exclusive contract with Philips and he made a large number of recordings. Marriner conducts a very wide range of music: from Bach to Tschaikowsky. I particularly admire his performances of Händel and Haydn.

Karl Münchinger (1915--198?)
Conductor of Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra from 1945 until his death. Famous for performances of Bach's works in a straightforward style on modern instruments.

Karl Richter (1926-1981)
Organist, harpsichordist, and conductor who specialized in Bach's music. Richter founded the Munich Bach Orchestra, which recorded many of Bach's works. In my opinion, the finest interpreter of Bach. Richter was Professor at the Hochschule für Musik in München.

Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1900-1973)
German conductor, resident conductor of the Northwest German Radio Symphony in Hamburg from 1945 to 1971. Not well known in USA. He was invited by the Vienna Philharmonic to record all of the Beethoven Symphonies in 1965-70. Very straightforward and exacting style, follows a strict tempo.

George Szell (1897-1970)
Trained as pianist. Resident conductor of Cleveland Symphony Orchestra from 1946 to his death in 1970. He made many excellent recordings of orchestral works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. I admire his careful balance of ensembles.

Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957)
Italian conductor, trained as cellist. NBC Symphony orchestra created for him in 1937, which he conducted until 1954. Famous for interpretations of Verdi operas, Beethoven symphonies, Brahms and Wagner. Fanatical about strict tempo of music and exact phrasing. In my opinion, he played Haydn and Mozart too fast, which obscured the simple architecture of these works. If you are seeking an exciting recording, with lots of fire, try Toscanini. If you want Toscanini's clarity without the fire, try Harnoncourt.

Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989)
Austrian conductor, resident conductor of Berlin Philharmonic from 1955 to 1989. von Karajan could interpret almost any composer's music from baroque to modern, which is an unusual breadth of repertoire, but in my opinion, he was best with composers of the Romantic era (e.g., Brahms, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Wagner). von Karajan made a very large number of gramophone recordings. He was one of a very few musicians to prefer recordings to live performances.

Bruno Walter (1876-1962)
German conductor, trained as pianist. Renowned for his interpretation of Mozart, Mahler, and Bruckner. Resident conductor of Vienna Philharmonic 1933-1938. CBS gave him an orchestra (called the Columbia Symphony) during 1958-1962, with which Walter recorded most of the items in his repertoire. This orchestra was mostly composed of Hollywood studio musicians who were between other jobs. Walter's performances have very smooth legato phrasings and are particularly expressive.

Felix von Weingartner (1863-1942)
Composer of now-forgotten instrumental music and noted conductor. During 1935-40, he recorded all of the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, and also a few symphonies of Mozart, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and with various orchestras in London, England, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra. These recordings have been reissued on compact disks, which is evidence of the historical importance of Weingartner's interpretations.

notes about pianists

Géza Anda (1921-1976)
Anda is one of the first pianists to have recorded all 27 of the Mozart Klavier Concerti. Also known for his performances of Brahms and Chopin.

Vladimir Ashkenazy (1937--)
Ashkenazy has recorded all of the Mozart Klavier Concerti, all 32 of the Beethoven Klavier Sonatae, and all of the Beethoven Klavier Concerti.

Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969)
German pianist, specialized in Mozart and Beethoven during his later years. When younger, he also was well known for playing works of Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, and Chopin. He was one of the first to play all 32 of Beethoven's Klavier Sonatae as a cycle in a public performance.

Rudolf Buchbinder (1946--)
Austrian pianist, specializes in Haydn and Beethoven.

Robert Casadesus (1899-1972)
He gave excellent performances of Mozart Klavier Concerti.

Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991)
German pianist, famous for performances of Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann. If Schnabel were unable to complete his recordings of all of the Beethoven Sonatae, Schnabel recommended that Kempff complete the project.

Clara Haskil (1895-1960)
Rumanian pianist who lived in Switzerland after 1942. Specialist in Mozart, also Bach, Scarlatti, Schumann, and Brahms.

Gerhard Oppitz (1953--)
German pianist, former student of W. Kempff. Oppitz is recognized for his performances of Beethoven and Schubert. Professor at Hochschule für Musik in München since 1981.

Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)
Russian pianist, famous for Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. He first played a concert outside of the USSR in 1960 at the age of 45. In my opinion, the best pianist since Schnabel.

Andras Schiff
Recorded all 17 of the Mozart Klavier Sonatae, all of Schubert's Klavier Sonatae, and some of J.S. Bach's keyboard works.

Artur Schnabel (1882-1951)
Austrian pianist, moved to USA in 1939. Famous for his performances of Beethoven and Schubert. First person to record all 32 Beethoven Sonatae, also the first person to record all five Beethoven Klavier Concerti. Schnabel combines great technical resources with grand style. He does not observe a strict tempo, but his changes in tempo do reflect a great care about phrasing. When Schnabel wrote a cadenza for a concerto, his cadenza was very modern in style and clashed greatly with the composer's style.

Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991)
Austrian-born pianist, who lived in USA since 1939. Famous for his performances of Mozart, late Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms. He hums and sings during performances, as well as bangs his feet on the floor. Despite this noise, he delivered excellent performances.

This document is at
created 19 Feb 1997; modified 2 June 2001, minor changes 28 Aug 2012

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