Last composer standing – more shocks and spills

Last composer standing – more shocks and spills


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2010

Two more publishers, Faber Music and Universal Edition, have just submitted their most performed works of the century’s first decade, and you won’t believe what they are.

UE, the benchmark label of modernism, has lost many of its big names – Boulez, Berio, Birtwistle, Stockhausen – to silence, mortality or other labels. The company is, as they say, under reconstruction. Only four names appear in its top ten below.

Its biggest performer over the decade was Arvo Pärt’s Lamentate (2002), a homage for piano and orchestra to Anish Kapoor and his sculpture ‘Marsyas’. The work has achieved 44 performances, which is highly respectable but would not get it into the top ten of other major publishers. UE needs to find some big-hitters.

Here’s the list from Vienna:

1. Pärt, Arvo (*1935): Lamentate (2002) – 44 performances


2. Haas, Georg Friedrich (*1953): tria ex uno (2001) – 40 performances

for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin and violoncello


3. Pärt, Arvo (*1935): Which Was the Son of … (2000) – 32 performances

for mixed choir a cappella


4. Pärt, Arvo (*1935): Cecilia, vergine romana (2000) – 30 performances

for mixed choir and orchestra


5. Haas, Georg Friedrich (*1953): in vain (2000) – 29 performances

for 24 instruments


6. Pärt, Arvo (*1935): Symphony No. 4 ‘Los Angeles’ (2008) – 28 performances

for string orchestra, harp, timpani and percussion


7. Rihm, Wolfgang (*1952): Das Lesen der Schrift (2001) – 28 performances

for orchestra


8. Rihm, Wolfgang (*1952): Das Gehege (2004) – 28 performances

for soprano and orchestra


9. Rihm, Wolfgang (*1952): Grave (2005) – 27 performances

in memoriam Thomas Kakuska for string quartet


10. Staud, Johannes Maria (*1974): Configurations/Reflet (2002) – 27 performances

for 8 instrumentalists

Now for Faber Music, based in London, the brainchild of Benjamin Britten when he walked out on Boosey & Hawkes (take that, Boosey! – and biff to you, Hawkes!) Faber have waxed healthy on late Britten, The Snowman by Howard Blake, various audacious Young Brits and the odd Aussie for good measure. Here’s what’s cooking at Faber:
At number 10, The Adventurer by Carl Davis (2000) – 46 performances of an orchestral score for a silent Chaplin film.
At 9 Julian Anderson’s ballet, The Comedy of Change. Premiered only six months ago by a 12-player ensemble, it has been danced 48 times – rising to 81 by May this year. 
In at number eight is Thomas Adès with a piano quintet (2000) – 49 performances.
It’s Adès again at 7 with Court Studies (2005) for clarinet, violin, cello and piano – 51 plays.
At 6 it’s Australian Carl Vine with Smith’s Alchemy for string orchestra – 53 hearings.
Into the top half of the draw with George Benjamin Three Miniatures for solo violin (2001) – 60.
At number 4, Oliver Knussen’s violin concerto (2002) – 79.
George Benjamin leapfrogs Ollie at 3 with Dance Figures for Orchestra (2004) – 82.
The runner-up at Faber is the vastly accomplished Colin Matthews who, in the year 2000, added a Pluto movement to Gustav Holst’s eternal Planets. It has been played 87 times and came out on record.
But the winner, the number one performer at Faber, is a composer one would not have linked to the Britten tradition. He’s a television performer, a populist, a resident at Classic FM – the most played Faber score is Howard Goodall’s Requiem (2008), with 102 performances.
Now, I’m going off to digest these figures with a sandwich before collating them with the ones already received. A trend is starting to emerge and the order of precedence in contemporary music is not what we’d imagined it to be. 


  • Nick Daniel says:

    Just wait until you see the numbers for Macmillan Veni Veni, just Evelyn alone has done it more times than 108!
    NL: I’m waiting…

  • Tim Brooke says:

    It was premiered in 1992 though, so doesn’t qualify!

  • Simon Broughton says:

    Interesting to see Adams and Part at the top of the Popular Vote – two very different composers. Even if both frequently described/dismissed as minimalists. Also interesting the number of Requiems in our secular age. I’m surprised John Rutter hasn’t emerged here – how many times must Shepherds Pipe Carol get performed each year? And he’s done a Requiem too.
    I think the religious element comes to mind because I’ve just finished a TV doc for the BBC on Arvo Part and Henryk Gorecki. Just anecdotally talking about it to people who asked ‘what are you working on?’, my friends (many of them without any particular interest or knowledge about classical music) would usually recognise Arvo Part’s name, but not Gorecki’s. Although he had his huge 3rd Symphony hit, I think the lack of many other pieces entering the repertoire means he’s slipped a bit below the radar. Sadly he is also unwell at the moment.
    Spending time with Part’s music has really increased my admiration for it. The film is in the forthcoming Sacred Music series on BBC4 and will go out March 26.
    NL notes: I’ll look forward to that, Simon, always had a soft spot for Henryk M G.

  • RB says:

    Well, well…Howard Goodall gets more performances than George Benjamin! Who could have guessed it (apart from every single amateur musician and Classic FM listener in the UK…)?
    A CBSO performance of Veni, Veni Emmanuel in 2003 was billed as its “300th performance” (Colin Currie was the soloist) so yes, expect a high score on that count (although it was composed in 1992 so doesn’t really fall under the remit of this survey).
    I’m surprised, as well, that there’s not more Rutter. Is it that the only performances being reported here are those that involve material hired out by the publishers? I get the impression that much of Rutter’s choral music (and Howard Goodall’s and Karl Jenkins’, too) is available for sale. If an amateur choir buys a choral anthology from one of these publishers, is there any way that publishers can then track performances of individual pieces in that collection? Do we really know every school hall and parish church in which the “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” gets an annual outing?
    As I’ve mentioned before, if these are hire figures, that would tend to skew the result towards professional performances. Fascinating stuff, though, and fascinating comments. Thanks NL!

  • Tim Brooke says:

    RB, you’re right that publishers can only really accurately monitor works where materials are on hire. Once something is on sale, it’s a pretty haphazard business finding out about performances. You’re relying on performers letting you know, and web alerts etc for works that are on sale.
    John Rutter doesn’t feature as he is published by Oxford University Press and they haven’t supplied figures thus far. To date you are looking at results from Boosey & Hawkes, Universal Edition and Faber Music only.
    Hope this helps a little.
    Incidentally, Howard Goodall is very much linked to the Britten tradition. He’s very well established in composing for, and working with, young performers. Aside from his work as the National Singing Ambassador, spearheading the much-lauded Sing Up! campaign.