The ones you really don’t want to hear again

The ones you really don’t want to hear again


norman lebrecht

April 19, 2018

As the providers roll out another hot summer of same old music, quite a few of our readers are still busily commenting on a 2014 post listing the pieces that have outworn their welcome.

Check it out here.


  • Sue says:

    Anything from those dreadful Mozart concerts at the Kurzalon in Vienna. You know, the ones those costumed spruikers interrupt the Opern Live am Platz to sign you up to!!

    • Vienna calling says:

      “Kurzalon”. That is funny.

    • Alex Davies says:

      They have the same people in Prague. I find it rather tasteless, but no doubt it’s good for the tourist industry and helps out the underemployed actors who do the flyering and the underemployed musicians who perform the concerts.

      • Stephen says:

        The Kursalon concerts are dreadful! And very expensive too, with a, imposed paying cloakroom. An orchestra with no apparent leader, all playing as loud as possible and not together. When one sees such stuff getting an ovation one become very concerned for the future of classical music.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Actually the thread is rather vitriolic and depressing. I feel soiled for having glanced at it. Best avoided.

    • brian says:

      Agree with Will, why not a list of what you DO want to hear again? Or, what music do you tend to listen to recurrently, even when you don’t “have to”? That might be an actually stimulating thread…

      • Anson says:

        Or even a “guilty pleasures” thread. The pieces that you know are overplayed, not very original, or you think they’re good but you know everyone else hates them, etc. but you still queue them up on the stereo every once in a while.

        One can comment anonymously, after all, so there’s no real shame!

        • David R Osborne says:

          Yeah, let’s do it. I love Elizabethan Serenade.

          • David R Osborne says:

            I also love Song to the Moon and Mondnacht.

          • Anson says:

            My guilty pleasure recently has been Phillip Glass. Never liked it much but I have been listening to a ton of the stuff on my commutes the past few months.

          • David R Osborne says:

            Now that Anson, is a pleasure being found guilty of which is certain to earn you a hefty sentence round here.

  • Alex Davies says:

    From the original post: “Anything with Moon in the title – any language – lune, mondo &c.” Surely “mondo” means “world”, not “moon”.

  • Sergio Mims says:

    Anything (and I mean anything) by Puccini or Vaughn Williams

  • John Borstlap says:

    In general, it is a list not by music lovers but by music haters. if this is representative of SD readers, it would be something like a Pegida rally. Most comments are mere reactions, without any argument.

  • Bruce says:

    In the spirit of Brian & Anson’s posts (why not a list of the “overplayed” music you DO like, and/or a “guilty pleasures” list):

    • Beethoven’s 5th, especially the slow movement.
    • Mendelssohn violin concerto

    I don’t really have any “guilty pleasures,” in that I’m not embarrassed about liking anything I like.

    (I don’t especially like a bunch of things I’m “supposed” to like, e.g. Mahler and most chamber music. Not embarrassed about that, either.)

    • Richard says:

      I have a particular sore spot for dilettantes who tell me of how they are “sick and tired” of Beethoven’s Fifth. I usually ask them to repeat the theme of the second movement, which they cannot do.

      • John Borstlap says:

        When young, I studiously avoided listening to Beet V and tried to ignore its existence until much later, when – in a cavalier mood – I decided to give the piece a try and put on the CD which had been lingering in places of obscure local oblivion. And then I realized that the work did not AT ALL deserve its sickening popularity, because it is an incredible master piece, summing-up so much what it means to be human, and what it means to be a symphony. Also, it is so beautifully made, it is one of those pieces which is contemporary forever.

        But it is often not well played – with an added veneer, or with a romantic patina which takes-away the emotional urgency. When listening to this piece, one should try to forget its reputation and listen to it as if it were written only a year ago by a conservative angry illiterate crank who hates Philip Glass and wanted to restore the orchestral symphonic tradition.

      • Sue says:

        LOL. Love your work!

    • Alex Davies says:

      Oh yes, I can relate to the “supposed to like” category. I simply cannot enjoy a performance of Verdi’s Requiem. I understand that it is supposed to be Verdi’s greatest work and is routinely held up as one of the most important monuments of the entire history of western art music, but I somehow don’t quite get it. I’ve heard numerous performances with the finest conductors, soloists, choruses, and orchestras, and have even performed it myself. I can appreciate a few wonderful and memorable moments in the score, but as a whole I just don’t enjoy or understand it.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Well, you won’t like everything and everyone has different tastes. Personally, I think it is fine if you don’t like it, even if I love the piece myself.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Instead of typing her letters, Sally has been working fanatically on a long list of her ‘never again’ pieces, but when I took a look and found my name a couple of times, I decided to send her on a short vacation.

  • Alan O'Connor says:

    Classical music is not my main thing. I grew up a pure rock music fan. But as I got older and more deaf I delved into the world of classical deeply and have enjoyed a lot of different things. Many of them are the popular stuff a lot of the pseuds on the other article decry. The following are pieces I try and catch whenever they’re on a program and I’m nearby.

    1. Beethoven Symphonies 3 and 7 and Piano Concertos 1 and 2
    2. Bruckner 8. I adore it.
    3. Mozart’s concertos for various winds. Delightful.
    4. Don Giovanni.
    5. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis
    6. Roderigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.
    7. Rachmaninov Piano Concertos 2 and 3
    8. John Field’s Nocturnes.
    9. Strauss – Alpine Symphony.
    10. Offenbach – Tales of Hoffmann

    Not sure about posting a list of what I don’t like. Each to his own. We’re all different. I’m a huge Grateful Dead fan. Phil Lesh, of that band, is a huge fan of Stockhausen and has conducted his music. I don’t get it myself. Such is life. And it’s too short to bemoan what you don’t like. I’m going to see the Rach 2 and Brahms Symphony No. 1 tomorrow night. Looking forward to it!

    • Sue says:

      Sir, I can thoroughly recommend this overlooked concerto – which is wonderful: here is Richter playing the work.

      This was one of my very earliest forays into classical music; my mother had me listening to it when I was 8 or 9 years young.

    • Chris says:

      I, too, admit to a weakness for Alpine Symphony. Something about twenty horns stationed around the hall and a wind machine that gets me just…right…there. Then again, I’m a sucker for the slow movement of Mahler 6 when the cowbells sound, so maybe it’s an elevation thing. Hmm, come to think of it, Hovhaness Symphony No. 2 (“Mysterious Mountain”) also is near and dear. Grieg, however, not so much.

    • Alex Davies says:

      “the popular stuff a lot of the pseuds on the other article decry”

      I think you got it in one! Surely nobody could really claim to hate virtually the complete works of Tchaikovsky, including most of the symphonies and all of the operas, ballet scores, and piano concertos!

      As for your list, surely the Concierto de Aranjuez is the only one the pseuds would decry? (The same people who would probably decry using a question mark in not quite the right place!) And maybe the piano concertos?

  • Sixtus says:

    Any solo piano music or concerto by Rachmaninoff. Too many notes. Chopin did it better.

  • David R Osborne says:

    But I so much want to hear John Borstlap’s guilty pleasures. Or at the very least, Sally’s.

    In the meantime, I have no shame so here are some more of mine: The Wiren serenade for strings. The overture to Guiditta. Destiny by Sydney Baynes.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I have only one ‘guilty pleasure’ which never fails to deeply embarrass me and cause at least one sleepless night after seeing it: Puccini’s La Bohème. Because it is a superb, brilliant work, full of invention from cover to cover, full of arching lyricism and poignant themes and motives, and with a Schwung throughout the whole thing – so, in musical terms, a master piece, and at the same time an abyss of bad taste heaped upon a story the kitsch of which topples even the worst opera libretto of the entire repertoire, the total exuding the smell of something rotting in pleasure.

      So, attending a production, or listening to a recording (which I never do), is not actually a ‘guilty pleasure’, but rather a perverse mix of two extreme experiences: one of musical stimulation and the other of disgust, all in a convincing synthesis. I cannot think of one other work in the repertoire that combines these things so naturally and convincingly.

      As far as Sally is concerned – she’s off to the south of France now (I have a nice holiday address in the Aubergine) so I can say it – her guilty pleasure is Boulez, she regularly plays those silly CD’s in the cellar, as if I don’t know. But she is a big woman, so I decided to ignore it.

      • Alex Davies says:

        I had always imagined Sally to be a blonde of slight build and sweet nature. As for her musical tastes, I had imagined a fondness for Debussy and Satie.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Can’t help but feel a little let down John. As for Sally, I think we all know what she gets up to down in the cellar.

  • Alex Davies says:

    While partially respecting the moratorium on new lists of ten works and/or composers we never wish to hear again, I would submit the following:

    1. Any concert comprising the greatest hits of baroque and classical music, e.g. Pachelbel’s Canon, The Air on the G String, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, the better known movements of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Handel’s Water Music, etc.

    2. Certain modern composers whose music I have not yet learned to enjoy and quite possibly never will, e.g. most works by Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis, and Birtwistle.

    3. Otherwise unobjectionable works supplemented by organ, not because the composer demands it, but because the concert hall possesses an organ that will make the work even louder and, therefore, better.

    4. The Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana performed as actual sacred music by a church choir within the liturgy.

    5. Most Anglican choral music, although only because so much of my childhood was spent singing it. Obvious exceptions: all Renaissance composers (some of whom were Catholic anyway), Purcell, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Tippett. Geoffrey Burgon (I loved the BBC adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and have sung the theme music at evensong quite a few times). Elgar, of course, was Catholic. Chief offenders, in alphabetical order only: Bainton, Bairstow, Howells, Ireland, Parry, Rutter, Stainer, Stanford, (Samuel Sebastian) Wesley, Wood.

    As for “guilty pleasures”, defined above as works that are overplayed, unoriginal, or otherwise widely disliked:

    1. Arvo Pärt, including Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, Fratres, Spiegel im Spiegel, Tabula Rasa, My Heart’s in the Highlands, and Für Alina. I like the less popular ones too, but that’s not the point here!

    2. The Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th symphony.

    3. The 3rd movement from Brahms’s 3rd symphony.

    4. The Death of Åse from Peer Gynt.

    5. The 2nd movement from Beethoven’s 7th symphony.

    6. Chopin, Piano Concerto no. 1, 2nd movement.

    7. Shostakovich, Piano Concerto no. 2, 2nd movement.

    8. Vltava from Má vlast (I guess that liking the whole of Má vlast probably doesn’t count as a “guilty pleasure”!)

    9. Bach, Harpsichord Concerto no. 5 in F minor, BWV 1056, 2nd movement.

    10. Satie’s Gymnopédie no. 1.

    Addendum: I find it hard to consider Messiaen a “guilty pleasure”, but given that both Norman Lebrecht and Mahan Esfahani apparently hate him (or at least his organ works), I feel it necessary to record that I love him, especially Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jésus, Le Banquet Céleste, and O Sacrum Convivium.

    • Alex Davies says:

      Oh for an edit function! I should have included:

      6. Any concert in which the performers are dressed up in 18th-century costume, including powdered wigs!

      A nod to Sue’s comment at the top of this thread!

  • Alex Davies says:

    Oh, and a 7th: the Hallelujah Chorus, but only because I find the tradition of standing up a little silly and, more importantly, embarrassing in a very British way. At any performance of Messiah one can sense some 2,000 or so British concertgoers silently debating with themselves, “Are we standing up? Are we not standing up? It seems that we’re not standing up. We should be standing up: it’s tradition, after all. It’s also a bit silly. That anecdote about the king standing up sounds apocryphal to me. Which king was it anyway? One of the Georges no doubt. I don’t want to be the first one to do it. What if I do it and I’m the only one? Ah, there’s one. And another. The first half dozen rows of the stalls are standing up now. The rather large person directly in front of me appears to be making as if to stand up. That decides it. I’d better stand up.”

    As for guilty pleasures, I completely forgot English music! Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Fantasia on Greensleeves, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, The Lark Ascending, Linden Lea, English Folk Song Suite. Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, Summer Night on the River, Two Songs to be sung of a summer night on the water. Holst: A Somerset Rhapsody, Egdon Heath.

    • Sue says:

      “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” is, IMO, one of the great works of the 20th century.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Oh dear, I’m agreeing with you. Is there perhaps more than one Sue? Beecham allegedly on that work: (paraphrasing, can’t find the quote) “Yes that one’s OK, unfortunately with all his other pieces he made the mistake of omitting a theme by Thomas Tallis”

      • Alex Davies says:

        Oh, I agree with you! I only mentioned it because a lot of Vaughan Williams is very popular and played a lot, especially in the UK. The Lark Ascending is regularly voted the most popular piece of classical music in Britain (e.g. Classic FM and BBC Radio 4). Consequently there is some snobbery around Vaughan Williams. Personally I think he is one of the greatest and most underrated composers of the 20th century, to be ranked alongside the likes of Britten, Shostakovich, and Sibelius.

        Incidentally, I have a friend, otherwise well informed about classical music, who likes to turn her nose up at Benjamin Britten. I observed one day, as if it were not controversial, that with Britten we at last had an opera composer who put us on the map alongside the Italians, Germans, French, Czechs, Russians, and so on. She was not impressed! But is there another opera composer of that generation who seriously rivals Britten, apart from Shostakovich of course? I mean of the generation working wholly within the 20th century, so not including the likes of Strauss and Janáček.

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    This is all very well, dear colleagues. But I am still waiting for your lists of the widely admired, well respected musicians with flourishing careers whom you loathe. I know every one of you has such a list, because any mention of an artist on SD instantly calls forth an outpouring of abuse, in which it is pointed out how hopelessly incompetent he/she is, usually compared to someone who is dead. [Things are not what they used to be, and they never were.] As I pointed out in a previous posting, my own absolute least favorite pianists are Horowitz and Arrau. Admittedly they have some tough competition for this honor, but I have to give them the palm. There- I’ve issued a challenge. Get to work!

  • Sixtus says:

    Another deaf spot: organ chorale preludes, no matter who wrote them. As a non-believer who didn’t grow up indoctrinated with the original chorale melodies I find nearly all of them incredibly tedious. I’m joined in this opinion by a friend who served for many years as organist of an extremely large NYC church. I’m sure there are other organists in this predicament.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There is an organist in Bremen (N-Germany) whose father was an organist, and who thoroughly hates chorales and organ music in general, and always mixes – on purpose – wrong notes in his church work and also in the regular lunch concerts he presents in the local medieval church. But nobody notices.

    • Alex Davies says:

      Interesting observation. I could imagine that *not* being brought up on this music could conversely be an advantage. I remember mentioning to a female choral scholar at an Oxford college my detestation of Samuel Sebastian Wesley. She was astonished. Not having discovered this music until adulthood, she thought it was wonderful. And in some respects I suppose it is. Just consider the fugue, “As for the gods of the heathen …” from Wesley’s Ascribe Unto the Lord. Objectively speaking, it’s actually pretty good stuff. But I spent my childhood singing this music, and the words are permanently etched on my mind: “As for the gods of the heathen, they are but idols … They that make them are like unto them: and so are all such as put their trust in them. As for our God, he is in heaven … Ye are the blessed of the Lord: you and your children.” The message was quite clear, and I accepted it unquestioningly: the heathen (Hindus etc.) worship lifeless, man-made idols, and consequently are themselves spiritually dead, whereas we (Christians) worship the one true God in heaven, who will bless us and our descendants from generation to generation. Consequently I find it hard to appreciate as music and not also as Victorian Protestant Anglo-Saxon propaganda that was still brainwashing children in the late 20th century.

      • Sixtus says:

        I end up in the same place but I come at it from precisely the opposite direction. I can appreciate the motivic development, harmony, counterpoint, voice leading and attempts at musical symbolism in a chorale prelude. I even will understand the original German hymn text. But to get what someone like Bach intended me to feel when he set Nunn komm, der Heiden Heiland (Come now, saviour of the heathen) as a chorale prelude is impossible as a non-believer. At best I am left cold. At worst I end up distracted by the othering explicit in the chorale text. I doubt Bach’s congregation would have described the latter — if they noticed it as all — as dangerously corrosive.

  • brian says:

    One word note, because our language often fails us in such discussions where we seek justification (or at least consolation) for our personal tastes. On youtube one day, I mentioned in passing that a particular piece was “hackneyed” (as I recall I was actually praising the performance in the video) — I was instantly attacked by several people who obviously didn’t understand the meaning of that word (made stale or trite by repetition). So I had to play word-cop, which is a role I find especially disagreeable, given that I’m an editor by profession (no one likes doing their work in their free time).

    So perhaps musicians need to identify what is great but hackneyed and what is inherently bad. I’ve learned that we also have to tease out whatever we love or despise culturally. Someone very close to me is a student at a UK conservatory and tells me of “dead white men who wrote black marks on lines.” Her problem is with what Terence McKenna called the “male dominator culture” that infects religion and institutions of business, government, and media.

    My sense of all this is more para-cultural, if you will: that is, genius is fairly common, but art is exceedingly rare. Mozart wrote vast quantities of pure and eminently-forgettable schlock, yet I hope the A Minor Rondo is the first encounter that an alien civilization has with our species.