The composer who could not make up his mind

The composer who could not make up his mind


norman lebrecht

July 03, 2020

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

I am about to break another rule. When I confined myself to reviewing just one album of the week around 15 years ago, I declared there would be no three-star reviews. Three is a cop-out. If it’s a great or good record it deserves four or five. Anything else I will only write about if, weak as it is, there is something instructive about its failure.

So this week we have a three-star: why? Because it’s …. and he’s caught between two stools. ….

Read on here.

And here.

And here (in Czech).

And here (in Spanish).


  • Peter San Diego says:

    It’s the Lyric Symphony, not Lyric Suite (Berg dedicated the latter to Zemlinsky). I certainly agree that Zemlinsky’s Psalms merit unreserved praise; they’re my favorites of his works.

  • MICHAEL says:

    I’m much higher on this work than you are. In my view it’s a wonderful piece, but I have been on the fence about whether I should purchase this disc or not. Having only this work on the cd I may feel shortchanged, and I have felt in the past that this orchestra is nothing special. So now I am still torn.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Here is ‘Die Seejungfrau’, in a live recording under Chailly:

  • Fiddlist says:

    Looks like Kapustin had died. 🙁

  • The work was completed in 1903, and thus also divided between two centuries. I think it could be described as part of the Jungendstil movement that lasted from about 1895 to 1910. Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde is even more a Jungendstil work. Jungendstil (and Art Nouveau) are thought of mostly as a decorative style in the visual arts, but I think the musicological world will eventually recognize a Jungendstil period in classical music as an era between late Romanticism and early modernism. The music of this period has an identity all of its own. I think this perspective would help us understand the works from this period and give us a deeper appreciation for them.

    There’s a good recording of The Mermaid here:

  • MacroV says:

    I get what you mean about Zemlinsky. I love his sound world, and being in the middle of it, and would run to any orchestra that programs his works. But I don’t really find anything of his especially memorable.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Hey Norman, not to be pedantic, but the Zemlinsky work is the “Lyric Symphony”. “Lyric Suite” is Alban Berg. Also, Alma made it pretty clear that she did not ‘consummate’ her friendship/student-ship with Zemlinsky. She claimed she couldn’t bring herself to do that. Have you read otherwise?

    I rather like “Die Seejungfrau”. I find it to be no more rudderless than Gliere’s “Ilya Morumets” symphony (#3).

  • Larry W says:

    Caught between two stools, yet flush with ideas.

  • IP says:

    Your opinion on Zemlinsky is touching but personal and barely relevant at a time when musicians around the world are struggling to survive and somebody delivers a stunning performance. Zemlinsky has been dead for a while (by the way, he had no chin either).

  • Jonathan Zoob says:

    Norman, in the article you mean Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony, not Lyric Suite.