Classical composers and Greatest Hits

Were the composers of classical music aware at the time they wrote their pieces that they would one day become part of the Greatest Hits? In other words, did they deliberately go for mass appeal with some of them (for financial or other reasons)?

And why is it that those classical compositions which made it on the ‘Greatest Hits list’ are more ‘hummable’ than the rest? Is the ‘hummability factor’ the most important criterion in the ‘success’ of a classical piece, for the general public?

Some composers were stars during their lifetimes, and some were not. J. S. Bach lived more-or-less comfortably, but he was not rich. Vivaldi was no great shakes until the middle of the 20th century, when he was long dead. Beethoven was da bomb in his own time. Copyrights were worked out much later, so music theft was common in those days. Composers even stole from themselves, recycling older works for new commissions. Mozart reportedly died poor, which shows that popstars in those days had no more financial savvy than some popstars have today. Elgar probably didn’t dream that one of his Pomp & Circumstance marches would be the only thing that kept him from total obscurity.

Excuse me, I’m going to have to stop. The dust from the files in the back of my skull is getting to me. In short, the composer’s lot was not always a glamorous one. The art’s the thing, though. One fabulous tune is worth a lot of grief. That’s what I say.

Thanks AskNott. I guess what I wanted to know, by means of this admittedly poorly phrased OP, was the reason of the mass appeal of those Classics in the classical music world? What made them more…accessible?

By no means an educated guess here, but I suspect the “hook” aspect of tunes, regardless of their status or genre, is what helps them become memorable and thus “greatest hits” candidates.

Now, getting a good grasp on what makes a “hook” work would be more to the issue. For that my WAG would be that it connects in some way to the Jungian notion of “collective unconscious” that does seem to have some degree of validity.

If we go to the notion of music as a universal language, and couple that with the archetype concept from Jung (and others) then there just has to be some set of notes that “grab” most people. Connecting with those universally agreeable notes must be what allows composers to channel the spirits of our reptilian brains.

All just speculation without a shred of proof. I do often ponder this very issue though.

A lot depends on the era you refer to. Commercial considerations have ALWAYS entered into composing, but the issues were a little different before the dawn of recording and before music was widely copyrighted.

There was never a time when classical composers wrote whatever they liked without worrying whether people would like it. Composers have always had to worry about making a living, and they’ve always had to worry about pleasing the people who paid them. Today, that’s the general public. A few centuries ago, that would have been a nobleman.

In the 18th century, the only was a composer like Franz Joseph Haydn could make any money was to find a nobleman willing to pay a professional court musician/composer. And once a composer found a wealthy nobleman willing to pay for his services (in Haydn’s case, it was the Hungarian Count Esterhaszy), he tried very hard to write music that would please his patron.

So, while Haydn worked on a symphony, he didn’t think “I hope this will be a hit.” But he certainly DID think “I hope the boss likes this one.” And he definitely tried to write melodies that would appeal to his employer and his employer’s guests. After all, the more his noble employer liked Haydn’s tunes, the longer he’d keep Haydn on the payroll.

Many thanks to you. It was a real pleasure for me to read those intelligent, well thought out, replies.

The Italians LOVED Verdi, he was the God of Opera in Italy. But outside his country, he didn’t quite recieve as much recognition (though he still was famous). Wagner was composing at the same time as him, but he dominated more of the rest of Europe for popularity. Don’t ask why he was so recognized and well-known in his country, while Wagner had all of Europe in his fist. I guess the most simple answer is that those Italians really loved their opera, and loved to support their composers (Puccini, Palestrina, Rossini, Monteverdi, Vivaldi and Donizetti). As far as I know, they all had the good life because of Opera (Hell, Monteverdi practically invented Opera). So that’s my spiel about the Italian composers and opera.

Which leads us to a possible conclusion that your popularity can greatly depend on how the people of your own country see you, and how they support the musical arts.

Also, composers had their bad days as well, no matter how good their previous compositions were. If that happened, they would just move on. It still puzzles some people today why Bach never got recognized till the the 19th/20th Centuries, though there are many theories and ideas out their with truth to them.

I just woke up so don’t trust anything I have just said. :wink:

I’m entering University next year to get a degree in Music History, I’ll let you know in 4-5 years about your question.

Off to Cafe Society.

moderator GQ

Hmm. Odd. I thought there were a few (general) questions in there. But maybe it’s not as cut and dry as others.