Composers whose reputation has changed

Anyone who reads up on the history of classical music hears the story of the “Bach revival,” turning on Felix Mendelssohn’s famous conducting of the St. Matthew’s Passion.

Are there other composers who have fallen so in and out of favor? People who were obscure in their time but are revered today, or titans of the art criticism world in 1850 who don’t get performed anymore? I know that in popular music, discovering an underappreciated gem from the 60s is a great critical coup, but it doesn’t seem to work exactly the same way in the classical realm.

I exaggerate a bit, but only a bit.

Once upon a time, people spoke of the “Three B’s” as if they were the greatest composers of all time.

Bach is still seen as a giant. Beethoven too.

But I don’t think Brahms commands NEARLY the degree of respect or admiration he once did.

Oh… and while Mahler was well known and highly respected as a conductor, during his lifetime, he wasn’t widely acclaimed as a composer until after his death (give Leonard Bernstein at least some of the credit for his resurgence).

I’ve heard that Wagner was much more highly thought of before World War II. Music critics never forgave him for being admired by the Nazis.

Charles Ives. His music got next to no critical notice during his lifetime, but now he’s considered one of America’s greatest composers.

Louis Spohr was highly regarded and hugely successful in his lifetime. Alas, he has been completely eclipsed by his contemporaries such as Beethoven, Weber, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann.

I know. I used to hear about the “three B’s” and I was blown away. Brahms, to me, is way worse than the other two.

After Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, and especially after the movie version came out, there was a flurry of interest in Salieri.
I don’t think it changed anyone’s mind significantly (I never hear Salieri pieces on my classical station), but it DID raise awareness about the man. You started seeing his stuff on concert lists and even recordings. And I suspect most classical listeners were well aware of how intentionally fictionalized Shaffer’s play and movie were.

Engelbert Humperdinck, admittedly an odd choice. Popular in his time for Hansel and Gretel, although no-one seemed to respect him very much - Wagner toady - and then he made the terrible mistake of signing a declaration in support of the German cause during the Great War, which made him persona non grata abroad. Worst of all he is now impossible to disentangle from the other Engelbert Humperdinck, who kept Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane from getting to number one thus becoming the worst person ever. What with him being a great friend and asskissing bootlicker of the Wagners he managed to taint himself with the same kind of queasy aura as Wagner without being sufficiently bastardly to have any romantic appeal, so what’s the point?

Don’t you think Wagner Toady would be a great name for the lead guitarist in a slightly avant garde, Beefheart-inspired thrashy rock’n’roll band?

I thought I read a post here in which someone claimed that Beethoven’s popularity in the US is partly due to the Peanuts character Schroeder’s obsession with him. Any truth to that?

I think Beethoven’s popularity world wide has a lot more to do with having a massive body of significant works that straddle the two most popular periods of ‘classical’ music. His music has clearly withstood the test of time, with or without the assistance of Charles Schultz.

That’s true but I think a generation of kids got their first exposure to Beethoven and other classical composers through “Peanuts”, Leonard Bernstein’s televised “Young People’s Concerts”, and Warner Brothers cartoons (“Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!”)

Also, even though he was his favorite composer, Schroeder didn’t just limit himself to Beethoven. In one strip, Lucy tries to pin him by rattling off the names of about two dozen other classical composers and Schroeder replies he thinks they’re also great.

Mozart went (mostly) out of favor in the 19th century. His revival started around the start of the 20th century.

And what about Bernstein himself? Today his work is largely forgotten, except for West Side Story.

Another example would be Schubert . . . largely unappreciated during his short lifetime, gradually becoming more widely acclaimed after his death.

YMMV. Personally, I don’t know if he’s the best, but he’s certainly my favorite of the three.

His symphonies are just as great as Beethoven’s, and his concerti are even greater.

I happen to love a lot of Brahms’ chamber music, but I still think I was correct to say that his reputation is not what it once was.

Even people with only a passing familiarity or interest in classical music recognize numerous pieces by Bach or Beethoven. I’d wager very few casual classical fans know much more about Brahms than his Lullaby.

You may argue (with some justice) that this reflects badly on the public rather than on Brahms.

I’m so casual a classical music fan my white tie & tails is a polo shirt and khakis; with a middlebrow musicology degree bestowed by Time/Life books, but I like Brahms’ waltz #11. His lulaby is just one of those things that a composer sometime write that “go viral,” like Katchaturian’s Saber Dance.

As a middlebrow, I rate 'em as I like 'em, and I like Brahms and Tchaikovsky less than I like Grieg or Rimsky-Korsokov. Maybe too over-played, or not as much fun to listen to.

IMHO, while Franz Liszt’s hasn’t disappeared into total obscurity, it’s odd that Chopin has the higher profile now. Maybe because his stuff is easier for kids learning piano.

That’s because the third B was Berlioz…Brahms post-humorously stole the slot.

I’m pretty sure that was Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries

Telemann was thought to be the hot-shit organist of his day but nobody knows who he is today (German composer/organist, big in the time of Bach.)

I have no idea how the reputations of the early 20th-century atonal composers (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, etc) have varied as the years past, but the next time I see their works pop up in the local symphony and/or chamber music calendars will probably be the first. Of course, San Antonio isn’t a major symphony city, but I never noticed their works when I lived in Atlanta back in the 90s. Not that Atlanta is the greatest symphony city, either…