1893 in Music

Music reviews I’ve written for music published in 1893.

1. Claude Debussy: String Quartet (10/10)

The Debussy quartet is phenomenal. The more I hear of his music the more I think he is incredibly underrated, even though he is still acknowledged as a trail-blazer. It’s just one of those things that you’re like “wow, I can’t believe somebody wrote this, let alone in 1893.”

2. Jean Sibelius: Lemminkainen Suite (9/10)

This is a set of “tone poems” that represent everything wonderful about romantic composers discovering their native “folk” musics. This is among my favourite of Sibelius’ music, and I think it’s a landmark in contrast to some of the more over the top stuff of someone like Wagner or what the French were doing.

3. Jean Sibelius: Karelia Suite (9/10)

Sibelius’ Karelia Suite is something I know well as I’ve heard multiple performances. I am a pretty big Sibelius fan and though I generally like his later stuff more, I like his early stuff as well. I’m not really saying much, I know. It’s a good, interesting set of pieces that you don’t need to be familiar with its origins – instead you can tell its folk origins simply by listening to contemporary music.

4. Erik Satie: Danses gothiques (9/10)

One could view the separation of this piece into individual pieces as a sort of attack on the idea of a set of dances – the breaks between dances sometimes occur in the middle of the chord progression. Like much of Satie’s work at the time it is, conceptually, unlike anyone else before him. Despite its boldness it remained unpublished for a long time; I guess it was just too weird.

5. Erik Satie: Trois Gnossiennes (9/10)

Two of these at least were written earlier, but they were published together. Anyway… Another set of radical-for-their-time “dances” which violate various conventions, often subtlety but still clearly enough that they do not sound like another composer’s work of the era.

6. Antonin Dvorak: Sonatina in G major (8/10)

The sonatina begins with one of those melodies you have heard before; it’s instantly recognizable. It sounds just about classical to my ears, and I don’t know if that is because my ears are wrong or what. But I think it’s probably one of the more iconic works for violin of the second half of the 19th century. I would just say that it’s a touch too conservative for my personal tastes.

7. Gabriel Faure: Valse-Caprice No. 3 in G-flat major, Op. 59 (8/10)

This is more like it – a waltz that sounds like Faure. (It’s no wonder he worked on it so long!) This is so much better than the first two.

8. Gabriel Faure: Requiem [1893 Version] (7/10)

I don’t, as yet, listen to a lot of Requiems. So I can’t necessarily say how it fits in to history. But I can say that I wouldn’t be offended if someone played this at a funeral. (Of course I couldn’t be offended, and hopefully there won’t be that kind of funeral…) As I have said elsewhere Faure is someone who has a lightness to much of his music which I might normally detest – or at least get occasionally annoyed by – but for some reason I don’t. I can’t really explain it. I doubt it’s rational, but in his hands a lot of things I might otherwise get annoyed sound good.

9. Englebert Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel (7/10)

Though it’s German, this opera reminds me a little too much of the “Big Tune” style of French opera prevalent at the time – music that was deliberately accessible, so that songs from the opera might get published separately and probably the source of more famous themes from operas than any other style.

This is my first impression of Humperdinck – a name I have always loved, courtesy of both the schmaltzy ballad singer named after this composer and because of The Princess Bride – and it’s not a great one. I mean, this is fine stuff, as these things go, but it’s just lacking in any kind of the stuff that I usually find engaging. I guess it’s a little too safe and too easy for me, at least for the 1890s.

I understand why it’s popular but I doubt I’ll ever come to love it.

10. Erik Satie: Prélude d’Eginhard (7/10)

Really, really brief – for a prelude by anyone other than Satie but even compared to Satie’s own preludes – but some people view this as perhaps his perfect short piece. It reminds me of a number of other pieces by him, where he repeats the same phrase with more or less volume.

11. Erik Satie: Vexations (7/10)

The controversy around this piece is whether it should be played 840 times. (Seriously.) The version I heard is not played that many times. I feel like the title strongly suggests that’s right. It’s more of an exercise than a thing to listen to, me thinks, but it’s still a fascinating thing that exists.

12. Alexander Glazunov: ‘Concert Waltz’ No. 1 in D major for orchestra, op. 47 (5/10)

This is the kind of casual piece of music which I really don’t need to hear more than once. It’s part of a fine tradition of music, but it doesn’t really stand out within it.

13. Erik Satie: Prière (5/10)

My understanding is that this is a fragment; hard to know what to do with fragments. It’s pretty, for sure, but so is everything he wrote.

Erik Satie: Modéré (???/10)

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