Pfitzner and Wagner are classic examples of composers whose personalities
and actions poisoned (for some) the reception of their music, during and
after their times on the planet.
I would like to think that music quality--at the very least by the time
it reaches the public domain--should be the sole criterion by which it
is judged. This best applies to abstract works. Obviously, operas and
program music can be offensive due to perceptions of content rather than
music quality per se. In this category I still think of Strauss's
Symphonia Domestica, where the sex scene still rankles critics.
Alas, quality alone has not yet become the dominant judgment point
of Pfitzner. To stick with his abstract compositions (like the violin
concerto), I heartily commend what I consider a great 20th-century work,
his Symphony in C-sharp minor, op. 36a. Despite its non-programmatic
content, it seems to reek with personality--probably that of the composer,
but who am I to say? Introverted, self-loathing, bitter, yet passionate
and romantic--all these traits seem expressed in the work to my ears.
Is all of this a projection on my part, knowing what I know of the man's
life and manners? It's too late to find out, since I already know the
information, just as it was when I read in CD notes that Pettersson was
in great pain when he wrote many of his symphonies, and I listened to
the chronic dissonances in his 7th symphony and related them to the
Nevertheless, in the case of Pfitzner, it's worth the effort to forgive
this long-dead man his serious personal flaws, and listen to his best
music, the aforementioned symphony, the violin concerto, the opera
Palestrina, and even the piano concerto. This last work was dubbed by
one critic the worst ever written, believe it or not. Yet I think it's
fascinating, with a gorgeous, heartfelt slow movement.
It seems to me that most great music was written out of suffering,
whether by circumstance, mental disturbance, or one's own actions.
Pfitzner is one of many composers who met this prerequisite. As for
the next steps for proper recognition for his talent, it remains for
posterity to judge. Eventually, I hope, fairly.
Jeff Dunn <[log in to unmask]>
The CLASSICAL mailing list is powered by L-Soft's renowned LISTSERV(R)
list management software together with L-Soft's HDMail High Deliverability
Mailer for reliable, lightning fast mail delivery. For more information,
go to: http://www.lsoft.com/LISTSERV-powered.html