Sometimes a composer becomes so well known for a particular genre of music that other pieces go unrecognized. The following are three examples of composers who are famous for one thing but who composed other music we might be surprised to find profound.
Verdi String Quartet
Quartetto Italiano (1954)
It could be argued that Giuseppe Verdi is the greatest opera composer of all time. It’s not an argument that can be won but Verdi can hold his own against any composer of opera. Verdi was in Naples for a production of Aida when the soprano took ill. The production was delayed and in the meantime Verdi wrote his only surviving piece of chamber music.
The String Quartet in E minor was written in March and premiered on April 1st, 1873. The premiere was an informal occasion in Verdi’s hotel room with a few of his regular companions. The novelty of this piece is that Verdi wrote it 25 years after he became famous as an opera composer.
Symphony in C Major
Speaking of opera, the other “greatest opera composer” is Richard Wagner. In 1832, the 19 year-old Wagner completed his Symphony in C Major. The obvious distinction here from Verdi is that Wagner had not yet become famous as an opera composer and polarizing personality.
The Symphony in C is possibly the most audacious symphony ever written by a teenager. Who am I kidding? It is, by far, the most aggressive first symphony until Bruckner’s Symphony No. 1. We could count Brahms in but he was in his forties when he composed his first symphony.
L’anima filosofo ossia Orfeo et Euridice,
Haydn is known as the father of both the symphony and the string quartet. His Creation oratorio is considered by many to be the crowning achievement of the entire classical period. The Lord Nelson and Creation masses are monumental pillars of the classical sacred repertoire only exceeded by The Creation and maybe Mozart’s Requiem, although the requiem’s unfinished state counts against it.
Haydn also wrote 15 operas. You heard me.
Haydn considered himself to be an opera composer. After being released from his full time responsibilities as court composer by Count Esterhazy, Haydn traveled to London where he became the most celebrated composer in England since Handel.
Haydn had written an opera, L’anima filosofo ossia Orfeo et Euridice, for the occasion of his first visit but permission to perform it wasn’t granted by King George III, the king who lost America. Haydn’s London Symphonies and The Creation became legendary and his opera would have to wait until 1951 for its premiere. That’s a whopping 160 years after is was written. The premiere was given by Maria Callas with Erich Kleiber conducting.