Searching for unknown gems

21st October 2010 | Musings | 3 comments

Inspired by a couple of recent articles about writers who were well-known in their lifetimes and forgotten afterwards, or never acknowledged at the time but discovered years later by accident (like Hans Keilson), I’ve been researching unusual repertoire in the hope of unearthing something new and delightful.

The task is vastly easier than it used to be because of online record libraries. I can sit in comfort and listen to other people’s recordings (though they aren’t always good adverts for the pieces concerned). In the old days, I used to stagger back from the library with armfuls of heavy hard-back scores. In the case of chamber music, I’d then have to find colleagues with good sight-reading skills to try out the pieces. Most of the time we’d quickly realise why those pieces had been left untouched on the library shelf. ‘Justly neglected’, we called them.

My recent listening is a roll-call of lesser-known composers. I’ve now listened to quite a long list of their pieces without stumbling across an unknown gem. Alas, I usually emerge from my listening sessions with the feeling that all the really good works are known to us already. But it could just be a matter of perseverance. I shall plough on.


  1. peter

    Susan – Do you know the music of Louise Farrenc? She was a French romantic composer (1804-1875) whose symphonies and chamber music are intellectually challenging and subtle, with robust themes and
    superb development. Her music was overshadowed during most of her life by the 19th-century French focus on opera. Her chamber music is perhaps the closest to Felix Mendelssohn’s of anyone I have heard – to my ear, it is closer than that of Niels Gade or Sterndale Bennett or even Mendelssohn’s own sister, Fanny Hensel. Farrenc wrote two excellent piano quintets (Op. 30 and 31, each with a double bass), and a trio for clarinet, piano and cello (Op. 44). She also wrote two piano trios, but I have not yet heard these. Most of her music is yet to be recorded.

  2. Susan Tomes

    Thank you, Dean and Peter, for these very helpful suggestions.
    I was aware of the imslp website, but hadn’t thought to use it for research. I’ll follow up all these suggestions. Many thanks!


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