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Insults And Praise On The Classical Campaign

Tchaikovsky was not shy about expressing his distaste for the work of Johannes Brahms.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Tchaikovsky was not shy about expressing his distaste for the work of Johannes Brahms.

In the waning days of the presidential campaign, music commentator Miles Hoffman offers a classical variation on a theme: insults and endorsements among the great composers. Just like politicians, many classical composers hurled invective at their colleagues and competitors. (They could also be nice when they wanted to.) Sometimes, music critics might even commit a flip-flop, endorsing a certain composer at one point before taking it all back later.

Hoffman calls the evaluation of composers' work by their peers "a continuous campaign for the future of the art form," and at its heart lies the competition for the praise of critics and attention of patrons.

Many examples of criticism cross the line from constructive to destructive, but there are also instances of composers and critics using their respected opinions to encourage positive attention. Enthusiastic endorsements, whether they stood the test of time or not, shaped public opinion just as effectively as insults.

However, as with politics, criticism of any kind, when taken out of context, is little more than biased opinion. In the end, the merits of a musician's (or politician's) work are illuminated only through time.

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What The Critics Say

Johannes Brahms

"Brahms' music is made up of some indefinable something skillfully welded together." --Tchaikovsky on Brahms

Johannes Brahms

"Brahms' music is made up of some indefinable something skillfully welded together." -- Tchaikovsky on Brahms

Frederic Chopin

"Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!" -- Robert Schumann on Chopin

Gaspare Spontini

"My religion is that of Beethoven, Weber, Gluck and Spontini." -- Hector Berlioz on Gaspare Spontini

Roy Harris

"No composer makes such shameless use of patriotic feelings to advertise his product. One would think to read his prefaces that he had been awarded by God, or at least by popular vote, a monopolistic privilege of exposing our nation's deepest ideals and highest aspirations." -- Virgil Thomson on "American Creed" by Roy Harris

Richard Wagner

"But apparently you think all music must leap out of the wall and shake the listener to his very intestines. Only then do you consider music effective, but on whom are such effects achieved? On the mass, on the immature, on the blase, on the sick, on the idiots, on Wagnerians." -- Friedrich Nietzsche on Richard Wagner

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