From Boléro to the 1812 Overture: these are the pieces that embarrassed the great composers

23 April 2018, 14:18

Did you know Ravel hated his most famous work, or that Tchaikovsky wasn't fond of his cannon-filled overture? These are the works that composers came to hate…

By Victoria Longdon

Composers are a notoriously self-critical breed, and in their constant quest for the perfect piece of music, there will be pieces they feel missed the mark from time to time

But every once in a while, a composer writes a work they really truly dislike. And sometimes… that piece goes on become their most famous work.

here are some extreme cases of famous works which great masters really hated.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture 

Video above: Splitting Productions

Tchaikovsky penned the 1812 Overture in about six weeks to commemorate the Russian victory over the French at the battle of Borodino. He famously hated the work, describing it as 'very loud and noisy and completely without artistic merit."

He's not all wrong. The 1812 Overture certainly is 'loud and noisy', but it surely isn't 'completely without artistic merit'. It's since gone on to be one of the most famous pieces of orchestral music of all time - it even took the No.1 spot in the 2018 Classic FM Hall of Fame.

And you need more than just a few loud bangs to earn a place in the *canon* of symphonic repertoire...

Maurice Ravel – Boléro 

'I have written a masterpiece - unfortunately there is no music in it'. Ravel's Boléro is basically one whopping 15-minute crescendo with only two themes which are each repeated eight times. Ravel actually said that he was surprised that orchestras were willing to play it!

He wasn't the work's only critic; it has always divided opinion, and there were cries of "rubbish!" from the audience during its premiere. Despite this, it is one of the most performed pieces of classical music - there's even been a suggestion that it's so popular it's played somewhere in the world every fifteen minutes!

Dmitri Shostakovich - The Song Of The Forests 

This sprawling poster-paint oratorio was written as a forced apology for producing music that didn't get Stalin's stamp of approval. At the congress of the Union of Soviet Composers in 1948, Stalin's cultural enforcer Andrey Zhdanov publicly shamed Shostakovich, highlighting his many transgressions and forcing him to promise to change his ways.

Under intense pressure to appease the state, Shostakovich produced this brash jingoistic work written for huge forces and setting a text by the official state poet Yevgeny Dolmatovsky. The work celebrates the reforestation of the Russian Steppes by Stalin after the devastation of World War II, which earned Stalin the nickname, 'The Great Gardener' - in the state newspapers, at least.

Edward Elgar – Pomp and Circumstance 

Elgar didn't always hate his 'Pomp and Circumstance' March No. 1. Before its premiere in 1902 he wrote that he had a tune that would 'knock 'em flat,' but he quickly tired of how relentlessly popular the work became.

Did you know that the famous 'Pomp and Circumstance' march is actually one of a suite of five? Elgar came to be jaded by the work's extreme patriotism and resent the fact that it overshadowed the rest of his oeuvre. But the work continued to earn him a steady income for the rest of his days.

Bobby McFerrin – Don't Worry Be Happy 

You might know this as the tune which 'Big Mouth Billy Bass' might sing in your face...

But for Bobby McFerrin this song has become a ball and chain. It's everywhere – it has been used in adverts, films, movies, and of course in animatronic singing fish. Most people who recognise the name will believe Bobby McFerrin to be a one-hit wonder.

But this couldn't be further from the truth. In reality McFerrin is one of the most vocally inventive jazz musicians of our age (you can read more about him right here). He's built an international performing and recording career spanning more than thirty years and has even developed his own vocal technique based on yodel to allow him to do amazing things like this:

Arcangelo Corelli – Everything he wrote!

Corelli was an Italian violinist and composer and master of the sonata form and baroque trio. He went one step further than the other composers on this list in that he wanted every last one of his manuscripts to be destroyed on his death. Corelli was tortured by the fact that he couldn't guarantee the works' perfection, and couldn't bear the thought of leaving mistakes in his legacy.

He succeeded in burning a lot of his work, but fortunately for us, the absence of copyright laws meant that much had already been published and disseminated without his permission, so his music lived on.

Listen to the opening Adagio and Allegro from Corelli's Concerto Grosso No. 4 in D Major