Hall of Shame: we asked the music world to tell us which masterpieces they just don't like

27 February 2015, 10:19 | Updated: 20 January 2020, 15:06

Love Liszt but bored by Bach? Turns out you’re not alone – even professional musicians have pieces which they know they should like… but just can’t.

Have you got a piece of music you know you should like, but you just can't? Turns out even professional musicians have one or two pieces they'd like to consign to a 'Hall of Shame'. 

Valentina Lisitsa, pianist 

Which piece would you consign to your Hall of Shame?
My nominee to the Hall of Shame would be Beethoven’s infamous ‘Turkish March’ from The Ruins of Athens – with Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca being a close second runner-up. ‘Turkish’ style – which has nothing to do with Turkish music – was very much in vogue in Mozart and Beethoven’s times. The style ranged from primitive to outright grotesque, and in this case is necessarily militant (it's a march!). The piece is a reflection of fretful European fascination with the Ottoman nemesis. A very banal and repetitive tune that became an earworm – people love it without reflecting on underlying context.

And into the Hall of Fame…?
Let’s replace this politically incorrect music with Beethoven’s wonderful Ode to Joy, the unofficial EU anthem!

Ronald Brautigam, pianist 

What great piece would you like to put into the Hall of Shame?
Schubert – Sonata in A major, D.664 I wouldn't go so far as to say I can't stand this sonata (I have played it more than once, after all!). But there is something quite annoying about the opening theme of the first movement: the falling sixth between the first two bars never fails to make me a bit queasy, it reeks too much of a Viennese pastiche operetta. It's only in the last movement that Schubert finally opens a window to let some fresh air into his parlour.

And into the Hall of Fame…?
Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. He definitely saved the best for last: in these variations he looks back on his 32 piano sonatas and their spectacular stylistic and structural evolution. But he wouldn't be Beethoven if, at the same time, he weren’t mocking his lesser talented colleagues who diligently composed their variation on Diabelli’s simple Waltz.

Avi Avital, mandolinist

Which piece would you send to the Hall of Shame? 

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee has long became classical music’s 100-metre race. People listen to it with a stop watch and musicians use it to try and break their own records in speed and in YouTube views. It is spelled in the same breath with the one thing we artists love to have but hate to be famous for: technique. But does anyone really listen to to the somewhat exciting harmony turns provided by the relatively tasteful piano accompaniment? I have to admit, I found myself more then once hypnotized in front of some of the YouTube videos out there, especially those who are actually played with sheer musicality.  

Carolyn Sampson, soprano

Which piece would you like to consign to the Hall of Shame?
It's super-embarrassing, given it's popularity... but I can't cope with the sung version of Barber's Adagio for Strings, the Agnus Dei. My larynx gets higher just listening to it and I feel sorry for the sopranos/trebles!

And what would you like to see in the Hall of Fame?
One of my favourite pieces for this time of year is the Lamentations, by Victoria. I recorded them with The Sixteen in about 2004 (The Mystery of the Cross disc) and think that the work's combination of serenity and passion is very special.

Tianwa Yang, violinist 

Which piece would you consign to the Hall of Shame?
The 24 caprices of Paganini. This is purely personal! I just had too much of them in my early years of playing the violin and generally I dislike pieces that are hard for the interpreter to play and not emotionally enjoyable for the audience!

And what would you like to see in the Hall of Fame?
Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. Simply, I just LOVE it!

Boris Giltburg, pianist

Which piece would you want to send to the Hall of Shame?
Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. Bach is one of my absolute favourite composers, and I couldn’t imagine being without his vocal and keyboard works. The Brandenburg Concerti, despite their undoubted elegance, brilliance and refinement, are probably the only work of his that don’t cause a strong emotional reaction. (Even No. 5 – and that’s a keyboard concerto in disguise!). But I’m such a hopeless classical fan, that there are very few compositions I strongly dislike.

And which piece would you like to see in the Hall of Fame this year?
Bartók’s opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. For anyone who likes fantasy, horror or fairy tales of the dark kind or, indeed, anything that has to do with imagination, this one-act opera is a dose of exquisite, bespoke enjoyment. Bartók, in his most accessible musical idiom, conjures up a haunting, colourful, dark world – it does brighten up during the opera, only to descend into a permanent darkness at its end. The plot is a powerful psychological drama with the text being as important as the music. The ending – enigmatic, begging an explanation, yet refusing to be explained away – stays with you for a long time.


Do you have a great piece that you just can’t stand?
Yes. But we will probably get crucified if we say it.

Oh, you spoilsports.

Which great classical piece sets your teeth on edge? Go on, share your classical confession…

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