James H. North, quoted above in Fanfare magazine, claims to be "amazed" that so many recordings of the music of Ludwig Thuille have come along in recent years. If Thuille's long-neglected works were in fact as feeble and tedious as Mr. North finds them to be, the many superb musicians who are finding them worth playing and recording would doubtless be amazed at their own propensity to waste their, and our, time with the stuff. But, luckily for us, Mr. North is not making decisions for the record companies. Thuille may not be a forgotten Brahms (the composer his Sextet brings most to mind); but it is worth remembering that not everything by that, or any other, recognized master is a supreme masterpiece. Thuille died, prematurely at forty-six, highly regarded by many first-rate musicians of his day, including his lifelong friend Richard Strauss; and he left behind a number of beautiful works exhibiting no little craft and inspiration, of which the two on this recording are among the best. Thuille was a respected teacher of composition - which fact, though no guarantee of absolute perfection in his own creative products, is at least indicative of an understanding of what constitutes effective musical content, shape, and progression. If his formal structures do occasionally (and only occasionally) threaten to lose sight of the forest for the trees, the trees themselves - the melodic ideas, the harmonic turns, the instrumental colorings - are constantly interesting and lovely. The bucolic first movement of his Sextet, for example, takes us on a more leisurely and casual journey, structurally, than a movement of Brahms. But the landscape through which we pass is a delight to the mind and senses; with lovely, memorable melodies and a wide range of ravishing instrumental colors and textures (wider than anything in Brahms, be it noted), the excursions are always pleasant, never dull, and never so disorienting that we are in doubt of finding our way home. And what is true of this movement I find to be true of Thuille's music in general.
An analysis of the genuine achievements of this fine composer may be due. I am not the one, and this is not the forum, for that analysis. But I would at least suggest that his works deserve to be better known, and this will require listeners and critics more open-minded and open-hearted than Mr. North. The enterprise of musicians and record companies is lately demonstrating the worthiness of much second-rate music, esteemed in its time but since buried under the whims of cultural and academic fashion, to which the world of the fine arts is more subject than its arbiters and acolytes would care to admit. The commonly asserted view, glibly parroted by Mr. North, that "history" decides what artistic products deserve the attention of posterity, is simplistic and only partly correct. There are in fact many reasons for the renown or obscurity of a work of art, both in its own day and thereafter. I can attest that to undertake the project of recovering the forgotten beauties of our musical past is to be astounded by its extent and richness, as well as saddened that the often arbitrary judgments of "history" have deprived us of so much beauty and delight.
For anyone interested in exploring the neglected byways of late German romantic music, I would enthusiastically suggest the music of the distinguished Professor Ludwig Thuille as a good place to start.