Classical One-Hit Wonders That Deserve Better

While wandering aimlessly through the fantastical Interweb landscape earlier this morning, I happened across The National Post’s (CA) Arthur Kaptainis and his account of last Saturday’s “Casual Concert” from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The opening lines, in particular, caught my attention – which is exactly what a writer would want, I suppose:

Few composers are defined as mercilessly by a single movement as Samuel Barber — he of the Adagio. Listeners who brought a mental image of that long-lined and minimal masterpiece to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra concerts of last week might have had some difficulty understanding the compact and prolix Symphony No. 1.

One-hit-wonders are a well-known pop-music phenomenon, but it has been a fairly (or unfairly) merciless fact of life in the classical realm, as well. Barber is one of the better examples, though Pachelbel, Albinoni, Clarke, and Boccherini sprang immediately to mind. Even Wikipedia’s gotten in on the act. And who could possibly forget Rob Paravonian’s rant?

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In many cases, the single piece for which these composers have become most well-known is worthy of particular attention. But a few YouTube samples suggest they may have deserved a better fate.

Sorting through the millions of Canon and Gigue recordings that come up if one is foolish enough to type “Pachelbel” into the YouTube search bar, one might happen across the Partita 1 in F Major – certainly reminiscent of the Canon itself, but very, very pleasant music in its own right:  

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Trying to find a non-wedding themed-piece from Jeremiah Clarke is even more difficult, and I simply do not have the time to dig all the way down to the “bottom of the Clarke Barrell.” But who’s heard the entire Suite De Clairqueof which his Trumpet Voluntary is but a small part? Here it is: 

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Tomas Albinoni might have the most sizable bone to pick with the “one-hit wonder” label, because it’s not at all clear that the Adagio associated with him contains any of his own musical ideas. And besides, it paints him as a man of a gloomy, even despairing tempermant. His concerti, however, suggest otherwise: 

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Lastly, Luigi “String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5” Boccherini, who will never escape the lilting strains of his ubiquitous minuet, actually composed a number of enjoyable symphonies. Here’s the first movement from his (much less famous) Symphony N. 24 in A Major: 

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(And here’s the entire playlist.)

Joseph Susanka


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

  • Maclin Horton

    Pachelbel and Albinoni definitely, but I never thought of Boccherini as a one-hit wonder. I’m not even sure what minuet you’re referring to, though I suppose I’d recognize it if it’s that popular.

  • Sara

    Don’t forget Alighieri’s Miserere which is found on just about every generic polyphony CD. I don’t know anyone who can name anything else by him.

  • Joseph Susanka

    This is the minuet in question, Maclin:

    That particular recording is actually the one used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is one of its more memorable instances. (My favorite cinematic instance is probably from the original Ladykillers, though.)

  • Mark

    Maybe VH1 could produce “One Hit Wonders of the 80’s — 1680’s”

    Also Joseph, since you are a fan of trivia, you might find it interesting that Rob Paravonian went to the same High School in Illinois (Waukegan) as Jack Benny and both played in the orchestra.

  • Joseph Susanka

    Also Joseph, since you are a fan of trivia, you might find it interesting that Rob Paravonian went to the same High School in Illinois (Waukegan) as Jack Benny and both played in the orchestra.

    Oh, my. That’s fantastic. I’m not quite sure what to do with my new-found knowledge, though, Mark…I’ll probably just file it away in the hopes that I can spring it on someone in the not-too-distant future.

  • Maclin Horton

    Though it isn’t just super-familiar, like the Pachelbel. I think I had assumed it was something by Mozart. But I’ve only seen a couple of the movies etc. in that list, so it’s not surprising that it’s not so worn out with me.