The Top 10 One-Hit Wonders in classical music

Know the tune, but can’t think who composed it? Meet 10 members of classical music’s one-hit club.

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One of the hallmarks of geekdom is knowing the name of a pop artist who sang one epoch-defining song before vanishing without a trace. Or the name of an actor who appeared in only one famous motion picture (an example being Tippi Hedren, who memorably attempted to row a boat in a full-length mink in Hitchcock’s The Birds). But classical music also has its share of one-hit wonders: composers whose reputation rests on one piece of (frequently performed) music. In the case of many one-hitters, it’s hard to judge whether their other works are unjustly neglected, because they’re so seldom performed or recorded. 

The Naxos label’s mission to record every note ever composed has certainly redefined the notion of obscurity. But even this explosion of unknown works makes little dent in the sacred canon of classical one-hit wonders. (The only contemporary addition I can predict will join this honourable register is Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.) Many of the composers in the list of one-hitters below have written much wonderful music besides their big smash. A few, on the other hand, may consider themselves lucky just to feature alongside their more illustrious colleagues!

ABC Classics' 2-CD set One Hit Wonders is out now.



Paul Dukas (1865-1935)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was based on a poem by Goethe, which has been eclipsed by the fame of Dukas’s big hit. The work gained its composer instant celebrity when first performed in 1897. Dukas eventually became Professor of Composition at the Paris Conservatoire and lived to rue the popularity of a work that overshadowed all his other compositions (which he regarded as infinitely superior). He died before the piece gained even greater renown in Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse as the apprentice. A curio: the sorcerer is called Yen-sid (Disney spelt backwards).

Another work by Dukas you might like: Ariane et Barbe-Bleu (Ariadne and Bluebeard), opera to libretto by Maeterlinck.

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The Top 10 One-Hit Wonders in classical music
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