bart

"The Ten Greatest Composers" -- NY Times's new list

33 posts in this topic

After a long preliminary discussion, Anthony Tommasini of the NY Times has finally published his personal "Top 10 List of Composers (Starting with Bach Was the Easy Part)"

http://www.nytimes.c...usic&adxnnlx=12

1) J.S. Bach

2) Beethoven

3) Mozart

4) Schubert

5) Debussy

6) Stravinsky

7) Brahms

8) Verdi

9) Wagner

10) Bartok

Any agreements or disagreements about names, rankings, etc.? Or ... questions about just how meaningful this project is?

It was nice to see at least three composers who wrote directly for ballet and were interested in and challenged by the art -- Debussy, Stravinsky, and Bartok. (Thank you Messrs. Diaghilev and Balanchine.) I guess if you include music composed for mandatory ballet sequences in operas, you have to add Verdi and Wagner and possibly more.

Share this post


Link to post

A little :o to see that neither Schumann nor Mendelssohn made the cut, but then again, it's Mr. Tommasini's list, and not mine, isn't it? :wink: When you're working that altitude of the musical stratosphere, it's hard to pick only ten. Thank God for the abundance of genius! :beg:

Share this post


Link to post

I'd replace Bartok with Tchaikovsky for his magnificent contributions to ballet as well as his genius as a melodist and orchestrator. I also think he should be ranked higher than Stravinsky.

Share this post


Link to post

I think that there's still an echo of the "war" against Tchaikovsky left over from postwar - "All it is is LOUD, mixed with pretty tunes!" But you're right.

Share this post


Link to post

Where on earth is Mr. T there...?!?!?! :speechless-smiley-003::wallbash:

Edited: Oops..I see there were some comments about it. Anyway...if he's not there, that list is useless. Rebelling and so listening to "Little Russian" as I write... :mad:

Share this post


Link to post

Certainly a grand list, and I agree with them all, but it would need to be the top 15 for me. Of course, Tchaikovsky would need to make the top 10 for me, and somewhere in there also would be Chopin, Dvorak and Grieg.

Share this post


Link to post

If Tommasini were interested in ballet at all, he would have noted Stravinsky's partnership with Balanchine when he listed Stravinsky as a world changer.

Verdi and Wagner wrote little beyond opera. I suspect that if Tomassini had considered ballet, Tchaikovsky's other works, the majority of his output, might have neutralized selecting him.

Share this post


Link to post

Personally, I would have put Beethoven first, Brahms higher up and ditched Wagner and Bartok for a pair a pre-Baroque composers. I'm partial to Tallis and Lassus, but I certainly wouldn't object to the inclusion of Palestrina, Victoria or Byrd.

I understand the exclusion of Tchaikovsky. His music is too uneven for him to qualify for the top ten. For every moment of unadulterated genius like the White Swan adagio or Letter Scene, there are demerits like the 1812 Overture, most of the Fourth Symphony, the "Uzhel' teper'" chorus from Eugene Onegin (I always burst out in giggles when it starts) or that absurd number from Swan Lake Ashton used for his pas de quatre coda. The last barely qualifies as music at all. (Skip ahead to 5:42

.) I happily concede that Tchaikovsky is the greatest ever composer for winds.

Share this post


Link to post

I love Tchaikovsky too, especially in Mravinsky's accounts, which gives Tchaikovsky more complexity. But he reprises phrases too often, repeats them in twos and twos, without varying or redeveloping them enough.

My list would include (not in any order):

1) J S Bach - because he develops everything as he goes on and, as Rosen or Adorno point out, never has to recapitulate at the end.

2) Beethoven - for the sonatas, the bagatelles, and all the odd variation sets (Olli Mustonen has a wonderful disc of them) and the late string quartets.

3) Mozart - for the concertos and the piano variations, which include the real "Mozartiana," and the quartets dedicated to Haydn.

4) Haydn - the piano sonatas and Variations in F

5) Debussy - especially in the robust architecture and playfulness of Richter's 1967 live Spoleto recordings of Book I & II Preludes - complete with the thud of a chair crashing to the floor

6) Satie - an important influence on Stravinsky and Debussy - for his work for Diaghilev; for his music for sea cucumbers

7) Buxtehude

8) Chopin

9) Mahler - for the most wonderful live music performance experiences there can ever be

10) One of the contemporary Italians - Donatoni or Castiglioni

Stravinsky I like a lot for his wonderful patchwork colors and the brilliance of the early work. But it seems he's often getting by on a pass - is it because he really doesn't develop any ideas?

Share this post


Link to post

I feel bad about Tchaikovsky being left out, but have to agree with those who feel that the unevenness, etc., might exclude him. I've just been listening to the Symphony No. 3 -- the music from Diamonds -- and find it charming but rather thin. It's the choreography that, somehow, makes it seem deeper. Maybe certain Tchaikovsky needs the visualization provided by choreographer and dancers in order to come fully to life. I'd include much of the score to Swan Lake in this hypothesis.

If such lists were a question of personal taste, I have to confess that I would leave out Debussy. But, after reading Howard Goodall's chapter "Music and the Ballets Russes," (*) I see this composer in a new light -- as enormously innovative and deeply influential on other composers (including Stravinsky) as well as on audience taste.

(*) In Jane Pritchard, ed., Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929.

Share this post


Link to post

I know you won't agree with me, Cristian, but this example only confirms for me why Tchaikovsky didn't make Tommasini's list. I can't imagine any of his preferred composers writing anything so bombastic (not even Wagner) or crass.

Share this post


Link to post

I know you won't agree with me, Cristian,..

You're right! :thumbsup::flowers:

BUT...

Give me-(or give HIM)- another chance...pleeeeeeease. :beg:

Share this post


Link to post

I know you won't agree with me, Cristian, but this example only confirms for me why Tchaikovsky didn't make Tommasini's list. I can't imagine any of his preferred composers writing anything so bombastic (not even Wagner) or crass.

I find Wagner's "Rienzi" crass, and other great composers had a bomb or two -- and Mozart was the king of recyling -- but I think that was the exception to the rule.

Share this post


Link to post

I find Wagner's "Rienzi" crass,

I suppose you are right, but it was by far my favorite Wagner when I was a child, along with the "Ride of the Valkyrie".

Come to think of it, my favorite Tchaikovsky in those days was "Francesca di Rimini," :smilie_mondieu: which has a certain crassness of its own..

Fokine choreographed something to Francesca di Rimini but I don't know if it survives. Has any ballet composer ever choreographed to Rienzi?

I suppose that all composers make mistakes occasionally. It's also true that tastes change over time. Tommasini seems to be basing his choices on the relatively low proportion of such mistakes in a composer's works, along with such variables as innovation and one's influence on other serious composers.

Share this post


Link to post

I know you won't agree with me, Cristian, but this example only confirms for me why Tchaikovsky didn't make Tommasini's list. I can't imagine any of his preferred composers writing anything so bombastic (not even Wagner) or crass.

Oh my god, Tchaikovsky didn't make the delicate, refined Tommasini's Illumined List!!!??? I don't think either Piotr or I will be able to get over this, you know. And maybe even based on one of the greatest works ever written for piano and orchestra--fabulous to either play with orchestra (and I have) or hear (esp. by a 'piano animal' like the great Martha Argerich, the BEST.). Crass???? I don't think so. But you're right: I can't imagine Tchaikovsky's great piano concerto (terrible that the one used for 'Ballet Imperial' doesn't come even close to this one as a piece of music, although it's pretty fantastic too) making something as crass as a 'Ten Best' List by some two-bit NYTimes critic, who just wants to show his cultivated tastes. I wrote up 50 greatest composers I could think of, and the whole thing so frikkin' silly I deleted all of it (yes, even with 50, not just the ludicrous '10 Best', which just sounds like Facebook or Twitter; Piotr Illyich must have turned over in his grave at his omission from this illustrious survey--some snubbings just plain HURT!!! As for the 'bombastic', don't knock it, they all did it. And just to think, Wagner might have done it too...might have been bombastic...jeez...and all the while I thought it was something else...

All I've gotta say is Liszt is in the TOP FIVE as well. Wrote TONS of bombast. You think Bach and Beethoven didn't? Well, they did.

Share this post


Link to post

Leaving out Handel bothers me most, though I'm not sure if he enjoys the same degree of popularity in the US as in Europe where he is a staple of both the opera house and concert hall.

Looking at the names included on the list I wondered if they were chosen because of their influence on the music of their day. Wagner was hugely influential where other composers were concerned and Debussy and Stravinsky both signalled changes in attitudes to music, but if that was the case where are the likes of Monteverdi, Josquin des Prez or even Hildegard of Bingham?

I'm sure that a personal top ten would be a different set of names to ten most important and few would omit Tchaikovsky, but is one's taste in music led by intellect or emotion?

And by the way, Vivaldi should have made that list too.

Share this post


Link to post

Oh my god, Tchaikovsky didn't make the delicate, refined Tommasini's Illumined List!!!???[ ... ]which just sounds like Facebook or Twitter...

:rofl:

I notice how all this people choose to denote the titles of their lists-(just as Macaulay's "best something ballerina")-as if this is THE one and only consensus in world history-(or at least the only one worth to look at). Let's keep it humble and start using the first person, I think..."MY favorites so and so...". (But then, we're talking about an even harder thing...being humble)

Anyway...if anything, leaving out Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Chopin of ANY list... :mad:

Share this post


Link to post

I know you won't agree with me, Cristian, but this example only confirms for me why Tchaikovsky didn't make Tommasini's list. I can't imagine any of his preferred composers writing anything so bombastic (not even Wagner) or crass.

Forget me, but I didn't know what "crass" meant, so I went to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and I found that it is synonym of:

"common, coarse, crude, gross, ill-bred, illiberal [archaic], incult, insensible, low, lowbred, lowbrow, raffish, rough, rough-hewn, roughneck, rude, rugged, tasteless, uncouth, uncultivated, uncultured, unpolished, unrefined, vulgar".

Poor Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto # 1... :crying:

Share this post


Link to post

Three comments:

(1) Remember, this is a list that has been limited, arbitrarily, to 10 names. Adding another name means eliminating one already on the list. For example, to include Vivaldi is to cut someone else out. Who?

(2) For those who are upset about the very nature of the list -- especially by someone a mere music critic -- I recommend reading the series of articles and blog posts that led up to this Final Ten. Tommasini has expressed his own ambivalence about the project -- has raised all the questions one could ask about such a project -- has consulted with some of those readers who have been commenting on his earlier writings. He has discussed the pros and cons of including many composers who, in the end, did not make the cut. I think that, on the whole, he did a pretty conscientious job of explaining everything he has considered, evaluated, and thought about prior to the final publication of the list. I urge everyone to read the whole article or, even better, all the earlier articles addressing this project.

(3) For me, the real function of such list is to encourage readers to ponder just what it is they value in the music they love most. If including Bartok and eliminating Tchaikovsky, Handel, or Sibelius leads people to get in touch with why they agree or disagree with any part of this arbitrary list, I think Mr. Tommasini has done a useful service to classical music.

P.S. The references to "crassness" were quite narrowly focused on two works: Rienzi and Francesca da Rimini. neither of which is typical of Wagner's or Tchaikosvsky's oeuvre. I am sure that there was no intent to suggest disdain for either Wagner or Tchaikovsky in a larger sense.

Share this post


Link to post

Three comments:

(1) Remember, this is a list that has been limited, arbitrarily, to 10 names. Adding another name means eliminating one already on the list. For example, to include Vivaldi is to cut someone else out. Who?

(2) For those who are upset about the very nature of the list -- especially by someone a mere music critic -- I recommend reading the series of articles and blog posts that led up to this Final Ten. Tommasini has expressed his own ambivalence about the project -- has raised all the questions one could ask about such a project -- has consulted with some of those readers who have been commenting on his earlier writings. He has discussed the pros and cons of including many composers who, in the end, did not make the cut. I think that, on the whole, he did a pretty conscientious job of explaining everything he has considered, evaluated, and thought about prior to the final publication of the list. I urge everyone to read the whole article or, even better, all the earlier articles addressing this project.

(3) For me, the real function of such list is to encourage readers to ponder just what it is they value in the music they love most. If including Bartok and eliminating Tchaikovsky, Handel, or Sibelius leads people to get in touch with why they agree or disagree with any part of this arbitrary list, I think Mr. Tommasini has done a useful service to classical music.

P.S. The references to "crassness" were quite narrowly focused on two works: Rienzi and Francesca da Rimini. neither of which is typical of Wagner's or Tchaikosvsky's oeuvre. I am sure that there was no intent to suggest disdain for either Wagner or Tchaikovsky in a larger sense.

Thanks for reviving this thread, cubanmiamiboy. I would agree with bart that if "top ten best or worst" lists serve no other use (and you could argue they don't), they do force critics to make discriminations and defend their choices, and it's often interesting to see how they do that.

Share this post


Link to post

The problem with these lists is that they are too general. Someone who adores ballet is usually going to want to make sure Tchaikovsky is on the list. Someone who loves opera much more might never think to put Tchaikovsky on the list. Also, you run into the problem of the person creating the list having a preference for baroque music or romantic or 20th century, etc. which would sway the list heavily in one direction. Someone above pointed out that Handel is missing but probably wouldn't be if the person were from England or Germany. I think a list like this is way too broad. I think it is probably fun to create a list thought, so I understand someone trying. I love Bellini's Norma so much that I would put Bellini on the list for that work alone, but I also know that he is not really going to make many people's Top Ten Greatest composers b/c his stature is not that of Wagner or Verdi.

Share this post


Link to post

How 'bout a compromise? Since not everyone is a fan of Tchiakovsky, why not add Prokofiev instead? Would anyone dispute that his score for Romeo and Juliet is a work of genius?

Share this post


Link to post