I was just reading an interview of Michael Tilson Thomas which prompted me to do a quick search of him on the internet. I came across a quotation attributed to him with which he expressed a much (too) familiar sentiment when asked about his favourite composers:
Whatever each of our individual tastes may be, I think it's fairly undeniable that these three composers have achieved a certain, untouchable, God-like status. My question is not why them, but rather, why only them?Originally Posted by Thomas
This idea quite clearly suggests that nobody since Beethoven has ever reached the same heights as these three Titans. We know of a tremendous number of masterpieces by later composers; we call them geniuses and we listen to their works with the same feeling of awe, but does no one else qualify to be uttered in the same breath as being truly on par with these giants?
It seems to me that these three composers, deserving as they may be of the esteem in which they are held, have been somewhat removed from their works and idolised as entities of their own. Even if one could make the academic argument that a later composer was just as good (if not better), it almost feels like blasphemy to voice such an opinion.
Why? I get the impression that it's just too soon. What these three composers have on their side is a temporal distance - they stand as looming figures in history that we cannot reasonably challenge. Later composers are perhaps just a bit too close. Maybe in the next century we'll comfortably tack on a fourth or fifth name to this mightily exclusive list...