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Thread: Renaissance or classical - which era had more "great" composers?

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    Senior Member science's Avatar
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    Default Renaissance or classical - which era had more "great" composers?

    As part of my ongoing ideological war on behalf of Renaissance music, I ask:

    Did the Renaissance have more "great" composers than the classical era?

    Under normal circumstances, we would count exactly three classical era composers as great: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. For the purposes of defending the CPP against threats, I imagine that partisans will want to dilute "great" to include a few more.

    The Renaissance can match three with its eyes closed: Josquin, Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, Ockeghem, Gesualdo, Dowland...

    This could matter. Despite my objections, we remain for some reason fixated on "great composers" rather than "great works." Perhaps the big forgotten names of the Renaissance should get some of the "I worship at the altar of the transcendent genius" hype.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    I would definitely say Renaissance wins here, but it's not even close to a fair comparison. The Renaissance lasted several centuries; the Classical was just about 50 years long (~1770 through ~1820-ish... give or take a couple decades).

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Short answer, the Renaissance had more great Renaissance composers, while the Classical period had more great Classical composers. First of all the Renaissance period was much longer than the Classical period. Secondly, the music in the Classical Period was far more advanced than the Renaissance and had much more variety and genres. If it weren't for Mozart and Beethoven, many composers of the period like Clementi would be considered masters, and held in much more esteem, and prominent now rather than under the shadow of someone else. The Renaissance period didn't have a couple of composers who dominated the field, and the recognition was shared amongst more individuals.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    As part of my ongoing ideological war on behalf of Renaissance music, I ask:

    Did the Renaissance have more "great" composers than the classical era?

    Under normal circumstances, we would count exactly three classical era composers as great: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. For the purposes of defending the CPP against threats, I imagine that partisans will want to dilute "great" to include a few more.

    The Renaissance can match three with its eyes closed: Josquin, Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, Ockeghem, Gesualdo, Dowland...

    This could matter. Despite my objections, we remain for some reason fixated on "great composers" rather than "great works." Perhaps the big forgotten names of the Renaissance should get some of the "I worship at the altar of the transcendent genius" hype.
    Three points:

    Adding CPE Bach is not dilution, at least Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven didn't seem to think so.

    Josquin, Palestrina, Lassus and Dufay do get the hype. You're just hanging out with the wrong crowd apparently.

    Given changes in society and institutions, comparisons across centuries tend to be fruitless and pointless.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    I would add CPE Bach, JC Bach, Michael Haydn, Gluck, Boccherini to the list of classical era great composers

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Josquin, Palestrina, Lassus and Dufay do get the hype. You're just hanging out with the wrong crowd apparently.
    Now, no matter what you say, I think TC is a good place.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Among the best classical era composers was Joseph Martin Kraus, the "Swedish Mozart." I would place him ahead of some of the names proposed for that era. Here's a symphony he wrote for Haydn, who thought highly of it and performed it at Esterhazy. Many years after Kraus's untimely death, Haydn remarked to a Swedish diplomat: "The symphony he wrote here in Vienna especially for me will be regarded as a masterpiece for centuries to come; believe me, there are few people who can compose something like that."

    Last edited by KenOC; May-14-2019 at 02:16.


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    Comparing the number of “greats" between the Renaissance period and Classical period is a dubious exercise in my opinion.

    Firstly, it assumes that the Renaissance and Classical eras are two well-defined and self-contained periods of music, each with a common approach and a common, distinguishable general sound. This is not the case.

    As has already been mentioned, the Renaissance period is much longer than the Classical period. It so long that it is sometimes split into 4 sub-periods: Early, Middle, Late, Late Rennaisance/Early Baroque. Especially In the last of these categories there are at least one or two notable composers who wrote music in both styles, like Monteverdi.

    Also, the Classical period is hardly uniform in style across its shorter time-scale. This era is often usefully split into Galante/Early Classical, Mid Classical, Late Classical, and Classical/Romantic transition, each with their own distinguishing features.

    Secondly, in terms of “greatness”, which I assume is measured by general popularity, Mozart Haydn and Beethoven tower above many of the best in the Renaissance period. It’s like comparing the height of of the top peaks in the Himalayas compared with those in the Alps. If the aim is to get a rough idea about the number of broadly comprable “greats” to Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven in term of general popularity, it's the Baroque and Romantic periods, not the Renaissance, that should be looked at.
    Last edited by Partita; May-14-2019 at 07:48.

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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    As part of my ongoing ideological war on behalf of Renaissance music, I ask:

    Did the Renaissance have more "great" composers than the classical era?

    Under normal circumstances, we would count exactly three classical era composers as great: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. For the purposes of defending the CPP against threats, I imagine that partisans will want to dilute "great" to include a few more.

    The Renaissance can match three with its eyes closed: Josquin, Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, Ockeghem, Gesualdo, Dowland...

    This could matter. Despite my objections, we remain for some reason fixated on "great composers" rather than "great works." Perhaps the big forgotten names of the Renaissance should get some of the "I worship at the altar of the transcendent genius" hype.
    That's a solid lineup, and I'd add Schutz. Maybe Allegri too - for his Miserere alone - and early Monteverdi.

    The Renaissance isn't my area of interest although I know that Palestrina's influence across all Western music has been perhaps the longest lasting of any composer. I also remember reading an article on Josquin where the author argued that he was just as influential during the Renaissance as Beethoven was in the 19th century. Gesualdo is surely the odd one out, not only for reasons related to the lurid details of his life but not the least his darkly expressive music. I know that Stravinsky was an admirer.

    Its quite interesting, all that united the composers you name was the dominance of the church (initially one church, Roman Catholic) and Latin, the language of liturgy. Italy was the centre of all that, and eventually most of the action moved North. Closer to our own time, you get diversity without there being any unifying factor really, not even as we had in the 19th century, a trinity in music of the three B's and such.
    Last edited by Sid James; May-14-2019 at 09:45.

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    If you think of the renaissance as Dufay (d. 1474) to Trabaci (d. 1647), you see it's rather longer than classical if you think of it as from CPEB (d. 1788) to Schubert ( d.1828)

    Maybe Classical is just a style in music, styles come and go with the wind, they're a sort of decoration. The renaissance was a weltanschauung, a radical way of perceiving the universe, so it's not surprising it lasted longer and attracted greater minds.
    Last edited by Mandryka; May-14-2019 at 11:48.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    If you think of the renaissance as Dufay (d. 1474) to Trabaci (d. 1647), you see it's rather longer than classical if you think of it as from CPEB (d. 1788) to Schubert ( d.1828)

    Maybe Classical is just a style in music, styles come and go with the wind, they're a sort of decoration. The renaissance was a weltanschauung, a radical way of perceiving the universe, so it's not surprising it lasted longer and attracted greater minds.
    The Renaissance was a break from the Middle Ages. People were turning again to Science, not an isolated radical view of the universe, separate from ours. There was just less development in music until Bach, when a lot of possibilities were opened, and music advanced rapidly. There is incomparable more progress made in the short span from Bach to Beethoven than from Dufay to Monteverdi. A lot has to do with the Church's ban on the use of dissonance previously.
    Last edited by Phil loves classical; May-14-2019 at 12:35.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    the Church's ban on the use of dissonance
    You don't mean that do you?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    A lot has to do with the Church's ban on the use of dissonance previously.
    To put a finer point on Mandryka's question: What ban? Never heard that one.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    Basil Valentine

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    To put a finer point on Mandryka's question: What ban? Never heard that one.
    The use of the tritone was banned. Also you couldn`t use more than a few imperfect consonances in a row. I also think I recall you couldn`t jump above a certain a certain interval in a single line, can`t find it now. It was just more restrictive, and hence a damper on artistic freedom.
    Last edited by Phil loves classical; May-14-2019 at 15:18.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I would definitely say Renaissance wins here, but it's not even close to a fair comparison. The Renaissance lasted several centuries; the Classical was just about 50 years long (~1770 through ~1820-ish... give or take a couple decades).
    That's true, though I'd say any given 50-year period in the Renaissance probably beats the whole Classical period as well. Obviously that comes down to personal taste.

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