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Thread: How do you define Tier 1, Tier 2...composers?

  1. #16
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I agree that it serves little practical purpose to rank composers. Different people value different things in music, and composers may differ so much in what they're trying to do and in what they do well that there's little basis for common agreement as to who belongs in what "tier." That said, it's natural to assess what we perceive as quality in things, and it can be fun to compare and debate the merits of composers' work. The perception of quality in art will always be largely dependent on our experience, education, sensitivity and intuition: you "know it when you see (hear) it," to the extent that "knowing" is the applicable word.

    There are several composers whose work has kept me, over a long lifetime of musical exposure and practice, in a state of perpetual incredulity at the scope, or power, or skill, or sheer incomprehensibility of their achievement. For me that exclusive company includes Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner; if I have a "top tier," those four occupy it (and if anyone wanted to add Brahms, I wouldn't object). If I were to expand my top tier beyond them, it would immediately grow very large, and so I see little value in creating precise rankings for composers in general. I do still make some quality distinctions, but those will be of little value to anyone else, and I don't waste time thinking, much less talking, about them.

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  3. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    ...There are several composers whose work has kept me, over a long lifetime of musical exposure and practice, in a state of perpetual incredulity at the scope, or power, or skill, or sheer incomprehensibility of their achievement. For me that exclusive company includes Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner; if I have a "top tier," those four occupy it (and if anyone wanted to add Brahms, I wouldn't object). If I were to expand my top tier beyond them, it would immediately grow very large, and so I see little value in creating precise rankings for composers in general. I do still make some quality distinctions, but those will be of little value to anyone else, and I don't waste time thinking, much less talking, about them.
    I'm curious Woodduck, since you also say: "I rarely have the urge to listen to Mozart" (#7 'Are you blinded by your bias towards a certain style?')

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    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    In keeping with the question asked in the OP:

    I see any tier-based system as being based on objective evidence, not what anyone’s individual preference is. Objective evidence would be the judgment of composers and audiences over the centuries, the impact and influence on the composers, the music and the classical music culture in general that followed. There may be some disagreement over how many tiers there are and who fits into them based on the evidence, but the fact that Vaughan Williams may or may not have written something equivalent to Beethoven and Mozart will have nothing to do with it.

    Is it really going to be that hard to see Tier 1 composers as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven?
    Last edited by DaveM; Jul-13-2019 at 07:14.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    In keeping with the question asked in the OP:

    I see any tier-based system as being based on objective evidence, not what anyone’s individual preference is. Objective evidence would be the judgment of composers and audiences over the centuries, the impact and influence on the composers, the music and the classical music culture in general that followed. There may be some disagreement over how many tiers there are and who fits into them based on the evidence, but the fact that Vaughan Williams may or may not have written something equivalent to Beethoven and Mozart will have nothing to do with it.

    Is it really going to be that hard to see Tier 1 composers as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven?
    That merely makes 'tier' equivalent to 'degree of popularity'.

  6. #20
    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    And who says that the first tier is only 3? why not 6? 10? 20?
    I treat my music like I treat my pets. It’s something to own, care about and curate with attention to detail. From a blog by hjr.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by janxharris View Post
    I'm curious Woodduck, since you also say: "I rarely have the urge to listen to Mozart" (#7 'Are you blinded by your bias towards a certain style?')
    It's very possible to appreciate the qualities of great art without feeling a personal affinity for the artist's style. Most of my favorite music is not by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner, and I find that while my tastes change over the years, my appreciation of composers' achievements changes much less. In fact, my appreciation of Mozart has grown far beyond what it was thirty years ago, yet I've experienced no corresponding increase in my inclination to listen to his works. I don't listen to much Bach or Beethoven these days either, and put on Wagner mainly when there's time to take in a whole opera.

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    Senior Member PlaySalieri's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    It's very possible to appreciate the qualities of great art without feeling a personal affinity for the artist's style. Most of my favorite music is not by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner, and I find that while my tastes change over the years, my appreciation of composers' achievements changes much less. In fact, my appreciation of Mozart has grown far beyond what it was thirty years ago, yet I've experienced no corresponding increase in my inclination to listen to his works. I don't listen to much Bach or Beethoven these days either, and put on Wagner mainly when there's time to take in a whole opera.
    That makes sense.

    I rarely put Bach on these days.

    But being familiar with certain iconic works - I rank him in the top tier.

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  10. #23
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    Can someone please tell me where I can find the list of composers by "tier" that you are referring to.

    As per my post #15, I can only find a list of ranked works.

    The thread that was referred to in post # 2 on ranking composers by tier fizzled out about 2 years without apparently reaching any conclusions.
    Last edited by Partita; Jul-13-2019 at 07:53.

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    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by janxharris View Post
    That merely makes 'tier' equivalent to 'degree of popularity'.
    That seems to be the dismissive reflex response whenever a subject like this is discussed. The premise is apparently that the primary reason for Bach, Beethoven and Mozart being in Tier 1 is popularity rather than the fact that they created something that was objectively superior to others. By that measure, Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh and Einstein are remembered for their popularity and Meryl Streep is considered one of our greatest actresses not because she amazes her peers and audience by the mastery of her craft, but because of her popularity.
    Last edited by DaveM; Jul-13-2019 at 07:56.

  12. #25
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I remember having an "argument" with a violinist friend over whether Tchaikovsky was a first, second, or third rate composer. I insisted that he was no better than second rate, citing the godawful cadenza in the first movement of his violin concerto as something no first rate composer would perpetrate. My friend had played the concerto and liked it, so I had some fun twitting him ("that's music only a violinist could love"). We considered how we'd rate some other composers, but certainly were not expecting any definitive answers. Such debates are fine if we think of them as mostly a game.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    It's very possible to appreciate the qualities of great art without feeling a personal affinity for the artist's style. Most of my favorite music is not by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner, and I find that while my tastes change over the years, my appreciation of composers' achievements changes much less. In fact, my appreciation of Mozart has grown far beyond what it was thirty years ago, yet I've experienced no corresponding increase in my inclination to listen to his works. I don't listen to much Bach or Beethoven these days either, and put on Wagner mainly when there's time to take in a whole opera.
    It would be interesting to probe this further. I'm still finding it difficult to resolve 'rarely having the urge to listen to' composers whose music that has kept you, 'in a state of perpetual incredulity at the scope, or power, or skill, or sheer incomprehensibility of their achievement.'

    You're making allowances for styles you don't have an affinity with it would seem.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    That seems to be the dismissive reflex response whenever a subject like this is discussed. The premise is apparently that the primary reason for Bach, Beethoven and Mozart being in Tier 1 is popularity rather than the fact that they created something that was objectively superior to others. By that measure, Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh and Einstein are remembered for their popularity and Meryl Streep is considered one of our greatest actresses not because she amazes her peers and audience by the mastery of her craft, but because of her popularity.
    I would not dare suggest any particular writer of music was objectively superior to others. Why aren't we to consider your comments arrogant DaveM?

  15. #28
    Senior Member Haydn man's Avatar
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    I agree it is largely just fun to rank things in life and mostly subjective rather than objective
    It doesn’t matter if it’s composers, golfers, writers, artists etc the debates are much the same with people keen to champion there personal favourites
    Now back to the matter at hand with composers, my personal ranking would be Haydn in one group and all the rest in the other, nice and simple
    Listen to me when I'm talking to you boy!

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  17. #29
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    I apologize that I wasn't clearer in my meaning of "tier 1", "tier 2", etc.. I'm not referring to lists of works or composers or detailed rankings like those seen in TC threads. Instead, I'm referring to general descriptive terms that mean something like superior, very good, good. Woodduck used the terms first, second, and third rate here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I remember having an "argument" with a violinist friend over whether Tchaikovsky was a first, second, or third rate composer. I insisted that he was no better than second rate, citing the godawful cadenza in the first movement of his violin concerto as something no first rate composer would perpetrate. My friend had played the concerto and liked it, so I had some fun twitting him ("that's music only a violinist could love"). We considered how we'd rate some other composers, but certainly were not expecting any definitive answers. Such debates are fine if we think of them as mostly a game.
    This meaning was what I had in mind, and perhaps I should have used the term "rate" rather than "tier". I chose "tier" because I had seen members use that term more often than "rate". For example:

    composer x certainly qualifies as good as any tier 2 American composer I've heard.
    composer x rises occasionally to Tier 2 status.
    Many TC members may not like to rank composers, but I think others have a general sense of first, second, and third rank (or tier). It's those descriptive terms that I'm trying to better understand.
    Last edited by mmsbls; Jul-13-2019 at 11:14.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Art Rock View Post
    Meaningless without definitions.
    Exactly and why I asked people to supply such definitions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Art Rock View Post
    For compositions, I use a personal tier system, purely based on my own preference:

    Hors concours: the very best, less than 100 compositions overall
    First tier ("essential"): works I cannot do without if I had to rebuild my CD collection
    Second tier ("important"): works I would not like to do without if I had to rebuild my CD collection
    Third tier ("good to have"): works I would like to have if I had to rebuild my CD collection
    Fourth tier ("not required, or for completion"): the rest

    It does help me in my own ranking of composers as well, but again, that's subjective.
    Thanks. These descriptions give me a reasonable sense of how you view tiers (at least for works).

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