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Thread: ANOTHER "Top-50 composers"

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    Assistant Administrator Chi_townPhilly's Avatar
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    Question ANOTHER "Top-50 composers"

    Latest verson of someone trying the Phil Goulding thing and coming up with a list of "Greatest-50 composers" are the interesting folks over at 'Classic FM.' It is, of its kind, the most self-consciously recondite list I've yet encountered. They do not rank ordinally- they simply render the names, first in alphabetical order, then in chronological order. For the purpose of my initial discussion, I'm breaking it down by nationality- most-to-least.

    First (12 entries)- Germany:
    CPE Bach
    JS Bach
    Beethoven
    Brahms
    Gluck
    Handel
    Hildegard von Bingen
    Mendelssohn
    Schumann
    Telemann
    Wagner
    Weber


    Hildegard gets another moment in the sun. The glaring omission, of course, is Richard Strauss.


    Now, does anyone have any guesses for the next nation on the list? What would you say?? What do you think???

    How about France (11 entries)-
    Berlioz
    Debussy

    pretty much appear on all lists of this nature. O.K.- another nine names await. Any more guesses? Maybe Saint-Saëns (definitely a 'Classic FM' favorite)? How about Ravel?? Perhaps give Bizet some credit for Carmen's Magellanic journey? Possibly Franck? In an experimental mood? One of Les Six or Satie?
    No. Let the Early Music Soil-Fiesta begin!
    Binchois (who?)
    Couperin
    Du Fay
    Josquin des Prez
    Léonin
    Lully
    Machaut
    Rameau

    and the person whom they apparently regard as the greatest living composer-
    Boulez
    .

    Now that we see which way the (chronological) wind is blowing, it shouldn't be surprising to find the Italians ranking next, with nine names, and Puccini sidestepped-
    Boccherini
    Corelli
    Monteverdi
    Paganini
    Palestrina
    Rossini
    D. Scarlatti
    Verdi
    Vivaldi


    Next up, Austria (6 entries)-
    Haydn
    Hummel
    (?)
    Mahler
    Mozart
    Schoenberg
    Schubert

    Some names conspicuous by their absence, none moreso than Bruckner.


    When will we get to the Russians? Not yet- make way for England (5)-
    Britten
    Dowland
    Purcell
    Tallis
    Vaghan-Williams

    Suppose 'Classic FM' couldn't have left off 'Raif,' but Dowland? If a song-writer was sought, couldn't room have been made for another Austrian, Hugo Wolf, who wrote more memorable ones in a lifespan that was nearly a quarter-century less than J.D.'s?? Oh, yeah- we found a way to leave off Elgar, too...


    Ready for Russia, now?! They rate a trio-
    Shostakovich
    Stravinsky
    Tchaikovsky

    Do they have more resentment towards the Russians than Ed Snider & Bobby Clarke, or what?


    Four names left-
    Liszt & Bartók (from Hungary)
    Chopin (from Poland),
    and
    L. Bernstein- USA

    The "demographics" that appear particularly hard-done by this enumeration are the composers of the late 19th-into-early-20th century span. Now [without looking at anyone else's list(s)], do YOU have a candidate for most shocking omission? Most inexplicable inclusion?? Your thoughts welcomed!
    The hardest knife ill us'd doth lose his edge. Shakespeare- Sonnet 95

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    Hummel as Austrian, Ludwig Van as German. What a pathetic stupidity. Why won't they consider Handel Briton too?

    Bernstein as greatest American composer?

    I also can't see why Hungary has Liszt & Bartók (of these two only Liszt has great fame and is commonly recognizeable) and Poland is left with Chopin only when there are a lot of modern (XXth century) composers as important as Bartók.

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    It is, of its kind, the most self-consciously recondite list I've yet encountered.
    Nuffin' recondite about the list...apart from its tedious populist leanings

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Glaring omissions for the Czech's, Antonín Dvořák and for the far north, Sibelius.

    I have no problem with Dowland being on the list. I think he was brilliant. I might have omitted Britten or Purcell and included Elgar or Holst.

    I would have omitted CPE Bach and included Heinrich Schutz maybe.

    Never heard of Hildegard von Bingen, Léonin, or Machaut. Never cared much about Gluck.

    Tastes vary from place to place and from person to person. I have long ago realized the futility of compiling such lists. It is still human nature to do so, and fun. It's an attempt to confirm our place in the scheme of things.

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    This list is totally idiotic. I think the only really well-considered entries are John Dowland and Richard Wagner... I get the feeling that everything else is just biased (and Dowland is very probably a biased choice, too, but I agree with Weston that Dowland was just brilliant).

    CPE Bach, though? Seriously? and where's Ravel, Elgar, Bruckner, Barber (definitely a greater composer than Bernstein), Puccini, etc...

    And what's with the names nobody knows about???
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Senior Member TresPicos's Avatar
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    About 35 names out of the 50 deserved to be on the list, I think. As did Grieg, Sibelius, Ravel, Dvorak, Elgar and others.

    But then again, I really am biased, leaning heavily towards the post-medieval stuff.

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    Regarding the 'unknowns': Hildegarde von Bingen was an 12th Century nun who wrote on a variey of subjects and also a surprising amount of surviving music that was unorthodox for the period. Whilst an interesting figure I wouldn't consider her a serious contender for this kind of list. She is very poular though and lists like this are supposed to generate debate (and provoke outrage) anyway.

    Leonin was a celebrated composer of organum at Notre Dame in the late 12th century, although his pupil and successor Perotin is probably more popular.

    Guillaume de Machaut was the most famous author of music in the 14th century and a figure of enormous cultural importance. Apparently his lyrics were even a considerable influence on Chaucer. He is famous for his isorhythmic polyphonic songs, which are pretty stunning if you ask me.

    Gilles de Binchois received a question mark too. He was probably the second most famous 'composer' in the mid-fifteenth century, after Dufay. I don't have much of his music but what I've heard is great and I'm keen to get some more.

    Incidentally, whilst nationality in these periods can be hazardous, I wouldn't consider Josquin, Dufay or Binchois to be French as they came from the region that was broadly known as the Netherlands (even though some parts of it were then controlled by the French Crown and even more of it is ruled by the French state now). A really great, and truly French, composer of that era would be Antoine Brumel IMHO.
    Last edited by hocket; Feb-21-2010 at 17:23. Reason: error correction

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    I would have thought that the following should be included in the top 50:


    • Dvorak
    • Strauss (R)
    • Prokofiev
    • Bruckner
    • Sibelius
    • Ravel
    • Puccini
    • Elgar
    • Rachmaninov
    • Mussorgsky

    They should arguably replace:


    • Binchois
    • Boulez
    • Boccherini
    • Hummel
    • Bernstein
    • Paganini
    • Corelli
    • Dowland
    • CPE Bach
    • Scarlatti

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    I'm not much of a fan of these subjective "top x" composer lists or anything, but this is the worst list I've ever seen. Almost half the "top 50" composers I wouldn't necessarily put in a somewhat less subjective list of "top 50" composers based on popularity or historical influence. I'm all for giving more attention to the greatest early music composers like Machaut, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Josquin.... But I cannot see any half-decent argument for including Telemann over the glaring absences of Dvorak, Prokofiev, and more than a dozen others. It's like they are including "pretty" (and boring) composers or composers who gave them a donation or something. Boulez as the greatest living composer? Come on! Did he pay them for that honor? I don't know anyone who listens to Boulez - I'd rather go for Webern or Berg if I want atonal music! How about including Part, Corigliano, Glass, or Adams instead?

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JSK View Post
    I don't know anyone who listens to Boulez
    I think you'll find that a few people on this forum (including myself) do listen to Boulez. I don't know if I would call him the greatest living composer, but some of his compositions are quite brilliant. I would prefer to call him one of the greatest living musicians (yes, there is a profound difference), not only because of composing or conducting, but because of his versatility as well, and his open mind. I'm sure there are people who will say "but he's the guy who called non-serial composers useless!" etc., but that was 50 years ago.

    So I think this list has a bit of a point by adding Boulez... I just feel that his inclusion is flawed anyway. It isn't for the right reason.
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Senior Member Poppin' Fresh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by World Violist View Post
    I think you'll find that a few people on this forum (including myself) do listen to Boulez. I don't know if I would call him the greatest living composer, but some of his compositions are quite brilliant. I would prefer to call him one of the greatest living musicians (yes, there is a profound difference), not only because of composing or conducting, but because of his versatility as well, and his open mind. I'm sure there are people who will say "but he's the guy who called non-serial composers useless!" etc., but that was 50 years ago.

    So I think this list has a bit of a point by adding Boulez... I just feel that his inclusion is flawed anyway. It isn't for the right reason.
    Agreed. Well said.

    I'm a big admirer of a lot of Boulez's compositions, and while I don't know if I would call him the greatest living composer either (Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Krzysztof Penderecki are all favorites of mine), he's definitely in the discussion. One of the top 50 composers of all time? Ehhh, probably not for me, but I don't see his inclusion as being outrageous or anything.

    Personally, I'm having a hard time seeing how Bernstein is the greatest American composer.

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poppin' Fresh View Post
    Personally, I'm having a hard time seeing how Bernstein is the greatest American composer.
    Absolutely. I prefer Barber. Or Diamond. Heck, maybe even Elliott Carter. I dunno. Just not Bernstein.
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    I'm not hating on Boulez - a great musician for sure, but definitely not the best living composer or the best atonal/serial composer in my opinion. It just makes me mad how he makes the list and dozen(s) of major composers don't.

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    Quote Originally Posted by World Violist View Post
    Absolutely. I prefer Barber. Or Diamond. Heck, maybe even Elliott Carter. I dunno. Just not Bernstein.
    I agree, but Bernstein outdoes them with the popularity of West Side Story. I think that Carter would surely deserve the title "greatest" (or maybe even John Cage for being the most influential), but composers like this will never be popular. Ditto composers like Dutilleux or Messiaen, who should have been included amongst the French (I think), but these are composers who the populists (for want of a better term) don't like. Neither is Boulez, but I suppose they had to include at least one living composer, otherwise the list would look old and stale (which it probably is anyway, adding Boulez looks to me like a very tokenistic gesture).

    As for classical radio stations, although we have some good ones here in Australia, when coming up with these lists they tend to go for the lowest common denominator anyway. So it doesn't really interest me, to tell you the truth.

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andre View Post
    I agree, but Bernstein outdoes them with the popularity of West Side Story. I think that Carter would surely deserve the title "greatest" (or maybe even John Cage for being the most influential), but composers like this will never be popular. Ditto composers like Dutilleux or Messiaen, who should have been included amongst the French (I think), but these are composers who the populists (for want of a better term) don't like.
    Then I have no idea at all how Boulez ousted Ravel. That's just wrong, if this is a popularity contest...
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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