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I see him referred to on the forum as a 2nd rate or flat out not very good composer who has a couple diamonds in the rough amongst a sea of forgettable mediocrity. Whats the rationale behind this opinion?

The rationale is any person saying this doesn't like Tchaikovsky and mistakes their opinion for fact.

Tchaikovsky was No. 6 among all composers in the survey I took -- with the same score as Brahms and Haydn. Only the Big 3 scored higher.

He composed masterpieces in virtually all genre that are still regularly played and recorded today making him one of the most enduring composers in history. Just to cite one of his many traits that support this is his ability to create and string together memorable tunes. The ostinato theme of the violin concerto, the "fate" theme of the fourth symphony, the "Italian" theme of Souvenir de Florence and the martial theme of the 1812 Overture, one of the most popular pieces in all classical music known and loved by millions, are easily assimilated and remembered after only one hearing.

He was perhaps the greatest composer of traditional late romantic music -- music that stretched the boundaries of emotionalism yet stayed within the traditional framework of sonata form.

It should be remembered he only lived 43 years; had Beethoven died at his age he'd have had no Ninth Symphony, no Missa Solemnis, no late string quartets or piano sonatas. We can only wonder where Tchaikovsky may have gone musically had he lived to greater maturity.
 

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We should define what second rate composer means. If anyone not being as great as Bach, Beethoven or Mozart is considered second rate then almost everyone is second rate.

I think the phrase "second rate" is pejorative and loaded with opinion. I much prefer the term second rank -- as of the second rank -- rather like a sergeant to a corporal or a major to a captain. I think it would be much easier to classify composers in that regard without diminishing their accomplishments.

For example I think composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Berlioz and Mussorgsky -- all great composers -- probably would not be viewed as highly if you took away their greatest hit. Even counting it they don't have the accomplishments of composers of the first rank -- Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn, others -- who wrote masterpieces in almost all genre.

A third rank, then, might be still great composers without a defining piece of music. This might include the likes of Copland, Telemann and Henry Purcell -- all great composers that didn't write that one (or more) great hit(s) like Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Rimsky's Scheherazade.

Then a fourth rank might be composers that don't have the body of work of people like those three -- multiple compositions in the standard repertory that have been played and recorded again and again over time.

Using the original post as the "General" category we could say:

General (first): Mozart, Beethoven, J.S. Bach

Colonel (second): Brahms, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Handel, Schubert, Schuman, Wagner, Verdi

Major (third): R. Strauss, Dvorak. Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn

Captain (fourth): Ravel, Britten, Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, Vivaldi, Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Elgar, Mahler

Lieutenant (fifth): Puccini, Rossini, Saint Saens, Berlioz, Bartok, Walton, Strauss family, Mussorgsky, Monteverdi, Faure, Donizetti, Hindemith, Messiahn

Sergeant (sixth): Weber, Grieg, Copland, Telemann, Purchell, Poulenc, Bruckner, Sullivan, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg, Janacek, Franck and Martinu

This is everyone that scored 15 points of more in my survey. Thus it makes Dvorak a composer of the third rank.

See how silly that sounds? That is the difficulty in ranking greatness in any way.
 

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To suggest Tchaikovsky was second rate is absurd. That means every other writer of classical ballet music is third rate -- since his are the best. That means every classical romantic violin concerto, of which his is among the best, is third rate. That means most romantic symphonies comparable to Tchaikovsky 4-6 are third rate. It means every other romantic piano concerto, aside from his Concerto No. 1, is third rate. He also wrote operas that are in the standard repertory. If Tchaikovsky is second rate it leaves only 3-4 composers in history who were first rate.
 
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