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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.
Well done for avoiding
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OK, seriously. I don't necessarily wildly appreciate everything that Tchaikovsky wrote, any more than I would with any other composer. But there's a good deal of quality in his output, a number of very fine works that stand up with anything else produced in the later 19th century, and an accessibility and charm about some of his 'smaller' works. Maybe I'm getting hooked on piano miniatures, but I keep coming back to The Seasons for simple listening pleasure.
Also, he was influential on his own and the next generation of Russian composers. And he was wonderfully rude about Brahms. In all, I cannot deny him first-class status, whatever that means.
 

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One of my two absolute favorite composers, the other being Beethoven! They both sit at the pinnacle. I respect Mozart and Bach, they were certainly natural musical geniuses, but I do not hold the same affection for them. I don't even listen to opera, so that aspect of Tchaikovsky is closed to me. I tend to also focus on orchestral music with occasional forays into chamber music. All his symphonies, including 1-3, all his concerti (yes even including Piano concerti 2 and 3), ballets, overtures etc, provide great enjoyment. So, at least in my book, he is one of the all time greats.
 

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I think people get tired of Tchaikovsky's rhythms. Sometimes they're grating after a while, pronouncing on the downbeat then sort of fading out in impact, like dut dut di did dit dit, da da da da, dah dah, dah dah. Who wants to listen to dut dut di did dit dit, da da dada, dah dah, dah dah? Dare I ask.

I really like this though. It's definitely Big 3 status.
27:20


Reminds me of Beethoven's rhythmic creativity, how dynamics are rhythms:
0:13

 

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One of my two absolute favorite composers, the other being Beethoven! They both sit at the pinnacle. I respect Mozart and Bach, they were certainly natural musical geniuses, but I do not hold the same affection for them. I don't even listen to opera, so that aspect of Tchaikovsky is closed to me. I tend to also focus on orchestral music with occasional forays into chamber music. All his symphonies, including 1-3, all his concerti (yes even including Piano concerti 2 and 3), ballets, overtures etc, provide great enjoyment. So, at least in my book, he is one of the all time greats.
Tchaikovsky did create lovely melodies - agreed. The issue for me becomes what he does with these. His composition technique has been described as linking these tunes by using "meaningless padding in a desperate attempt to keep things moving". I have 40 years' experience as a music teacher and amateur French horn player. I've played all or part of symphonies 4, 5, and 6. Despite, eg., the gorgeous horn solo in movement 2 of Symphony 5, I can vouch for the "padding". The final movement of the 4th Symphony consists almost entirely of scales. If that's your pleasure, Carl Czerny or Stephen Heller (who?) did this better. Tchaikovsky's attitude to instrumentalists doesn't help. In The Nutcracker he deliberately wrote French horn parts which are simply too high. Players since then have dutifully struggled to play these. In the Sixth Symphony there is a very low bassoon solo directed to be played pppp. ("PP" means "as soft as possible": what "pppp" asks for just doesn't exist.) The bassoon is the worst possible choice: its low tones are the loudest on the instrument. At least one recorded professional performance simply gives the solo to the bass clarinet.
 

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Tchaikovsky did create lovely melodies - agreed. The issue for me becomes what he does with these. His composition technique has been described as linking these tunes by using "meaningless padding in a desperate attempt to keep things moving". I have 40 years' experience as a music teacher and amateur French horn player. I've played all or part of symphonies 4, 5, and 6. Despite, eg., the gorgeous horn solo in movement 2 of Symphony 5, I can vouch for the "padding". The final movement of the 4th Symphony consists almost entirely of scales. If that's your pleasure, Carl Czerny or Stephen Heller (who?) did this better. Tchaikovsky's attitude to instrumentalists doesn't help. In The Nutcracker he deliberately wrote French horn parts which are simply too high. Players since then have dutifully struggled to play these. In the Sixth Symphony there is a very low bassoon solo directed to be played pppp. ("PP" means "as soft as possible": what "pppp" asks for just doesn't exist.) The bassoon is the worst possible choice: its low tones are the loudest on the instrument. At least one recorded professional performance simply gives the solo to the bass clarinet.
For his melody, harmony, and sometimes orchestration, Tchaikovsky is one of the most important composers. He's just...not quite as high up as the general public rates him. When it comes to top-tier melodists, I prefer Dvorak.
 

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Lots of interesting comments here. A couple of romantic-era haters, over on one of the old Google groups, used used to call him "Crapkovsky" (hilarious!) and commonly berated his music as "overtly romantic trash" or "schmaltzy garbage". Incidentally, I prefer his chamber music to his symphonic music (and I've just finished blogging all his string quartets). ;)
 

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Tchaikovsky did create lovely melodies - agreed. The issue for me becomes what he does with these. His composition technique has been described as linking these tunes by using "meaningless padding in a desperate attempt to keep things moving". I have 40 years' experience as a music teacher and amateur French horn player. I've played all or part of symphonies 4, 5, and 6. Despite, eg., the gorgeous horn solo in movement 2 of Symphony 5, I can vouch for the "padding". The final movement of the 4th Symphony consists almost entirely of scales. If that's your pleasure, Carl Czerny or Stephen Heller (who?) did this better. Tchaikovsky's attitude to instrumentalists doesn't help. In The Nutcracker he deliberately wrote French horn parts which are simply too high. Players since then have dutifully struggled to play these. In the Sixth Symphony there is a very low bassoon solo directed to be played pppp. ("PP" means "as soft as possible": what "pppp" asks for just doesn't exist.) The bassoon is the worst possible choice: its low tones are the loudest on the instrument. At least one recorded professional performance simply gives the solo to the bass clarinet.
I have to address some points you make. Yes, the finale of the 4th is largely based on scales. Tchaikovsky used scales a lot like the Pas de Deux from Nutcracker. So what? Scales are useful in music - why do you think instrumentalists spend so much time practicing them? Nutcracker horn parts too high? Not in my experience; I've conducted the entire ballet several times and no one ever had problems.

Tchaikovksy's pppp and even lower. What he wanted was more gradation in the range, so think of it like this: ppppp in his system is equivalent to ppp for others. Similarly, ffffff is the same as fff. What that does is gives more steps in the dynamic range. The bassoon is not the worst possible choice, either. First, Tchaikovsky's orchestra would have been using the French basson with its thinner, quieter tone. Second, even with the louder German bassoon a good player usually makes a reed just for that opening passage; a reed that speaks cleanly, easily, quietly and in tune. You only play on the tip of the reed. It's not easy, but hardly impossible. And given the difficulty of sound projection with the bassoon not a problem.

Now that bass clarinet. Are you saying there's a recording with the opening solo given to bass clarinet? I'd like to hear that. Much more common is the substitution right before the development section. As the clarinet descends into the depths many conductors have opted to have the bass clarinet take over rather than bassoon. Mostly for tone color consistency. It's clearly incorrect and should never be done. Tchaikovsky was a great orchestrator and knew exactly what he was doing. I've played the 1st bassoon part several times, we didn't use a bass clarinet, and there was never a problem, except for once when the 1st clarinet played her part so danged quietly that I couldn't possibly match that volume! I begged her to play louder. She did.
 

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First off I want to preface this post by saying I rarely listen to Tchaikovsky, if ever. My knowledge of him ends at the Pathètique Symphony, 1812, Marche Slave, Violin Concerto (whichever the popular one is) and the Nutcracker i.e none of his deep cuts.

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? Again, I dont listen to him and have no dog in this fight, but I am curious as to why a hkusehold name is referred to as such.
If you look at the list provided by larold Tchaikovsky is sixth on the list of 100 composers - ranked according to the cumulative scores from three different sources. That is hardly "second-rate".

The negative opinions expressed on TC regarding Tchaikovsky can be dismissed as the expression of personal taste. I am unsure why this is not clear to you ...
 

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I haven't noticed that so much here, but I have experienced the opposite phenomenon - on a different music forum...one guy claimed that it was impossible to truly like atonal.music. nobody could possibly enjoy Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, etc - because there was no melody, no whistleable tunes, no traditional harmony....those that claimed to enjoy these composers were nothing but posturing phonies, intellectual snobs trying to impress others with their supposed musical expertise!! This jackass was serious!! I tried to explain the attraction, the beauty, the development, the flow, the whole entrancing possibilities of atonal.mudic, but he wasn't having it ..if there weren't singable melodies, pleasing tunes, it was junk, and anyone claiming to like such garbage was an obvious phony!! Lol!! It was pretty funny, in a rather pathetic way...
I know this comment is pretty old now, but . . .

While "One Guy" is being a grandpa ("THAT's not REAL music!", "Things I don't like are JUNK!"), there IS a point: Music that has melody, tunes, traditional harmony, and traditional organization is generally more well-liked than music that is atonal. Most folks' brains find tonality more pleasing.

Atonal music exists, and continues to exist because there are people who ENJOY music that is more challenging, or simply isn't as simple as some tonal music.
 

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Tchaikovsky is NOT 2nd rate. Tchaikovsky has been at the heart of the repertoire for over 100 years. Futwangler, Toscanini, Monteux, Munch, Mitropoulos, Bernstein, Karajan, Ormandy, Szell, Reiner, Stokowski, Mravinsky, Ozawa, Heifetz, Stern, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Yo-Yo Ma, all recorded Tchaikovsky many times over and now the likes of Gustavo "The Dude" Dudamel, Lang Lang, and Yuja Wang, are still revisiting Tchaikovsky. I'm not going to argue against all that.
 

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I wasn't aware he was. Perhaps Tchaikovsky receives more negative criticism compared to some of the other "first rate" composers, but he still tends to rank extremely high (top 10-20) in the few polls I've seen ranking the greatest composers, so apparently he's attracted enough positive criticism as well. We could investigate the possible reasons behind why Tchaikovsky receives more negative criticism--many posters here have offered such reasons--but whether this criticism is robust enough to consign Tchaikovsky to "second rate" status would be hugely debatable.

I'm not the biggest Tchaikovsky fan for many of the reasons that have been listed: I often dislike his use of form and I frequently feel his emotional content as more bombastic and schmaltzy rather than epic and profound, but these are largely personal impressions. Tchaikovsky still has many works I love (1st Piano Concerto, Serenade for Strings, Eugene Onegin, etc.) where his melodies and lyricism overwhelms my criticisms, and I would still rank him in my own ~top 30, so probably not what I'd call second rate. Maybe a tad overrated in my estimation compared with those who put him top 10, but that's about it.
 

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So much of musical preference is personal, so take what I'm about to say as only my personal taste. That said, I do not like Tchaikovsky at all. I recoil from most of his melodies, which so many admittedly enjoy; to me they are sentimental, cloying, saccharine, mawkish, and bathetic. They are like fingernails on a blackboard for me. I find his emotionalism excessive in the extreme, very theatrical, superficial, and manipulative. He seems to be trying way too hard to get me to feel the depths of his feeling, except there is no depth. It's all soap opera to me and it's exhausting. And then there is his difficulty with development in sonata form. He seems so often to be wandering aimlessly, appearing quite often to be lost in his wandering like he's in a hedge maze, then suddenly finding the exit and landing with glee on a recapitulation that comes out of nowhere.

I can give him kudos for the Nutcracker which, thanks to its being an episodic ballet in form, allows Tchaikovsky to charm us in miniature. At this he is admittedly very good.

I don't have these same aversions with most other composer (except Verdi, unsurprisingly), so I freely admit I just don't get it. I'm missing the Tchaikovsky gene, I guess.

And no, I don't think he's "second rate" -- just not to my liking. So many rate him highly, so there is obviously something going that eludes me.

Not surprisingly, Brahms is my guy. :)
 
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