Have you read the list?

What fun it’s been reading all of the articles leading up to Anthony Tommasini‘s Top Ten List of Classical Composers!

And he did, in fact, publish a top ten yesterday. And here they are:

  1. Bach
  2. Beethoven
  3. Mozart
  4. Schubert
  5. Debussy
  6. Stravinsky
  7. Brahms
  8. Verdi
  9. Wagner
  10. Bartok

Yes, I and how many others were waiting for the official list. Who would be included? Who by the nature of such an exercise would have to be excluded?

To me, what was more significant than naming names was the two-week process he employed and his responses to reader reactions and feedback on the process. So, for instance, I was delighted to read that in Tommasini’s view, not enough readers mentioned Benjamin Britten on the lists they submitted, so he’s recommitted himself to writing more or doing more “advocacy” about Britten as a result. And his laments he could not include Puccini or Handel.

I love that he took some risk–including Debussy and Stravinsky–leaving some of the most venerable off his list (Haydn, Chopin). Choosing Brahms when many he respects would not.

Certainly, other opera lovers have to be excited that he included Verdi and Wagner, citing the volume and force of present day passion for their works as the reason for their appearances. We all know Mozart wrote many other pieces besides operas and that Beethoven only wrote one opera to speak of. So, to have two sheerly operatic composers on the list was well–thrilling. Of course, the other argument stands to reason, how could he not have purely operatic composers on the list.

More than the announcement of the list, per se, I loved the discussion, the debate, the back-and-forth. Who’s in? Who’s bound to be out? I’m not going to go berserk because Mozart is ranked third. It’s one man’s list after all albeit one very knowledgeable man. There was bound to be bias and personal filters at work–and there was. Just read his little Stravinsky vignette, if you don’t believe me. 

Overall, what a thoroughly engaging, thought-provoking process!

But how about you? Did you follow the list-making over the last two weeks? What do you think of THE LIST?


Filed under Audience participation, Classical Composers, Poll

3 Responses to Have you read the list?

  1. I’d been thinking about this a little lately as I’ve been studying for my doctoral entrance exams- before he started his series. I think I’d choose Bach too…although I’d have Mozart as a close second. I agree with his choices for the most part. I’m glad Puccini was left off. I’m not a big Puccini fan- and since he is largely an opera composer- and this is music-at-large, that makes sense. I think that’s also why Verdi and Wagner make the list…but a little further down than their genius might deserve- because the are largely known and remembered for their opera compositions. I’m not sure I understand Bartok either. For my money- if you’re discussing the impact on the history of music- I’d put in Schoenberg instead of Bartok.

  2. What a well-considered response. Every time you leave a comment, I learn something new. Thanks for weighing in, my enigmatic reader who only goes by J.

  3. J.

    Hi Gale,

    I have a few serious objections on his nominations:

    Although I adore Schubert, his placing him at number four is indefensible. Needless to say, Wagner was a much greater composer (a colossal genius!) who deserves to be placed fourth followed by Debussy at fifth. His omitting Chopin is just unforgivable. And sorry but this Bela (Bartok) doesn’t ring, not for the precious tenth spot, anyway.

    Greatness has to involve impact on music in general and on untold numbers of listeners over time. If Bartok had never composed, who would know the difference? What impact did he have on anything outside dedicated musicians who care to explore the confines of expression? And Stravinsky. He influenced music and its evolution, but what impact did he have on a small sub-set of music lovers who actually want to listen to his specialized expression?

    But Chopin has influenced — to the great positive in all of life’s measure of enjoyment and expression of feeling — every pianist, every music-lover, every romantic who ever heard his music. To pick Bartok as greater than Chopin is utterly absurd. I just don’t see by what measure Bartok or even Stravinsky could be rated as top-ten great. I think Anthony and the average reader is picking his/her favorites, not evaluating greatness as this series claims. So who should take Bartok’s place? Either Mahler or Schoenberg both of whom dwarf him in inspiration and output, in my opinion…

    I think it’s fun and intellectually stimulating to consider “greatness” as a measure of these composers. But that measuring stick is more objective than most people can adhere to — even Mr Tommasini! I will admit that at times I felt rather turned off by this article. His reasoning seemed, frankly, trite and superficial. If I’m going to read an NY Times article about what made the masters great, I want it to go a little deeper than a Wikipedia article would.