Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Top 10 Composers

New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini has put together his list of the Top 10 classical composers of all time to cap off a two-week series of articles and interactive features on the Times' web site. Tommasini invited readers to participate by taking a poll of their own choices and by leaving comments.
Here is his final list:

1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
2. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 91)
4. Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
5. Claude Achille Debussy (1862 – 1918)
6. Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)
7. Johannes Brahms (1833 – 97)
8. Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)
9. Richard Wagner (1813 – 83)
10. Bela Bartok (1881 – 1945)

The first thing that struck me about the list was the absence of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. That just floored me. I had always just assumed that Tchaikovsky was right up there with the Big 3. In fact, I figured picking the Top 5 would be easy - Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. It was picking the second group of five that I thought would be a problem.
But Tommasini drops Brahms downs to No. 7 and doesn't even give Tchaikovsky so much as an honorable mention in his article.
But I get where Tommasini is coming from. He is a "Modernist" which accounts for the high ranking of Debussy and Stravinski as well as the inclusion of Bartok over such choices as Haydn or Chopin.
Also, he is clearly a big fan of Opera, whereas I have still not given that medium the full attention it deserves and am thus not wedded to choices such as Wagner and Verdi at this time.
What Tommasini's list reminds me of is when I was in college and Rolling Stone magazine came out with its list of the Top 100 Rock Albums and then preceded to fill up many of the slots with critically acclaimed, but awful (in my opinion) Punk albums. For instance, they gave the No. 2 slot (right after the Beatles) to the unlistenable Sex Pistols album.
But to be fair, I don't really think it is right to compare Debussy and Stravinski to Punk bands. Nevertheless, my choice for the Top 10 is considerably different (Plus I have to have a second Top 10 for all the runner-ups.)
So here is my list:





Of course, my list will change and evolve as I continue to absorb and experience more and more music. But it is a fun exercise anyway.