Top 20 composers

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slofstra
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Top 20 composers

Post by slofstra » Fri Apr 13, 2007 1:01 pm

Some time ago a retired journalist named Phil G. Goulding wrote a book, The 50 Greatest Composers, in which he introduced each composer, but ranked them as well. Here was his ranking of the top 20:

IMMORTAL
1. Bach
2. Mozart
3. Beethoven
DEMI-GOD
4. Wagner
5. Haydn
6. Brahms
7. Schubert
8. Schumann
9. Handel
10. Tchaikovsky
GENIUS
11. Mendelssohn
12. Dvorak
13. Liszt
14. Chopin
15. Stravinsky
16. Verdi
17. Mahler
18. Prokofiev
19. Shostakovich
20. R. Strauss

Goulding also suggested that you could (of course) make your own list. But you had to follow certain rules. For example, you could add to the Immortals but you couldn't remove any of the three already there. And you could not promote anyone more than 2 categories, if I remember. I don't remember all the rules, which doesn't really matter, but it was quaint that he had some.

Some months ago I made my own list, (with Goulding's rank in brackets). Here it is:
IMMORTALS
1. Beethoven (3)
2. Mozart (2)
3. Brahms (6) Promoted
4. Bach (1)
DEMI-GODS
5. Schumann (8)
6. Haydn (5)
7. Handel (9)
8. Chopin (14) Promoted
9. Tchaikovsky (10)
*10. Shostakovich (19) Promoted
GENIUS
11. Rachmaninoff (NR)
12. Vaughan Williams (44)
*13. Schubert (7) Demoted
14. Mendelssohn (11)
*15. Dvorak (12)
*16. Stravinsky (15)
17. Wagner (4) Demoted
18. Mahler (17)
*19. Ravel (29)
20. Moussorgsky (39)

The asterisks refer to composers with a 'bullet'. They could rise higher in my personal estimation with further listening.

More composers with a bullet, possibles for a future top 20:
(*) Verdi, Grieg, Debussy, Liszt, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Hindemith, Part, Barber, Lutoslawski, Berlioz, Saint-Saens and Rossini.

What do you think of Goulding's list? How would your own list compare? Who are your current 'bullets'?

Remember that if you post your own list, we can avoid all future threads of the RVW vs Beethoven or Stravinsky vs Respighi type. We just refer to everyone's list.

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Post by Barry » Fri Apr 13, 2007 1:28 pm

I think in these kinds of threads that people need to stipulate whether their rankings are based on which composers they like most or on a more objective scale taking things like influence and popularity into account.

I know that aside from having Beethoven at the top, my list would look much different if I go with my favorites than it would if I were to try to be more objective.

Neither Mozart nor Bach make my subjective top 10, but I won't argue with them joining Beethoven as the top three on an objective list. Brahms and Bruckner round out the top three of my subjective list, but Brahms would be more like 5, 6 or 7 on an objective list and Bruckner may not even make the top 10.
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Post by slofstra » Fri Apr 13, 2007 1:49 pm

I'm not one for being objective in these kinds of things, since there's really no accounting for taste. The list should be subjective. Being subjective might be more than indicating which music provides the most pleasure. One could admire Ravel's skills in orchestration while feeling a distance from his music. (Not me, mind you). A composer's music might arouse many different kinds of subjective response, from excitement to bliss to boredom to disgust. And if you wanted to be disgusted, then this could very well be your list of the most disgusting composers. Or, you might actually like Mozart, but rank him lower because you've been told his music has way too many notes, and showing that you like him would tarnish the esteem in which your held within the imperial circles you inhabit. You might also rank some modern composers that you really don't like to show you're still with it. So, be subjective, and subjective in whatever way you like.
Still, in order to make such a list, one should have a passing familiarity with most of the well travelled repertoire.

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Post by RebLem » Fri Apr 13, 2007 3:09 pm

So far, I have decided only on my list of the 7 immortals: Biber, Purcell, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, R Strauss.

I considered others, and I rejected them for one of two reasons: too small a significant output, or, almost all significant work in one genre. For the former reason, I rejected Machaut & Byrd. For the latter, Wagner & Mahler, but all four of these would be in my Top 20 or so.

Stravinsky is a special case. He is of enormous importance, but almost entirely because of a few, fairly early ballets, all written before 1925. If the great, overarching work of the 19th century was the Beethoven 9th, the great, overarching work of the 20th was Le Sacre du Printemps. But Beethoven's 9th would not have been possible without all of his other work pushing it to the pinnacle; Le Sacre, OTOH, seemed to spring, full blown, from the head of Zeus.
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Post by Barry » Fri Apr 13, 2007 3:28 pm

RebLem wrote:So far, I have decided only on my list of the 7 immortals: Biber, Purcell, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, R Strauss.

I considered others, and I rejected them for one of two reasons: too small a significant output, or, almost all significant work in one genre.....
It's also hard for me to pick 20 in order. I know the top five are:

Beethoven
Brahms
Bruckner
Tchaikovsky
Shostakovich

The next group are hard to put in order of preference:

Mahler, Sibelius, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin, R. Strauss

After that, it would be a bunch of composers who composed one or two major works that are big favorites of mine, but I am hesitant to put them on a list of favorites for such a small number of works. Verdi's Requiem is one of my very favorite pieces, but I'm not an opera fan and don't listen to much else by him. Same with Mussorgsky for Pictures at an Exhibition.
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Post by Chalkperson » Fri Apr 13, 2007 3:35 pm

RebLem wrote:So far, I have decided only on my list of the 7 immortals: Biber, Purcell, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, R Strauss.
Can I just check the rules here, it says we can add to immortals but not to demote the three pre existing Immortals, but then we are told we can only promote people up two catagories, I took that to mean that we couldn't go straight to immortal for someone not on the original list, could you please clarify this for me...really great idea for a thread I must say...and perfect timing as it's the weekend...

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Post by RebLem » Fri Apr 13, 2007 4:17 pm

Chalkperson wrote:
RebLem wrote:So far, I have decided only on my list of the 7 immortals: Biber, Purcell, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, R Strauss.
Can I just check the rules here, it says we can add to immortals but not to demote the three pre existing Immortals, but then we are told we can only promote people up two catagories, I took that to mean that we couldn't go straight to immortal for someone not on the original list, could you please clarify this for me...really great idea for a thread I must say...and perfect timing as it's the weekend...
I try not be be offensive or insulting to anyone here, but other than those rules, I don't follow rules set out by thread leaders who don't have the authority to make rules in the first place. Those kind of rules give me headaches.

I wouldn't put Tchaikovsky any higher than the third category. He certainly wrote a fair amount, and in a large number of genres, but too much of his work is too uncomplicated, with not very rigorous musical arguments, ala Respighi. His best music, to me, is in the ballets, the Sym 4, the Violin Concerto, and the operas--everyone says Eugene Onegin is his greatest opera, but I have special feelings for The Maid of Orleans and Pique Dame.

As for Bruckner--well, I've never understood Bruckner worship. His best music is in the Masses and the Te Deum, IMO, but I wouldn't put him even in my Top 100.

I'm still thinking abou Shostakovich. Certainly, he'd be in my top category if I were worrying only about who I like; but whether he deserves to be there in an objective sense is an issue with which I am still wrestling. I certainly wouldn't put him any lower than my third category, though. His greatest single work, to me, is the Piano Quintet.
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Post by IcedNote » Fri Apr 13, 2007 4:46 pm

I haven't been around here for that long, but I've found that these kinds of threads always end in disaster. :?

-G
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Post by slofstra » Fri Apr 13, 2007 4:50 pm

Chalkperson wrote: Can I just check the rules here, it says we can add to immortals but not to demote the three pre existing Immortals, but then we are told we can only promote people up two catagories, I took that to mean that we couldn't go straight to immortal for someone not on the original list, could you please clarify this for me...really great idea for a thread I must say...and perfect timing as it's the weekend...
Well, those were Goulding's rules in his book. When I get home later I will try to get the rules exactly. But I would ignore these for all intents and purposes. I just found it amusing that someone would make a list like this and then create 'rules' as to how you can adapt it into your own personal list. Even if his rules do have a compelling logic.
If Reblem considers Biber or Purcell an immortal (probably against the rules :D ) , I'm actually rather intrigued, as I'm not intimately familiar with either composer. Perhaps there's something there for me.

SaulChanukah

Post by SaulChanukah » Fri Apr 13, 2007 5:00 pm

Here is my top 20:

1. Mendelssohn

2. Chopin

3. Grieg

4. Rachmaninov

5. Mozart

6. Beethoven

7. Debussy

8. Rimsky

9. Schumann

10. Ravel

11. Bach

12. Bloch

13. Delius

14. Tarrega

15. Sibelius

16. V. Williams

17. Brahms

18. Handel

19. Nielsen

20. Vivaldi

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Post by slofstra » Fri Apr 13, 2007 5:06 pm

IcedNote wrote:I haven't been around here for that long, but I've found that these kinds of threads always end in disaster. :?

-G
To rank 20 composers and do it well, even if purely out of one's own interest, requires a fairly extensive knowledge of repertoire. Which many forum participants here possess. But the risk is that someone who is just getting into classical music or into this forum, posts his or her list, and is then "critiqued". It's probably best, in this thread, to refrain from specificaly critiquing someone else's selection, unless you know for sure they have big shoulders. :idea: However, I don't see an issue with debating something obvious like who should be number 3: Bach, Beethoven or Mozart.

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Post by IcedNote » Fri Apr 13, 2007 5:12 pm

slofstra wrote: To rank 20 composers and do it well, even if purely out of one's own interest, requires a fairly extensive knowledge of repertoire. Which many forum participants here possess. But the risk is that someone who is just getting into classical music or into this forum, posts his or her list, and is then "critiqued". It's probably best, in this thread, to refrain from specificaly critiquing someone else's selection, unless you know for sure they have big shoulders. :idea: However, I don't see an issue with debating something obvious like who should be number 3: Bach, Beethoven or Mozart.
I haven't posted on here a lot, but I do know a lot about classical music. Not as much as a lot of these folks, but I can hold my own for the most part.

That being said, I once chimed in on one of these lists and got reamed by youknowwho for having Chopin near the top of my list. :roll:

-G
Harakiried composer reincarnated as a nonprofit development guy.

IcedNote
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Post by IcedNote » Fri Apr 13, 2007 5:13 pm

Heh. I just noticed your list. Get your armor out! :P

-G
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Post by Chalkperson » Fri Apr 13, 2007 5:15 pm

RebLem wrote:I try not be be offensive or insulting to anyone here, but other than those rules, I don't follow rules set out by thread leaders who don't have the authority to make rules in the first place. Those kind of rules give me headaches..


I'm looking for something to break, Anybody got any Rules?



Hey Reb Lem, I'm just like you...more than happy to forgo any rules, I only asked because I wanted to put Morton Feldman in Immortal...

SaulChanukah

Post by SaulChanukah » Fri Apr 13, 2007 5:24 pm

How can anyone that wrote this be excluded from the list?

Tarrega: Solo Guitar

http://www.midisource.net/tarrega5.html

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Re: Top 20 composers

Post by Lance » Fri Apr 13, 2007 6:16 pm

slofstra wrote:Some time ago a retired journalist named Phil G. Goulding wrote a book, The 50 Greatest Composers, in which he introduced each composer, but ranked them as well. Here was his ranking of the top 20:

IMMORTAL
1. Bach
2. Mozart
3. Beethoven
DEMI-GOD
4. Wagner
5. Haydn
6. Brahms
7. Schubert
8. Schumann
9. Handel
10. Tchaikovsky
GENIUS
11. Mendelssohn
12. Dvorak
13. Liszt
14. Chopin
15. Stravinsky
16. Verdi
17. Mahler
18. Prokofiev
19. Shostakovich
20. R. Strauss

Goulding also suggested that you could (of course) make your own list. But you had to follow certain rules. For example, you could add to the Immortals but you couldn't remove any of the three already there. And you could not promote anyone more than 2 categories, if I remember. I don't remember all the rules, which doesn't really matter, but it was quaint that he had some.

Some months ago I made my own list, (with Goulding's rank in brackets). Here it is:
IMMORTALS
1. Beethoven (3)
2. Mozart (2)
3. Brahms (6) Promoted
4. Bach (1)
DEMI-GODS
5. Schumann (8)
6. Haydn (5)
7. Handel (9)
8. Chopin (14) Promoted
9. Tchaikovsky (10)
*10. Shostakovich (19) Promoted
GENIUS
11. Rachmaninoff (NR)
12. Vaughan Williams (44)
*13. Schubert (7) Demoted
14. Mendelssohn (11)
*15. Dvorak (12)
*16. Stravinsky (15)
17. Wagner (4) Demoted
18. Mahler (17)
*19. Ravel (29)
20. Moussorgsky (39)

The asterisks refer to composers with a 'bullet'. They could rise higher in my personal estimation with further listening.

More composers with a bullet, possibles for a future top 20:
(*) Verdi, Grieg, Debussy, Liszt, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Hindemith, Part, Barber, Lutoslawski, Berlioz, Saint-Saens and Rossini.

What do you think of Goulding's list? How would your own list compare? Who are your current 'bullets'?

Remember that if you post your own list, we can avoid all future threads of the RVW vs Beethoven or Stravinsky vs Respighi type. We just refer to everyone's list.
I would have added Brahms and Schumann to first position.

I, too, would have added Chopin to a Demi-God status, and probably Sergei Rachmaninoff as well.

I, too, would have moved Wagner to genius status. I would have removed Vaughan Williams and replaced him with Debussy.

It's the old story: different strokes for different folks, but I think the listing and its amendments would probably be most agreeable to people.
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Post by slofstra » Fri Apr 13, 2007 6:42 pm

Okay, let me be clear. There is only one rule and it is this: there are no rules.

However, Goulding, in his book, had some rules. He first divided his 50 composers into 4 levels:
1-3. Immortals
4-10. Demigods
11-20. Composers of Genius
21-50. Artists of a High Order

Then Goulding (not me) states:

A few rules of the road apply in dealing with the four categories:
1. It is not permitted to remove from Immortal status Mr. Bach or Messrs. Mozart and Beethoven.
2. It is exceedingly bad form to lower any of the seven Demigods to the level of Artists of a High Order, the 21-to-50 group. It may be done, but it is bad form.
3. It is not authorized to drop the 11-to-20 Composers of Genius from The List. They may be demoted.
4. Movement of the thirty Artists of a High Order, however, is encouraged. Three types of movement are feasible. An A.H.O. can be elevated to any rank save Immortal; he can be shifted about within the 21-to-50 limits; or he can be cast into darkness and replaced on the The List by one of the hundreds of exceptional composers who did not make my final cut.

Again, I present these rules for our bemusement and edification. Please disregard at your leisure.

Incidentally, here is the rest of his list, from 21-50.
21-30. Berlioz, Debussy, Puccini, Palestrina, Bruckner, Telemann, Saint-Saens, Sibelius, Ravel, Rossini.
31-40. Grieg, Gluck, Hindemith, Monteverdi, Bartok, Franck, Vivaldi, Bizet, Moussorgsky, Rameau.
41-50. Faure, Rimsky-Korsakov, Donizetti, Vaughan Williams, Smetana, Johann Strauss, von Weber, Janacek, Couperin, Borodin.

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Post by val » Sat Apr 14, 2007 7:32 am

I consider Beethoven, JS Bach and Mozart the three greatet composers that ever existed.

But making a list of the 20 greatest is almost impossible. It is more than 600 years of music.

I would mention Dufay, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Schütz, Händel, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Verdi, Bruckner, Mussorgski, Debussy, Schönberg, Stravinsky, Bartok.

But I cannot exclude Lassus, Byrd, Buxtehude, Berlioz, Dvorak, Ravel, Enescu, Webern, Prokofiev.

And what about Victoria, Gesualdo, Purcell, MA Charpentier, François Couperin (a man that composed the Leçons des Tenèbres must be a supreme genius), Chopin, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, Alban Berg, Frank Martin, Dutilleux ?

It is impossible. So, I just say: BEETHOVEN, BACH, MOZART.

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Post by slofstra » Sat Apr 14, 2007 9:58 am

val wrote:I consider Beethoven, JS Bach and Mozart the three greatet composers that ever existed.

But making a list of the 20 greatest is almost impossible. It is more than 600 years of music.

I would mention Dufay, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Schütz, Händel, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Verdi, Bruckner, Mussorgski, Debussy, Schönberg, Stravinsky, Bartok.

But I cannot exclude Lassus, Byrd, Buxtehude, Berlioz, Dvorak, Ravel, Enescu, Webern, Prokofiev.

And what about Victoria, Gesualdo, Purcell, MA Charpentier, François Couperin (a man that composed the Leçons des Tenèbres must be a supreme genius), Chopin, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, Alban Berg, Frank Martin, Dutilleux ?

It is impossible. So, I just say: BEETHOVEN, BACH, MOZART.
By a quick count I see 38 composers in your list. But surely you can make some distinctions. When I look at those that make "demi-god" status in Goulding's list, they generally have written one or more great pieces in most of the genres: orchestral, concerto, keyboard, opera, choral, chamber. (Although on my list I elevate Chopin, even though he only wrote for the keyboard). So the variety and breadth of the composer's output is one key consideration.
I thought the reason this thread might be interesting because it would tease out what forum members hold in high regard and how tastes may be changing over time. Who is bucking to be canonized and who is on the way out?
There are other interesting questions: like, can anyone touch BB&M or not?
I personally feel that Brahms can.

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Post by John F » Sat Apr 14, 2007 10:46 am

Goulding's "rules" give it away: this is essentially a game. His rationale and all 4 rules are on the Amazon.com site:

http://www.amazon.com/Classical-Music-P ... 0449910423

I think it's a silly game, as there's really no basis beyond personal whim for placing, say, Chopin precisely at #14 and Mahler at #17, or to classify Handel as a "demigod" and Stravinsky as merely (!) a "genius." Below the top 20 the numbering gets even more haphazard. (The full 50 are given in the Table of Contents, also on Amazon.)

Goulding claims that his purpose is to help the "amateur listener/collector" make choices from the thousands of classical composers. No doubt a guide to fifty famous composers can be helpful in that way--and such guides have been available for a very long time. But I think Gould's gimmick, the ordered list starting with "the best" and working down to the presumably less and less good, actually discourages exploration. If Bach is the Number One Immortal Composer, why bother to listen to the losers who finished behind him?

Alphabetical order at least avoids this implication. Chronological order with division into periods is probably the most helpful, as if a listener likes Chopin, the chances are probably better that he/she will also like Chopin's contemporaries Mendelssohn and Schumann rather than the next two names on Goulding's list, Stravinsky and Verdi.

And what of the actual music? For each composer, whether prolific like Mozart or occasional like Borodin, Goulding tells us which are the composer's "five primary works." Well, I guess that solves the problem of stopping with Bach; if all but five of his works are secondary, might as well move on to the five primary works of the first loser, Mozart.

When this book came out in 1992, I was amazed that a publisher would put good money into printing and marketing it in thousands of copies. That it was a mass market publisher, Fawcett Books (a subsidiary of Random House), was even more amazing. Fifteen years later, here it pops up again. Well, well.
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Post by slofstra » Sat Apr 14, 2007 11:34 am

I think your well reasoned argument deserves a response.
John F wrote:Goulding's "rules" give it away: this is essentially a game. His rationale and all 4 rules are on the Amazon.com site:

http://www.amazon.com/Classical-Music-P ... 0449910423

I think it's a silly game, as there's really no basis beyond personal whim for placing, say, Chopin precisely at #14 and Mahler at #17, or to classify Handel as a "demigod" and Stravinsky as merely (!) a "genius." Below the top 20 the numbering gets even more haphazard. (The full 50 are given in the Table of Contents, also on Amazon.)
It is indeed a game, a way to pass the time. But not a silly one. An ordinal ranking may be going a bit far. If Chopin is at 14 and Mahler at 17, one could say it's too close to count. But this is a technical difficulty, not a fundamental weakness.
As far as being personal whim, that is exactly the point. You can't do anything like this on an objective basis, but certainly it's an interesting way to learn about other people's subjectivities.
John F wrote:Goulding claims that his purpose is to help the "amateur listener/collector" make choices from the thousands of classical composers. No doubt a guide to fifty famous composers can be helpful in that way--and such guides have been available for a very long time. But I think Gould's gimmick, the ordered list starting with "the best" and working down to the presumably less and less good, actually discourages exploration. If Bach is the Number One Immortal Composer, why bother to listen to the losers who finished behind him?
Goulding's is not the best guide, as he is a self-admitted fan, and not a musician or musicologist. His is one of 4 or 5 such guides that I own. But the novice listener has to start somewhere, so why not start with Bach? I don't understand your point of why she or he would have to stop there. I do think it's good for a novice to mine out one vein for a while, rather than jumping around randomly.
John F wrote:Alphabetical order at least avoids this implication. Chronological order with division into periods is probably the most helpful, as if a listener likes Chopin, the chances are probably better that he/she will also like Chopin's contemporaries Mendelssohn and Schumann rather than the next two names on Goulding's list, Stravinsky and Verdi.
I disagree. Certainly alphabetical is too random. It's good to work in a 'period', true. But it's also good for the novice to take the best from each period - for the novice I mean.
John F wrote:And what of the actual music? For each composer, whether prolific like Mozart or occasional like Borodin, Goulding tells us which are the composer's "five primary works." Well, I guess that solves the problem of stopping with Bach; if all but five of his works are secondary, might as well move on to the five primary works of the first loser, Mozart.
You're reading too much into this. Again one has to start somewhere. If I wanted to listen to more Smetana, say, I would find a good starting point in Goulding's book. I have heard he Moldau, but not the 'Quartet No. 1'. Seems like his book would help me to define a roadmap for a few more purchases of Smetana CD's.
John F wrote:When this book came out in 1992, I was amazed that a publisher would put good money into printing and marketing it in thousands of copies. That it was a mass market publisher, Fawcett Books (a subsidiary of Random House), was even more amazing. Fifteen years later, here it pops up again. Well, well.
Some people like to make lists. Not all do. These days there's a current that runs against the canonization and relative comparison of great writers, musicians, and composers. But canonization can be useful; it establishes a body of received wisdom which provides some guidance to the novice, and a counterpoint for defining one's own listening identity or personality. I take the list-making process with a grain of salt, but I do enjoy it; I've always made all kinds of lists. So rather than being 'silly', I just consider it 'fun'.

The benefits of making such a list for yourself are in comparing it to Goulding's lists (which is as close to objective as you'll come -as it's based on things like popularity, number of recordings made, and so on), and to the lists of others. You might say you are a great fan of Chopin, for example, but what do you really mean by that? But if you tell me that you enjoy his music much more than Mozart's, now you are saying something interesting, definitive and provocative.

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Post by John F » Sat Apr 14, 2007 2:32 pm

Goulding offers his "top 50" list not as a way to "learn about [his] subjectivities," which would be a personal ego-trip and would have made the book completely unmarketable, but to learn about music--in effect, as a pedagogical system. My complaint is that it's poorly designed for that purpose.

Another kind of book that isn't designed as a teaching tool, but can help people explore classical music, is a guide to available recordings, like the Penguin and NPR guides. If you like "The Moldau," and look Smetana up in the Penguin Guide, you find that it's part of the 6-work cycle "My Country," which is a logical next step, and also that Smetana wrote two quartets, a trio, and especially operas. In many cases there are a couple of sentences about the work. And you'll find recommendations of good recordings to listen to.

Actually, that's what I did in my early teens and it worked very well for me. At that time the most comprehensive guide in the US was Warren DeMotte's "The Long Playing Record Guide." I still keep it around for old time's sake.

But for those who want something more educational than that, and more suitable for use than Goulding, there are several excellent books designed for teaching and learning, such as "The Enjoyment of Music" by Joseph Machlis and "Listen" by Joseph Kerman. There'll be stacks of one or another of them in the local college bookstore.
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Post by Wallingford » Sat Apr 14, 2007 2:41 pm

Well, I've suspected a long time that Boccherini's at least a demigod; I've only recently come to terms with Vivaldi's status as such (or even--dare I?--immortal); and I've always worked overtime to add Saint-Saens to the genius category (he was a genius, a renaissance man of a dozen-and-a-half fields, & a musical prodigy whose age beat even Mozart & Mendelssohn to the punch).
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
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Post by Chalkperson » Sat Apr 14, 2007 4:18 pm

val wrote:I consider Beethoven, JS Bach and Mozart the three greatet composers that ever existed.

But making a list of the 20 greatest is almost impossible. It is more than 600 years of music.
I agree, there's just too many to like and for so many different reasons, should Schubert be next because of his Leider and beat out Haydn, is Brahms really that good (ok kill me for saying that but I only truly like the Concertos and The Requiem) how about Shostakovich, did he have the most significant output since Beethoven, or was he a just a hack, do we ignore Handel and Vivaldi because so much sounds the same or do we pick Scarlatti because of his Harpsichord output being so inventive, how about early music, Byrd or Palestrina, how about Dowland...what about the Russians, do we pick Rimsky' for the Operas or Rachmaninov for the piano music over Stravinsky, do we go for Ravel or perhaps even consider Koechlin, how about Part...there's just too much choice so I nominate the one man who I (personally) think should be in the top category of that list, Morton Feldman. So there's twenty composers named but it's not meant to be a list and you guys can trash me all you want but I do think dear old Morty was something really special...


isn't it kind of interesting that one 'senior' poster has not joined this discussion...

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Post by slofstra » Sat Apr 14, 2007 4:26 pm

John F,
Goulding offers his "top 50" list not as a way to "learn about [his] subjectivities," which would be a personal ego-trip and would have made the book completely unmarketable, "
Is your argument with a straw man or with me? I wasn't speaking about Goulding but about list making in general, and about the kind of list I solicited in this thread. The first question, which Barry Z asked me, was whether 'objective' or 'subjective' lists were preferred. I said subjective - that is, our lists, not Goulding's, should be subjective. Then, if you read my response all the way through, you'll see where I state that Goulding's list "is as close to objective as you'll come -as it's based on things like popularity, number of recordings made, and so on)". The difference is not hard to reconcile. The "subjectivities" in question are not Goulding's, but the reader's. I don't think at all that Goulding used his list to "learn about his own subjectivities", but rather to help the reader define his or hers.

I have no desire to defend or critique Goulding; your points as far as Goulding's limitations as a reference work are well taken for the most part. But about your disdain for listmaking and evaluating composers in the general case, to quote Douglas Adams, surely it's "mostly harmless".

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Post by John F » Sun Apr 15, 2007 12:15 pm

slofstra wrote:Is your argument with a straw man or with me?
You wrote:
slofstra wrote:As far as being personal whim, that is exactly the point. You can't do anything like this on an objective basis, but certainly it's an interesting way to learn about other people's subjectivities.
I thought that by "anything like this" you were referring to Goulding's list-making, which is the starting point of the thread and what I was objecting to. If that isn't what you were saying--and it's certainly not what you are saying now--then I missed your point.

If I'd written at greater length, I'd have contested your view that "Goulding's list 'is as close to objective as you'll come.'" Popularity is subjective, whether we're talking Tchaikovsky or Britney Spears, and the number of recordings made is based largely on popularity. Anyway, Goulding pretends to greater validity than mere popularity, as such labels as "immortals," "demigods," etc., are qualitative judgments, and extreme ones at that. In what way is that objective, or even close to it? And Goulding's rules for readers' lists constrict their subjectivities while enforcing his own: "It is not permitted to remove from Immortal status Mr. Bach or Messrs. Mozart and Beethoven." "It is exceedingly bad form to lower any of the seven Demigods to the level of Artists of a High Order..." "It is not authorized to drop the 11-to-20 Composers of Genius from the list."

That's the kind of thing that gets up my nose about Goulding's book and its pretensions. If, as you say, you "have no desire to defend or critique Goulding," then fine; I've nothing against listmaking as long as one person's list isn't imposed on other people. So perhaps we agree on that after all.
John Francis

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Post by ichiro » Sun Apr 15, 2007 1:32 pm

I, being a young person, have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with making lists, so I have a tendency to rank both the pieces I listen to and the composers as well. Now, naturally, giving a number to a piece of great music is in many ways a silly thing to do, but I like the fact that it allows me to compare the pieces and the music, and I think allows me to enjoy classical music even more. That said, here's my top 10 in order , which to me is a combination of the objective and subjective, if such a thing exists:

Beethoven
Brahms
Schumann
Mozart
Bach
Chopin
Franck
Mahler
Schubert
Rachmaninoff

There you have it, I defy you to disagree!

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Post by karlhenning » Sun Apr 15, 2007 3:10 pm

slofstra wrote:Okay, let me be clear. There is only one rule and it is this: there are no rules.
I like that!

In roughly chronological order, and with the understanding that my list might be different next week:

1. Mozart
2. Beethoven
3. Berlioz
4. Chopin
5. Schumann
6. Dvorak
7. Brahms
8. Saint-Saens
9. Verdi
10. Tchaikovsky
11. Sibelius
12. Debussy
13. Janacek
14. Stravinsky
15. Prokofiev
16. Hindemith
17. Vaughan Williams
18. Bartok
19. Nielsen
20. Shostakovich


Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Sun Apr 15, 2007 3:13 pm

What's too fun about this thread cropping up, is I was just looking at a couple of lists yesterday . . . something like (100 most important recordings, and 20 recordings that ought never to have been made).

And while we all necessarily find things to object to in such lists, the author of these lists impressed me mostly with an apparent willingness just to be a gadfly (I suppose that must sell books, eh?)

Cheers,
~Karl
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SaulChanukah

Post by SaulChanukah » Sun Apr 15, 2007 3:44 pm

karlhenning wrote:
slofstra wrote:Okay, let me be clear. There is only one rule and it is this: there are no rules.
I like that!

In roughly chronological order, and with the understanding that my list might be different next week:

1. Mozart
2. Beethoven
3. Berlioz
4. Chopin
5. Schumann
6. Dvorak
7. Brahms
8. Saint-Saens
9. Verdi
10. Tchaikovsky
11. Sibelius
12. Debussy
13. Janacek
14. Stravinsky
15. Prokofiev
16. Hindemith
17. Vaughan Williams
18. Bartok
19. Nielsen
20. Shostakovich


Cheers,
~Karl
Wheres Mendy?

Whats wrong with you man...? :lol:

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Post by karlhenning » Sun Apr 15, 2007 10:47 pm

SaulChanukah wrote:Wheres Mendy?

Whats wrong with you man...? :lol:
Something told me this question would arise from your quarter! :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by johnshade » Mon Apr 16, 2007 8:00 am

IMORTALS
. Bach
. Mozart
. Beethoven
GENIUS FIRST CLASS
. R. Strauss
. Haydn
. Brahms
. Wagner
. Schubert
. Tchaikovsky
. Rachmaninoff
. Liszt
. Stravinsky
. Mahler
. Dvorak
. Haydn
. Elgar
. Debussy
GENIUS
. Schumann
. Handel
. Ravel
. Moussorgsky
. Mendelssohn
. Chopin
. Verdi
. Prokofiev
. Handel
. Vaughan Williams
. Delius
. Grieg
. Sibelius
. Berlioz
. Saint-Saens
. Shostakovich
Last edited by johnshade on Mon Apr 16, 2007 9:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
The sun's a thief, and with her great attraction robs the vast sea, the moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun... (Shakespeare)

SaulChanukah

Post by SaulChanukah » Mon Apr 16, 2007 8:23 am

karlhenning wrote:
SaulChanukah wrote:Wheres Mendy?

Whats wrong with you man...? :lol:
Something told me this question would arise from your quarter! :-)

Cheers,
~Karl

Hehe :wink:

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Post by mickey » Mon Apr 16, 2007 3:37 pm

as my favorite composer is the very modern John Adams, i've decided to add as much objectivity into my rankings to tone down some of my subjective thoughts about a composer who clearly has not been around long enough to enter into any sphere of classical music immortality .. i also tried to stick with the "rules"


GODS
1. Beethoven
2. Bach
3. Mozart
DEMI-GODS
4. Dvorak
5. Debussy
6. Shostakovich
7. Adams
GENIUSES
8. Mendelssohn
9. Sibelius
10. Wagner
11. Rimsky-Korsakov
12. Vivaldi
13. Prokofiev
14. Rachmaninoff
15. R Strauss
16. Schubert
17. Handel
18. Messiaen
19. Tchaikovsky
20. Handel
http://callmeclassical.blogspot.com

My Favorites:
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto || Adams: Harmonelehre || Dutilleux: Symphony No2 "Le Double" | Part: Cantus in Memorium of Benjamin Britten

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Post by slofstra » Mon Apr 16, 2007 4:51 pm

An interesting aspect of the responses is that almost everyone has some 'outliers' - composers not universally regarded as being first rank, that have an avid following. In my case, that would be Vaughan Williams and Rachmaninoff. But we also see: Adams, Saint-Saens, Berlioz and R.Strauss held in very high regard by some listeners.

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Post by slofstra » Tue Apr 24, 2007 4:22 pm

Don't ask me why I did this, but I compiled all the results into a spreadsheet (11 submissions) and obtained the following results:

Tier 1: Beethoven, Mozart, Bach
Tier 1B: Brahms, Schumann
Tier 2: Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Haydn, Shostakovich, Debussy, Handel, R.Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Mahler, Stravinsky, Wagner, Mendelssohn.
That makes 19 composers.
Vying for 20th-25th: Sibelius, Verdi, Prokofiev, Bruckner, Vaughan Williams, Liszt.

If Goulding in some way represents popular taste at a certain moment in time, then the following variances exist:
Chopin, Shostakovich, Debussy and Rachmaninoff have found increasing favour.
Wagner has slipped big time.
Haydn, Handel, Mendelssohn and Liszt are held in somewhat less esteem.

A movement in taste from Romantic to Modern perhaps?

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Post by Chalkperson » Tue Apr 24, 2007 5:29 pm

I posted my list (not 20) more or less recently and on a thread where it was not the direct topic, so I won't rehash here.

John, I'd actually be interested to see your list...and as far as classification is concerned, in I tunes I also have my collection breaking at Baroque and then again at 20th Century music, also I don't know how anybody else stores their collection but I always did that chronologically as well...it's easy for me to find stuff but difficult for some people, I did not know how else to do it...

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Post by slofstra » Tue Apr 24, 2007 5:55 pm

Let's see, I have a Grimaud piano disc - quite a good one - with Beethoven, Part and Corigliano. How do you do that one?

I file by 'composer' and only by 'composer'. If a CD has only one composer, it's easy. Otherwise it's virtually always the composer of the first track, unless a different composer and composition has obvious top billing. To make it clearer I label each CD with a 3 digit ordinal and also the composer name if its not obvious. I also have a computer listing of every performance in my collection. The other night I was looking for Shaw's performance of Vaughan William's Dona Nobis Pacem. My computer listing tells me its filed under Barber.

I think this works better than the CD store approach of a mix of composer, performer or instrument. You're never quite sure where a CD will be.

My brother files by genre: orchestral, keyboard, etc. then by composer. I can see some logic in that.

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Post by Chalkperson » Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:35 pm

slofstra wrote:Let's see, I have a Grimaud piano disc - quite a good one - with Beethoven, Part and Corigliano. How do you do that one?
Well it depends where there is shelfspace, or on which works on that disc I like best, I placed that particular disc under Part because it is out of character a bit for a piano disc, and there is always so much Beethoven, i'm more likely to play it again if it's under 20th Century music, but I do not have a Excel like database, I also have the music stored on hard drives as well as the info, I will spend some time writing a post that goes into this aspect of digital audio...

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Post by slofstra » Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:46 pm

If you followed my explanation on filing rules, you'd see that I filed that one under 'Corigliano', since he composed the first track on the CD.

Which makes no sense other than that I find fairly rigid deterministic rules work best for me.

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Post by Brahms » Tue Apr 24, 2007 10:43 pm

I like groupings of 4:

1
Bach
Beethoven
Brahms
Mozart

2
Wagner
Haydn
Schubert
Handel

3
Bruckner
Mahler
Tchaikovsky
Prokofiev

4
Stravinsky
Shostakovich
Schumann
Mendelssohn

5
Dvorak
Chopin
Verdi
Liszt

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Post by anasazi » Wed Apr 25, 2007 1:34 am

Gouldings format is easier for me to ignore than to try and fit my weird favorites under, so here goes: (and these are my favorites, composers whose music I listen to on a regular basis, not those that I for some other reason believe may be the best)

The classics that I still enjoy very much:

1. J. S. Bach
2. Beethoven
3. Mozart
4. Haydn
5. Mendelssohn
6. Schumann
7. Chopin
8. Brahms
9. Bruckner
10. Mahler

But these are on my player over half of the time:

1. Ravel
2. Debussy
3. Rachmaninoff
4. Vaughan Williams
5. Sibelius
6. Copland
7. Prokofiev
8. Holst
9. Moeran
10. Rozsa

I hate doing lists. They seem so definite, but I'm continually evaluating and changing my mind. Probably Bach is my only completly indisputible ranking to say the truth. All the others may wax and wane.
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints" - John Muir.

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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Apr 25, 2007 2:00 am

I don't believe in "gods" or "demi-gods" as some folks do----these men were all human geniuses, some more profound than others. Musicologists don't express very often who is "greater" than such-and-such.

Objectively, I would group six roughly together: Handel, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Wagner. They are the most consistently inspired, most expressive and intense of all composers.

Immediately thereafter, I would name Haydn, Schubert and Brahms.

Some people might place Mendelssohn with Beethoven, Schumann or Brahms----but that would be in the same league as putting Vivaldi with J.S. Bach. Some clearly don't fit together. Vivaldi and Mendelssohn clearly never achieved the profundity of the others.

Tschüß!
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Apr 25, 2007 7:46 am

Jack Kelso wrote:. . . They are the most consistently inspired, most expressive and intense of all composers.
But, Jack . . . .

:-)

(a) "Most expressive and intense" of composers prejudges certain musical criteria (and for example, I find it simply absurd to consider Handel a "more expressive or intense" composer than, say, Shostakovich).

(b) "Most consistently inspired" takes prejudgements of musical criteria, and then backloads them to the ineffable question of how inspired this or that composer is, which it is ridiculous for the listener to presume to judge. For example, we routinely have people here who take their dislike for, or incomprehension of, this or that piece of music to "mean" that the despicable composer lacked entirely for inspiration. Poppycock, pure and simple.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by Chalkperson » Wed Apr 25, 2007 8:53 am

For example, we routinely have people here who take their dislike for, or incomprehension of, this or that piece of music to "mean" that the despicable composer lacked entirely for inspiration. Poppycock, pure and simple.
You are absolutely right Karl, one should always look at a problem/question/answer from the middle rather than the two ends, I personally don't listen to much Schumann or Brahms, I don't know why I do not lust after their music, but, I certainly would not deny that many consider them 'Gods' even without Gouldings list and I have tried many times to see what all the fuss is about...and if I had to pick just two composers that would be the only music I was 'allowed' to hear on the proverbial Desert Island it would have to be Bach and Shostakovich...

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Post by Ken » Wed Apr 25, 2007 9:18 am

I'll try to compile what I believe to be an 'objective' ranking:

1. Beethoven
2. Mozart
3. Bach
4. Brahms

5. Schubert
6. Schumann
7. Wagner
8. Haydn
9. Mendelssohn
10. Bruckner
11. Handel

12. Lizst
13. Tchaikovsky
14. Dvorak
15. Verdi
16. Shostakovich
17. Grieg
18. Bartok
19. Rachmaninov
20. Berlioz

But if I was able to add a few of my personal faves into the mix, I would include Borodin, C.P.E. Bach, and Prokofiev at high order.
Du sollst schlechte Compositionen weder spielen, noch, wenn du nicht dazu gezwungen bist, sie anhören.

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Post by slofstra » Wed Apr 25, 2007 9:23 am

Musicologists don't express very often who is "greater" than such-and-such.
The tacit assumption in Jack's interesting statement is that in making a ranking list we may be transgressing where musicologists would not tread. Which is why I stated at the outset that I'd prefer to see a subjective list. So when someone states they would rank John Adams in their top three - why not? If his music means that much to you - then you should. By keeping things subjective in this way, it avoids a lot of silly side debates as to who is 'greatest'.

When Goulding uses his designations: Immortal, Genius of the First Order and so on, I think he does have his tongue firmly in his cheek. Goulding, by the way, is NOT a musicologist and he is the first to say so. He came to classical music as a listener/ enthusiast during his retirement and decided to put his journalistic skills to work in writing this book about his avocation. His book wouldn't be my first choice as a guidebook to classical music, but he does offer a different, light-hearted and somewhat amusing, perspective.

There is an interesting philosophical question which underlies the discussion on this thread. That is, can the quality of music be measured in any kind of an objective sense? Certainly, there are objective measures such as popularity and influence but that is a rather different thing. The question that I think is intriguing from a philosophical point of view - is there an accounting for taste? Is there an objective aesthetic?

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Post by Jack Kelso » Thu Apr 26, 2007 12:36 am

karlhenning wrote:
Jack Kelso wrote:. . . They are the most consistently inspired, most expressive and intense of all composers.
(b) "Most consistently inspired" takes prejudgements of musical criteria, and then backloads them to the ineffable question of how inspired this or that composer is, which it is ridiculous for the listener to presume to judge.

Cheers,
~Karl
Hi Karl---while it's true that "most consistently inspired" DOES smack a bit of subjectivity, the astute listener CAN indeed differentiate between REAL inspiration---and the mere posing of it.

I find nothing "absurd" in the proclamations I made for Handel's sublime choral works. I made no comparison with Schostakowitsch, nor would I make one between J.S. Bach and Prokofiev. For the 20th century, the two Russians are giants---just as Handel and Bach were in the 18th.

At the same time, if one believes Karlheinz Stockhausen or John Cage not to be "inferior" to Mozart, Beethoven or Schumann----then Henry Miller could be said to be the equal of Shakespeare in literature.

In a totally democratic musical world, any chord by any one composer should be equal in strength and justification to any chord by any other composer. Yet, unfortunately or not, this scenario is aesthetically unreal: some masters simply express more profundity and spirituality than others.

Tschüß!
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by slofstra » Thu Apr 26, 2007 8:27 am

I'm not trying to interject into what promises to become an interesting and probably fruitless debate between Messrs. Kelso and karlhenning, but perhaps the following might be of interest:

Immanuel Kant, writing in 1790, observes of a man that "If he says that canary wine is agreeable he is quite content if someone else corrects his terms and reminds him to say instead: It is agreeable to me," because "Everyone has his own taste(of sense)". The case of "beauty" is different from mere "agreeableness" because, "If he proclaims something to be beautiful, then he requires the same liking from others; he then judges not just for himself but for everyone, and speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things." (quoted from Aesthetics topic on wiki )

So it would seem to me that the issue may be - is quality in music a question of 'taste' or a question of 'beauty'?

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Apr 26, 2007 8:43 am

Jack Kelso wrote:Hi Karl---while it's true that "most consistently inspired" DOES smack a bit of subjectivity, the astute listener CAN indeed differentiate between REAL inspiration---and the mere posing of it.
I agree that there are contexts in which that is the case, Jack.

But, no, not in a hundred years would I consider Handel more consistently inspired than Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Sibelius or Nielsen. As I reckon it, much the reverse; that is, I hear much more business-as-usual in the work of the Baroque master.

But I should readily agree that Handel was more consistently inspired than (say) Dittersdorf :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
Published by Lux Nova Press
http://www.luxnova.com/

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