The Greatest Composers Ever

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The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by lennygoran » Fri Nov 30, 2018 6:52 am

Book Review|The Greatest Composers Ever
What, no mention of Tchaikovsky! And no talk of Donizetti! :lol: Regards, Len


Nonfiction
The Greatest Composers Ever

By Phillip Lopate

Nov. 29, 2018

THE INDISPENSABLE COMPOSERS
A Personal Guide
By Anthony Tommasini
Illustrated. 482 pp. Penguin Press. $30.

In 2011, Anthony Tommasini, the chief classical music critic of The New York Times, launched a Top 10 Composers project with a series of articles voicing his picks and inviting readers to comment. There was considerable response, many welcoming the discussion, some issuing warnings (“Don’t you dare leave off Mahler!”), and others scorning the whole notion of ranking composers. Out of that project came the current book, in which Tommasini cheerfully acknowledges the problematic nature of canon formation, especially in a field like classical music where the standard repertory can become ossified. Nevertheless, he defends the value of distinguishing the great from the merely good.

He has expanded his list of indispensable composers from 10 to 17, all, it seems safe to say, unarguably great: Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok. While I would quarrel with omissions like Mahler, Vivaldi, Liszt, Janacek, Mussorgsky, Berg, Shostakovich, it would be wrong to assume Tommasini disparages those left out of his top 17. In newspaper reviews he has continually shown open-mindedness toward all kinds of music, and “The Indispensable Composers” is sprinkled with admiration for Grieg, Berg, Britten and others who did not make the cut. The point is not to get stuck arguing over his choices, but to accept the book as a vehicle for a writer of immense musical knowledge to share his insights about many favorite pieces. “I … take the educational component of being a music critic seriously,” he writes. The results should be seen in somewhat the same democratically pedagogic spirit as his hero Leonard Bernstein’s televised lectures.


Each chapter starts out with an attempt to convey the composer’s main contribution to the history of music, before segueing to the man’s (they are all male, Tommasini notes apologetically) biography. To avoid dryness, he will tell lively anecdotes about the artist’s romantic life, financial struggles or initial failure to win over critics. He is also interested in communicating with readers who may know little about classical music: Employing a conversational, user-friendly writing style, he will stop to explain a technical term of theory before moving on. Music is notoriously difficult to write about — how to convey changes in a composition, both formal and expressive, using words instead of sounds? Tommasini does a fine job of conveying the inner life of a piece, through his rhythmic sentences and sculpted paragraphs. Even when a novice may find it hard to follow his analysis, one is carried forward by the gusto of his prose.

Some critics are energized by ambivalence; others, by rapture. Tommasini is an enthusiast. Generosity and admiration steer him in these pages. Of course, one wouldn’t expect to hear much negativity expressed for subjects he has preselected as great; but in general, impassioned appreciation gets him going. The book’s subtitle is “A Personal Guide,” and both terms apply. He is warmly open about his preferences, beginning many sentences with “I love …” or “This piece has a personal significance for me. …” He usually roots his emotional connection with a piece of music to his first encounter with it in boyhood or adolescence, when taste crystallization is most susceptible. A trained pianist, he recalls playing this or that piece at a recital, or being stunned when introduced to it as a Yale undergraduate. So many autobiographical references proliferate that the book feels at times like a memoir in disguise, but one that centers on the formative years. About relinquishing a Beethoven standard, he says: “My struggles to play the ‘Pathétique’ must have become associated in my mind with enduring adolescence. I think I had been too emotionally entangled with that sonata to keep playing it.” Or: “There I was, just turned 22, still sorting out being gay, full of longings, including for a few friends sitting in the first row at this recital. Chopin allowed me no secrets when I played his ballade.”

The advantage of these asides is that the book feels appealingly human, not like a textbook written by committee. Tommasini’s lifelong concertgoing experience also allows him to supply a wealth of examples about performers’ approaches to the music under discussion, such as hearing in awe Rudolf Serkin play Beethoven or Renata Tebaldi sing Desdemona. If there is an imbalance, it comes from over-privileging the romantic, sublime element — not the only way to appreciate classical music. He leans heavily on words like “spiritual,” “mystical,” “cosmic,” without ever defining what he means by them. He’s on firmer ground describing the formal structure of a piece. Given his background, he is admittedly partial to composers’ piano compositions, which he discusses with subtle expertise.

Tommasini’s judgments strike me as invariably sound, even when I initially resist them. For instance, he defends opera productions that employ updated staging. He makes short shrift of intellectual condescension toward Puccini, and of serialist composers’ snobbish disdain for tonal pieces. “I have never quite bought into the concept of music as an art form that advanced over time to increasingly higher levels of modernity and sophistication. Of course, bold, radical innovations kept coming, but these shifts did not necessarily make music any greater, just different.” Agreed.

One of his previous books celebrated Virgil Thomson, the composer-critic who was also a superb literary stylist. (See his two-volume Library of America set.) As a writer, Tommasini is not on that level: His prose is journalistically appropriate, readable, but can sometimes seem too chatty and breezy for a bound volume, as when he employs the figure “nyah-nyah” to describe Debussy thumbing his nose at Wagner. Still, the book makes no belletristic claims; it’s intended solely as a guide, and as such, perfectly fulfills its aim. One cannot help coming away from it with a more rounded understanding of classical music at its peak. Maybe he can follow it up with a book dedicated to “Not Quite Indispensable Composers but Pretty Terrific Nevertheless” (Mahler, please?).



https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/book ... asini.html

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by John F » Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:32 am

As a guide to music appreciation this might possibly have some value, though at 500 pages and $30 it's a substantial investment for the unconverted. As criticism, it's worthless. Not that critics shouldn't compare and judge - that's part of the job description - but their measures should be less crude than the Top 10, or Top Anything, and more discriminating than to include Puccini, who is "indispensable" only to the Metropolitan Opera. Even if it's called a "personal" list, this book is not about the greatest composers but merely the most famous and popular ones.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by maestrob » Fri Nov 30, 2018 11:15 am

John F wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:32 am
As a guide to music appreciation this might possibly have some value, though at 500 pages and $30 it's a substantial investment for the unconverted. As criticism, it's worthless. Not that critics shouldn't compare and judge - that's part of the job description - but their measures should be less crude than the Top 10, or Top Anything, and more discriminating than to include Puccini, who is "indispensable" only to the Metropolitan Opera. Even if it's called a "personal" list, this book is not about the greatest composers but merely the most famous and popular ones.
I'll go even further, John. The book is obviously a list of personal preferences, rather than a guide to classical music as it purports to be. To leave out three great symphony-writers is ridiculous (Mahler, Bruckner & Shostakovich, let alone Prokofiev!). And then, there is Donizetti....... :mrgreen:

Egad! :roll:

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Lance » Fri Nov 30, 2018 1:21 pm

Quoted:
"[Tommasini] has expanded his list of indispensable composers from 10 to 17, all, it seems safe to say, unarguably great: Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok. While I would quarrel with omissions like Mahler, Vivaldi, Liszt, Janacek, Mussorgsky, Berg, Shostakovich, it would be wrong to assume Tommasini disparages those left out of his top 17."

At least he has included (for me) among the most important composers by usually anybody's standards. I could well do without Monteverdi, Schoenberg, Berg and Bartok :( and I would have rather had seen Vivaldi, Liszt (who was/is greater than many people believe) and certainly Mahler should have been included. Just my personal preferences, and we all know one cannot please everyone with a volume like this. There could be a sequel, and Tommasini could have chosen 25 composers and covered much more ground. I like the way Tommasini writes, but I'm not sure this would be a volume for me.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by lennygoran » Fri Nov 30, 2018 3:51 pm

maestrob wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 11:15 am
And then, there is Donizetti....... :mrgreen:

Egad! :roll:
Brian, yeah!!! Thank you! Regards, Len :lol:

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Dec 06, 2018 7:03 pm

absolute rubbish, typical of Thommasini, an old hack with no new words.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 06, 2018 9:36 pm

One can fill a list of ten best just from the Common Practice Period (Bach and Handel until the death of Brahms) and still not have room for a couple of them.

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by RebLem » Thu Dec 06, 2018 10:28 pm

If you want books that describe composers, their styles, and some of their major compositions, in my opinion you can't beat two books by David Ewen: The Complete Book of Classical Music, and The World of Twentieth Century Music.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Fri Dec 07, 2018 9:37 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Thu Dec 06, 2018 9:36 pm
One can fill a list of ten best just from the Common Practice Period (Bach and Handel until the death of Brahms) and still not have room for a couple of them.
Then there is the magnificent pre-Baroque and Renaissance. I wouldn't think any serious list could exclude Schutz or Josquin des Prez, just to name two. Agree that Monteverdi is a genius and I couldn't be without his music; those late madrigals and the operas!! Incredible.

Surprised to see Puccini on that list and Franz Liszt missing from it. Even Verdi is a doubtful for me. I personally believe Monteverdi is the greatest Italian opera composer. I remember an interview years ago with Pavarotti where he said the same thing!! And where is Ravel? Surely a far greater composer than either Verdi or Puccini?

At the end of the day, though, I do wonder about the value of such lists. Apart from the big 5 - Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms - we could argue for hours about who follows them! The one thing all those five composers have in common is the breadth of their composing in terms of genre though, of course, Bach and Brahms wrote no opera.

One of my musicology lecturers used to say Josquin belonged on any list of 'great composers'.

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by lennygoran » Fri Dec 07, 2018 10:56 am

Belle, Ravel over Verdi or Puccini-you gotta be joking! Len :lol:

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Fri Dec 07, 2018 3:16 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Fri Dec 07, 2018 10:56 am
Belle, Ravel over Verdi or Puccini-you gotta be joking! Len :lol:
That's my educated opinion, but it IS only an opinion. I totally get that you love music for the theatre. I am a huge fan of baroque opera (love Handel and Rameau) but, apart from Tristan und Isolde, 19th century opera largely leaves me cold. And I'm not even sure I can tell you why. I have friends who love it and who are absolutely passionate adherents. I put both Purcell and Monteverdi into the 'early baroque' category and I absolutely love both of them.

I was essentially referring to compositional style and musical innovation - in which case Ravel easily outstrips both opera composers, IMO. For me, it's often difficult trying to discern which piece is by Puccini and which by Verdi (I'm speaking about arias here), but there is (apart from the execrable "Bolero" and one or two clunky works like "La Valse") a highly original aesthetic to Ravel.

And I consider Richard Strauss a superior opera composer to either of the Italians. This composer also wrote across a range of musical forms.

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by John F » Fri Dec 07, 2018 3:45 pm

Belle wrote: For me, it's often difficult trying to discern which piece is by Puccini and which by Verdi (I'm speaking about arias here)
That's really surprising, as those composers' styles are as different as can be, at least as different as Debussy and Ravel. :) None of Puccini's famous arias could possibly have been written by Verdi, and vice versa even less so. Perhaps they come closest in their rare comic operas, as "Gianni Schicchi" is somewhat modeled on "Falstaff." But these are drops in those composers' buckets.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Fri Dec 07, 2018 7:15 pm

John F wrote:
Fri Dec 07, 2018 3:45 pm
Belle wrote: For me, it's often difficult trying to discern which piece is by Puccini and which by Verdi (I'm speaking about arias here)
That's really surprising, as those composers' styles are as different as can be, at least as different as Debussy and Ravel. :) None of Puccini's famous arias could possibly have been written by Verdi, and vice versa even less so. Perhaps they come closest in their rare comic operas, as "Gianni Schicchi" is somewhat modeled on "Falstaff." But these are drops in those composers' buckets.
I guess I'm not really listening, it's just all so overwrought to me. Lots of folks don't like baroque opera and its contorted and byzantine plot contrivances. I saw at the Wiener Staatsoper this magnificent production of "Alcina" in 2011 and it's really my thing: elegance on steroids!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VdHwrLgjxI

And "Guilio Cesare". At 14:30 in this marvellous production, the aria "Priva son d'ogni conforto" the mezzo Ms. Abrahamyan is absolutely devastating. It's one of the best performances I've ever seen in any baroque opera!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYrhRv59l78

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by absinthe » Sat Dec 08, 2018 3:52 am

lennygoran wrote:
Fri Dec 07, 2018 10:56 am
Belle, Ravel over Verdi or Puccini-you gotta be joking! Len :lol:
WHAT?
As long as you don't declare Verdi or Puccini over Rossini and Donizetti!
Verdi bought Rossini's Music-Churn-Out machine second-hand, probably ebay, but by then some of its functioning had ceased to work. Donizetti was a different matter entirely.
:lol:

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by John F » Sat Dec 08, 2018 3:57 am

And yet I'd trade all of Baroque opera just for Verdi's "Falstaff," a miracle of wit and sophistication completely unexpected from the composer of "Il Trovatore." I might even trade it all just for Act 1 scene 2, in which the merry wives plot revenge against Falstaff, and Ford and his circle make their own plot against him separately. Toward the end of the scene the 4 ladies sing their part in 3, the 5 men sing theirs in 4, and the young lover Fenton sings his vocal line soaring above them. Since Baroque opera has hardly any ensembles other than the very occasional duet, it's no contest.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRjCAPUVt3o

And then there's the opera's finale, a fugue on the words "All the world's a joke, and man is born a jester. We are all fools, we laugh at each other's folly, but he who laughs last, laughs best." (Page 64 of the libretto.) Our dear friend in CompuServe's Music Forum, Susi Schneider, asked that this be played at her memorial service, and it was.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx2zJMN4uEo
Last edited by John F on Sun Dec 09, 2018 12:38 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by absinthe » Sat Dec 08, 2018 3:58 am

Chalkperson wrote:
Thu Dec 06, 2018 7:03 pm
absolute rubbish, typical of Thommasini, an old hack with no new words.
Music critics are the worst sort of vampires, feeding off the life-blood of those who actually do the work. Disgusting lot. Cultural eunuchs.
Time artistic criticism was added to the DSM list of mental disorders.

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by absinthe » Sat Dec 08, 2018 4:12 am

Belle wrote:
Fri Dec 07, 2018 3:16 pm
I was essentially referring to compositional style and musical innovation - in which case Ravel easily outstrips both opera composers, IMO. For me, it's often difficult trying to discern which piece is by Puccini and which by Verdi (I'm speaking about arias here), but there is (apart from the execrable "Bolero" and one or two clunky works like "La Valse") a highly original aesthetic to Ravel.

Easier if you listen to the music through loudspeakers. With Puccini you'll find syrup or marshmallow dribbling out of the speaker cab.
And I consider Richard Strauss a superior opera composer to either of the Italians. This composer also wrote across a range of musical forms.
Oh dear.... he didn't seem to bring anything new to music (IMHO). He could have got very rich if sound films had been about in his time. Not quite as off-putting as Brahms but look for instance at the opening of "Thus Spake..." a dirty-great perfect cadence, a very loud Amen, when he could have really got adventurous with that ending. A shame really but at least it did it for pop music afficionados.
:lol:

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Sat Dec 08, 2018 4:25 am

Not like the ending of "Salome" aye? That wasn't original, or anything. There are great libretti in Strauss and his operas were new and fresh, with their dissonance and long musical lines.

Take a look at this and tell me where those 'dirty great amens' are? And Strauss's astringent melody lines are just perfect, with their restless, cadence-searching musical lines. If it was good enough for the genius of Carlos Kleiber (and Erich) it's certainly good enough for me!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQp6FYs42cc

And the miraculous word-painting of the madrigalist Monteverdi!! Full of beautiful dissonance and gloriously translucent accompaniment; like looking at the full moon through a foggy, blue-tinted night:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VjWoc3CXNw

Of course, the problems of orchestration in Monteverdi need to be solved by musicians and musicologists because of the loss of so many complete scores over the centuries. In some instances there were only surviving orchestral parts. The subject of an entire thesis all by itself.

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by John F » Sat Dec 08, 2018 5:11 am

If Carlos Kleiber's taste is your measure of operatic merit, he conducted two Verdi operas, "La Traviata" and "Otello," and one by Puccini, "La Boheme." He chose to make his Metropolitan Opera debut with "La Boheme." After all, if it was good enough for Toscanini, it was good enough for Kleiber, if not for you. :mrgreen:

Who was the superior opera composer? Comparisons are odorous, as Dogberry says, especially among the masters. Who was the greater painter, Rembrandt or Monet? Strauss was born half a century after Verdi (who was born about half a century after Mozart), so of course his style, esthetic, everything are quite different. But I don't think you can argue that Verdi's style was less well suited to the stories he chose to tell, many of them from Schiller, than Strauss's to his subjects. Indeed, even Strauss turned away from modernism after just two operas. I've never understood why, though I'm not complaining. :)
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by maestrob » Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:27 am

Having studied and performed a great deal of both Verdi and Puccini at Juilliard, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, I must take a stand for both composers' greatness. Verdi evolved from Nabucco to Rigoletto and then on to Otello and Falstaff (I agree John this is his greatest work.). I truly regret that anyone would not appreciate or respect the genius in these works. As for Puccini, he did not evolve so much as Verdi (compare La Rondine with Gianni Schicchi, Turandot or Fanciulla), but he used his formidable compositional technique in service to the human voice, and produced masterpiece after masterpiece.

Just because a composition is popular, doesn't mean it's not a great work.

Of course I love Baroque opera (Rameau, Gretry, etc.), Monteverdi, and Richard Strauss (The final trio in Der Rosenkavalier is one of the finest vocal ensembles ever written.).

In fact, I'm listening to this outstanding new release right now:

Image

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by maestrob » Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:30 am

John F wrote:
Sat Dec 08, 2018 5:11 am
If Carlos Kleiber's taste is your measure of operatic merit, he conducted two Verdi operas, "La Traviata" and "Otello," and one by Puccini, "La Boheme." He chose to make his Metropolitan Opera debut with "La Boheme." After all, if it was good enough for Toscanini, it was good enough for Kleiber, if not for you. :mrgreen:

Who was the superior opera composer? Comparisons are odorous, as Dogberry says, especially among the masters. Who was the greater painter, Rembrandt or Monet? Strauss was born half a century after Verdi (who was born about half a century after Mozart), so of course his style, esthetic, everything are quite different. But I don't think you can argue that Verdi's style was less well suited to the stories he chose to tell, many of them from Schiller, than Strauss's to his subjects. Indeed, even Strauss turned away from modernism after just two operas. I've never understood why, though I'm not complaining. :)
Kleiber also conducted Carmen: I have the live performance on CD.

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:54 am

John F wrote:
Sat Dec 08, 2018 5:11 am
If Carlos Kleiber's taste is your measure of operatic merit, he conducted two Verdi operas, "La Traviata" and "Otello," and one by Puccini, "La Boheme." He chose to make his Metropolitan Opera debut with "La Boheme." After all, if it was good enough for Toscanini, it was good enough for Kleiber, if not for you. :mrgreen:

Who was the superior opera composer? Comparisons are odorous, as Dogberry says, especially among the masters. Who was the greater painter, Rembrandt or Monet? Strauss was born half a century after Verdi (who was born about half a century after Mozart), so of course his style, esthetic, everything are quite different. But I don't think you can argue that Verdi's style was less well suited to the stories he chose to tell, many of them from Schiller, than Strauss's to his subjects. Indeed, even Strauss turned away from modernism after just two operas. I've never understood why, though I'm not complaining. :)
Yes, I've watched all those Kleiber performances on U-Tube; I merely defend Strauss as a beloved composer of both Kleibers - whom they also personally knew - because he was attacked in a previous post. And, as I stated earlier, these are my opinions. I was a late arrival to the Wagner camp (no pun intended!) at about the time I was turning away from 19th century opera, particularly its coloratura excesses. For me, it's the delicate ornamentation, counter tenor range and stunning melismas of baroque opera that appeal more. And, of course, the pre-baroque style operas of Purcell - whose work I absolutely adore.

As for "Carmen", the less I hear of it the better!! Sorry, but there it is.

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Sat Dec 08, 2018 12:03 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:27 am
Having studied and performed a great deal of both Verdi and Puccini at Juilliard, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, I must take a stand for both composers' greatness. Verdi evolved from Nabucco to Rigoletto and then on to Otello and Falstaff (I agree John this is his greatest work.). I truly regret that anyone would not appreciate or respect the genius in these works. As for Puccini, he did not evolve so much as Verdi (compare La Rondine with Gianni Schicchi, Turandot or Fanciulla), but he used his formidable compositional technique in service to the human voice, and produced masterpiece after masterpiece.

Just because a composition is popular, doesn't mean it's not a great work.

Of course I love Baroque opera (Rameau, Gretry, etc.), Monteverdi, and Richard Strauss (The final trio in Der Rosenkavalier is one of the finest vocal ensembles ever written.).

In fact, I'm listening to this outstanding new release right now:

Image
I take your points. Absolutely. Finally this just gets down to personal taste. At a program last year for our community music group one of my friends (who had studied opera singing in Italy) discussed and presented large excerpts from Verdi's "Othello". From what I could tell the composer seemed more sympathetic to Othello than I ever was, as a character. In my very first university essay on that play I came down very harshly on Othello and his behaviour, suggesting he was a jealous fool. The professor who marked it didn't agree with my thesis, but I stand by it to this day. And I felt it was well argued; just because he disagreed he marked me down (the only time that ever happened the whole time I was at university).

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by RebLem » Sat Dec 08, 2018 9:55 pm

Here's my baker's dozen: Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Verdi, Strauss, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich. Six more to make it 20: Schubert, Berlioz, Wagner, Puccini, Britten, and Copland.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by John F » Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:33 am

Belle wrote:At a program last year for our community music group one of my friends (who had studied opera singing in Italy) discussed and presented large excerpts from Verdi's "Othello". From what I could tell the composer seemed more sympathetic to Othello than I ever was, as a character.
You could say that Shakespeare too was "sympathetic" to Othello, as he gave the Moor that magnificent speech before the Venetian senate, telling the story of his life and how Desdemona came to love him. There's no time for this speech in Verdi's opera but bits of it are incorporated in the Act 1 love duet.

Shakespeare being Shakespeare, each character speaks and acts from his/her point of view, and Shakespeare doesn't judge them - he leaves that to the audience. The same, I think, is true in Verdi's opera, whose libretto by Boito is very close to Shakespeare; the music does not soften the effect but heightens it. An example is Otello's soliloquy "Had it pleased heaven / To try me with affliction," which in the opera is "Dio! Mi potevi scagliar."


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOzxrf_LS68

That we hear the anguish Otello is suffering does not make his behavior sympathetic, but it makes him human - as with Shakespeare.
John Francis

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Lance » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:35 am

In re-reading my comments below Tomassini's quote, I began to wonder about why I do not have the fascination of music composed during the Renaissance period (1400-1600) or the Medieval period. I am, therefore, far more attracted to music from the Baroque through the other periods to about 1940 (and some far beyond that into the 20th century). One can recognize the genius of composers such as Monteverdi or Josquin, but as that music pours through the brain, it does not have the same affect as music from the later periods. We all know the work of Canada's brilliant pianist, Glenn Gould. He delved into a broad coverage of music that included William Byrd up to Strauss and beyond so it appears his attraction was all-embracing. So, tell me, what am I missing, and do others feel this same way?
Lance wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 1:21 pm
Quoted:
"[Tommasini] has expanded his list of indispensable composers from 10 to 17, all, it seems safe to say, unarguably great: Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok. While I would quarrel with omissions like Mahler, Vivaldi, Liszt, Janacek, Mussorgsky, Berg, Shostakovich, it would be wrong to assume Tommasini disparages those left out of his top 17."

At least he has included (for me) among the most important composers by usually anybody's standards. I could well do without Monteverdi, Schoenberg, Berg and Bartok :( and I would have rather had seen Vivaldi, Liszt (who was/is greater than many people believe) and certainly Mahler should have been included. Just my personal preferences, and we all know one cannot please everyone with a volume like this. There could be a sequel, and Tommasini could have chosen 25 composers and covered much more ground. I like the way Tommasini writes, but I'm not sure this would be a volume for me.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by John F » Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:14 am

Lance wrote:I do not have the fascination of music composed during the Renaissance period (1400-1600) or the Medieval period.
Me neither. I don't wonder why, it's just the way I am. My father, who taught college courses in Shakespeare and Chaucer, had some interest in English Renaissance music and some recordings of it, mainly lute songs and madrigals, but I seldom played them.
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Sun Dec 09, 2018 5:39 am

John F wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:33 am
Belle wrote:At a program last year for our community music group one of my friends (who had studied opera singing in Italy) discussed and presented large excerpts from Verdi's "Othello". From what I could tell the composer seemed more sympathetic to Othello than I ever was, as a character.
You could say that Shakespeare too was "sympathetic" to Othello, as he gave the Moor that magnificent speech before the Venetian senate, telling the story of his life and how Desdemona came to love him. There's no time for this speech in Verdi's opera but bits of it are incorporated in the Act 1 love duet.

Shakespeare being Shakespeare, each character speaks and acts from his/her point of view, and Shakespeare doesn't judge them - he leaves that to the audience. The same, I think, is true in Verdi's opera, whose libretto by Boito is very close to Shakespeare; the music does not soften the effect but heightens it. An example is Otello's soliloquy "Had it pleased heaven / To try me with affliction," which in the opera is "Dio! Mi potevi scagliar."


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOzxrf_LS68

That we hear the anguish Otello is suffering does not make his behavior sympathetic, but it makes him human - as with Shakespeare.
Having studied the play closely and taught it to senior students I've grown less sympathetic with Othello over the decades. I agree with Emilia, "O gull, o dolt; as ignorant as dirt". Something along those lines! And it's just not so readily 'accepted' these days to murder your wife!!! Sure makes a great story, though. I also taught "Medea"!! :roll: :twisted:

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Sun Dec 09, 2018 5:44 am

Lance wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:35 am
In re-reading my comments below Tomassini's quote, I began to wonder about why I do not have the fascination of music composed during the Renaissance period (1400-1600) or the Medieval period. I am, therefore, far more attracted to music from the Baroque through the other periods to about 1940 (and some far beyond that into the 20th century). One can recognize the genius of composers such as Monteverdi or Josquin, but as that music pours through the brain, it does not have the same affect as music from the later periods. We all know the work of Canada's brilliant pianist, Glenn Gould. He delved into a broad coverage of music that included William Byrd up to Strauss and beyond so it appears his attraction was all-embracing. So, tell me, what am I missing, and do others feel this same way?
Lance wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 1:21 pm
Quoted:
"[Tommasini] has expanded his list of indispensable composers from 10 to 17, all, it seems safe to say, unarguably great: Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok. While I would quarrel with omissions like Mahler, Vivaldi, Liszt, Janacek, Mussorgsky, Berg, Shostakovich, it would be wrong to assume Tommasini disparages those left out of his top 17."

At least he has included (for me) among the most important composers by usually anybody's standards. I could well do without Monteverdi, Schoenberg, Berg and Bartok :( and I would have rather had seen Vivaldi, Liszt (who was/is greater than many people believe) and certainly Mahler should have been included. Just my personal preferences, and we all know one cannot please everyone with a volume like this. There could be a sequel, and Tommasini could have chosen 25 composers and covered much more ground. I like the way Tommasini writes, but I'm not sure this would be a volume for me.
What's not to absolutely love about this!!?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaTbzwerpnM

I'm partial to religious music, so I guess that helps. This is a wonderful work, too: it almost is enough to get you thinking there really is a god!! Whether that is true or not, I'm certainly grateful for the music written by composers to the glory of god! This is music of incredible skill, sophistication and beauty:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RajAq0Yd-s4

And I love this. It helps a lot to absolutely adore basso continuo as a musical device and the incredible musical skills musicians needed to realize this music, often at short notice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_0FPs7tp20

And this a capella mass by Dufay, using a cantus from a well-known pre-existing secular melody. Dufay was only one of several composers to use this for a 'parody' mass: incredibly beautiful, ethereal and highly sophisticated use of counterpoint.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibSeyIbNGYA

And this, from closer to the time of Haydn and Mozart:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzOmPUu-F_M

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by John F » Sun Dec 09, 2018 8:03 am

If there's a concert of pre-Baroque music you want to attend, you need not fear that I'll buy the last ticket so you can't get in. :) Sorry, the only Monteverdi I really enjoy is "Incoronazione di Poppea," and that as done by real singers and a real conductor instead of early music specialists, at places like the Vienna State Opera. A performance I wish I could have attended:

Poppea: Sena Jurinac
Nerone: Gerhard Stolze
Ottavia: Margareta Lilowa
Ottone: Otto Wiener
Seneca: Carlo Cava
Arnalta: Hilde Rössl-Majdan
Drusilla & Pallas Athene: Gundula Janowitz
Lucano: Kurt Equiluz
Damigella: Olivera Miljakovic

Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Stage Director: Günther Rennert

Unfortunately this was done in the 1960s, and after the first three performances, the conductor was Hans Swarowsky. I did see "Poppea" in Aix-en-Provence in 1961, as follows:

Poppea: Jane Rhodes
Nerone: Robert Massard
Ottavia: Teresa Berganza
Ottone: Rolando Panerai
Seneca: Giorgio Tadeo
Arnalta: Carol Smith
Damigella: Mariella Adani
Lucano: Michel Hamel
Valletto: Jane Berbié

Conductor: Bruno Bartoletti
Stage Director: Michel Crochot

One of the performances was televised and here it is:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d53y180sOaM

I also saw it in Frankfurt ca. 1967 and a few years ago as performed by the Juilliard Opera Theater. I know what I like. :)
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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by maestrob » Sun Dec 09, 2018 10:08 am

Lance wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:35 am
In re-reading my comments below Tomassini's quote, I began to wonder about why I do not have the fascination of music composed during the Renaissance period (1400-1600) or the Medieval period. I am, therefore, far more attracted to music from the Baroque through the other periods to about 1940 (and some far beyond that into the 20th century). One can recognize the genius of composers such as Monteverdi or Josquin, but as that music pours through the brain, it does not have the same affect as music from the later periods. We all know the work of Canada's brilliant pianist, Glenn Gould. He delved into a broad coverage of music that included William Byrd up to Strauss and beyond so it appears his attraction was all-embracing. So, tell me, what am I missing, and do others feel this same way?
Lance wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 1:21 pm
Quoted:
"[Tommasini] has expanded his list of indispensable composers from 10 to 17, all, it seems safe to say, unarguably great: Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok. While I would quarrel with omissions like Mahler, Vivaldi, Liszt, Janacek, Mussorgsky, Berg, Shostakovich, it would be wrong to assume Tommasini disparages those left out of his top 17."

At least he has included (for me) among the most important composers by usually anybody's standards. I could well do without Monteverdi, Schoenberg, Berg and Bartok :( and I would have rather had seen Vivaldi, Liszt (who was/is greater than many people believe) and certainly Mahler should have been included. Just my personal preferences, and we all know one cannot please everyone with a volume like this. There could be a sequel, and Tommasini could have chosen 25 composers and covered much more ground. I like the way Tommasini writes, but I'm not sure this would be a volume for me.
Lance, I'm with you as far as music that I listen to regularly, which dates from the Baroque through the present. I've sung Tallis's famous Spem in Alium (for 40 voices: 8 groups of five parts each) and love his work, but I just don't listen regularly to that repertoire. My loss completely, I'm sure.

Belle, thank you for those youtube examples: I promise I will get to them shortly and enjoy them immensely. :D

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Re: The Greatest Composers Ever

Post by Belle » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:31 pm

John mentioned 'real singers' and not early music specialists: these people are the real deal, as these two superb singers demonstrate here: Jaroussky is a great singer (who also trained as a concert pianist)!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unb-z1KT3_c

The sound they deliver is proximate with what the people of that time would have heard. The glorious bc with theorbo, chittarone, lute and other early instruments provide that translucent sound I love so much.

Today I've been enjoying this concert of sacred music from medieval Spain, which clearly demonstrates the Moorish influence:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ios-NT0fNI

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