Sunday, January 09, 2011

Top Ten? Oh Really?

Anthony Tommasini seems to have forgotten all about the composers of the Renaissance (and the Middle Ages, for that matter) in his top ten list. Shame on him for omitting Palestrina, Josquin, or Monteverdi, even on a very short list.


Anonymous said...

Hi Elaine,

I find it totally absurd to see that Wagner didn't even make the photo cut... Yes, I know that the editor was involved here and not Tommasini but still.

I will be fuming if Mr. Tommasini doesn't give the wizard of Bayreuth a very extensive write-up in this series.

Elaine Fine said...

Brahms, Schoenberg, and even Debussy would agree. Mahler would too, but he didn't make the cut. So would Richard Strauss (oh look, he's not there either)!

Jeff Dunn said...

I read the now over 700 comments on Tommasini's NYT blog and noted that, as ever, there are those people hopelessly stuck in their prejudices, e.g., the Schoenberg haters, the Dvorak belittlers, the Tchaikovsky fanatics and detractors, the Wagnerphiles and phobes. Fortunately, a majority can recognize that their taste may differ from others without taking offense.

Anonymous said...

Anon and Jeff,

For me, Wagner's real failing was an inability to edit, to cut down to the essential. It's self-indulgent. I mean, how many hours do you really need to explore a musical (or dramatic) idea? How much of a "distillation process" do composers undertake before they reach the point when "no more should be cut, and no more should be added"? Of course, there is no answer: it's all part of the subjective creative (and editorial) genius that drives each composer.

But what makes a work of art great, in my book, is the ability to distill the wheat from the chaff. This requires a critical eye, indeed a 'self-critical' eye -- something Wagner lacked.

Don't get me wrong. For me, Wagner delivers plenty of wheat, and there are moments here and there that are among the most beautiful ever written, but he also leaves in far too much chaff. If his ego had been less great, perhaps he wouldn't have been as prominent an artist, true. But he also might have been a greater one.


Elaine Fine said...

Wagner was manipulative. Wagner was a horrible boor. I heard student orchestras play the overture to Die Meistersinger, and from that I decided that I really didn't think much of Wagner's music. I thought it was overblown, square, and altogether too brassy.

Then I had the opportunity to play the Prelude to Parsifal, and I couldn't believe how deeply exciting a piece by Wagner could be. Then I saw the Karajan film of Das Reingold, and was hooked.

I admit that I do have trouble with Wagner's libretti, and the way he writes for the voice, but he creates characters that challenge great singing actors, and he uses orchestral color as a way to direct the emotional content. A singer playing a part in a Wagner opera is compelled by the composer to play the part in a limited number of ways. Wagner is always in control.

Verdi (who is also not on Tomassini's list) is just the opposite of Wagner. He writes in ways that allow a singer to really interpret, to really own a role. Verdi certainly learned a few tricks from Wagner (consider Otello), but his concept of the theater was totally different. He had respect for his collaborators (his librettists, his singers, and his conductors), and his role was not to project himself and his ego onto every aspect of what's happening on the stage. He was just the composer, and was part of an amazing tradition.

Anonymous said...

The article speaks of "some candidates," and does not much elaborate how many candidates are supposedly included in this very silly ranking.

Given the greatest of so many composers, the question itself seems odd. People exhibit taste, but taste alone is no criteria by which to measure a public.

Truth be told, if the list was long enough to include all the great composers, the Tommasini article would have to be larger than his media would allow.

But here's a least favorite question of mine: "Which is your favorite......?"

And yet I have read a "scholarly" journal which purported to discuss whether Bach was greater than Beethoven. It proves academics have too much time on their hands.

A steady diet of any one composer leaves me wanting other flavors too.

As to Wagner, some of us would take exception with the general view that singing it leaves Wagner "in control." One must follow the intentions of a score, whether it be Wagner, Debussy or Schoenberg, and to my experience the modern avant garde attempts to be far more "in control" than old Wagner. Even when fiddling around with aleatoric options.

The list of "some" of my favorite composers is called an encyclopedia of music. But then the NYT is simply too short on space for that....