|Yeah. This one's easy!|
In the previous post, Anthony Tomassini's ten greatest composers list was proffered. His criteria (previously unlinked here) noted that:
I am focusing on Western classical music. There are compelling arguments against honoring this classification. Still, giants like George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Stephen Sondheim are outside my purview here. And on the assumption that we are too close to living composers to assess their place and their impact, I am eliminating them from consideration.
Finally, I am focusing on the eras since the late Baroque. You could make a good case for Josquin or Monteverdi, but I won’t. The traditions and styles were so different back then as to have been almost another art form. I’m looking roughly at the era an undergraduate survey of Western civilization might define as modern history.
So..........he choose a safe(r) and easier route, much simpler than I will be traveling. I'm not going to ignore the giants of the Renaissance. In fact, a work by Josquin--possibly the most influential work of his time--has found its way to my short list. And, I'm going to try not to exclude the music of our time. That said, that might necessitate a "top ten" list of its own.
There are starting points that one might consider, however. A website greatestclassicalmusicever offers the "50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music." While their compilation seems innocuous enough--introducing the uninitiated to classical music, it begins with many of the usual suspects.
1. Ludwig Van Beethoven - Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op.67: I. Allegro con brio
With its immortal opening four-note theme (“Fate knocking”), Beethoven's 5th Symphony is one of the most instantly-recognizable pieces of Classical music. It is widely regarded as one of the most important works of its time and has been riffed on by everyone from Snoopy to Robyn Thicke, even being made into a disco hit!
Hmm. A reasonable argument might be made here, at least for its inclusion on any list, but not for its immediate "recognition" factor. There's a lot more to it that Snoopy and Robyn Thicke (whatever the heck that reference is). Right now, I'm engaged in a listening/studying project framed on the string quartets: more on that later; I'm only through the first three. But therein, I believe, is the greatness of Beethoven.
2. Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons, Concerto No. 1 ‘Spring' (Op.8 No. 1): I. Allegro
The Four Seasons is Vivaldi’s best-known work and one of the best known pieces in all of Classical music. The opening of Concerto No. 1 "Spring" is a bouncy, cheerful tune which has been used in many forms of mainstream entertainment.
Tell me we're kidding. As the story goes, Vivaldi wrote either some 600 concertos or the same one 600 times. This is turning into a popularity contest.
|The Red Priest: the ultimate recycler?|
|Handel: Rumor has it....|
One of the most recognizable pieces in Handel's Messiah highlights and in all of Classical music, Handel's "Hallelujah" if featured in Part II of his Messiah oratorio which covers the Passion, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus.
Great word painting and a study in how to use texture to set a text....the ascending soprano line toward the big finish (signifying the resurrection) is a thing of wonder.
4. Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture, Op.49 (conclusion)
|Pete: made the news in Fall 2013|
Written in 1880 to commemorate Russia's defense against Napoleon's army in 1812, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture is mostly recognizable by its climactic ending featuring cannon fire, ringing chimes and brass fanfare.
Surely another joke. I'm certain that old Pete is probably sorry that this is his most well known composition.
5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Ave verum corpus, K.618
Mozart was unquestionably one of the greatest composers of all time, a talent unlike any other. He wrote the Ave verum corpus for his friend Anton Stoll who was the musical coordinator in the parish of Baden bei Wien, near Vienna. This piece was written less than 6 months before Mozart’s death.
One of Mozart's most beautiful little "gems." But why "Ave verum" when compared to the vast canon of Wolfie's masterworks? Anyone heard of La Nozze di Figaro or the Requiem?
|Amadeus actually brought fame to Salieri...|
6. Johann Sebastian Bach - Toccata: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565
The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is easily one of the most famous pieces in the Organ works - famously featured in the Walt Disney classic Fantasia (and haunted houses around the world!). The piece has a dark, spooky feel to it, particularly the striking opening motif.
7. Ludwig Van Beethoven - 'Ode to Joy' from Symphony No. 9 in D minor 'Choral' The 'Ode to Joy' theme from the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony is a stirring, transcendent melody which speaks of the spiritual brotherhood shared by all people, and the joy of life. The symphony itself is an eighty-minute journey from darkness to light, its choral finale unprecedented at the time Beethoven wrote it. The story goes that Beethoven, sitting in the front row at the premiere, was so deaf at that point that his friend had to turn him around in order to see the furiously applauding audience.
Actually, the tune itself is rather banal; I often tell my students that any of us could have written it (unfortunately, for posterity's sake, we didn't). And Schiller's poetry? Let's not go there. All of this being said, conducting the work was among the high points of my career.
8. Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings, Op.11
Often described as the "saddest classical work ever", Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings has an almost inexorable quality in the slow, steady upward movement of the haunting melody towards the hair-raising climax, before finally settling back to the subdued sorrow of the opening. The piece was famously featured in the film Platoon, and was played at the funerals of Albert Einstein, Princess Grace of Monaco and during the announcements of the deaths of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
A toughy, although the argument could be made that the work is actually the slow movement from a string quartet. I often wonder how it fits within the other three: I've never heard them.
9. Edvard Grieg - Prelude (Morning): Peer Gynt
Edvard Grieg composed Peer Gynt as incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play of the same name. A short piece of this work, Morning, which depicts a sunrise, is one of the most instantly recognizable pieces in music as it has been used in many different forms of entertainment, most notably in the Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny.
Um, no. It's included here because of a relation to Bugs Bunny? That would open the door for a variety of better pieces, including "The Rabbit of Seville" and "What's Opera, Doc?"
|Grieg: Percy Grainger's favorite|
Rachmaninov gained immense popularity as a concerto composer and this was his most popular piece. You can hear the melody used in Eric Carmen's popular hit “All By Myself.'
Again the writers are noting a work's greatness because somebody else swiped the tune for a pop song. Not good enough for me.
|Good ol' Rach. Like Fritz Reiner,|
did he ever smile?
- The work has stood the "test of time." How much time? 50 years? 100 years? Even more? While this might be a consideration, is would also necessitate inclusion of not-so-great works such as Pachelbel's infamous canon, heard here in a completely different guise. And how does the test of time affect much more recent works?
- The work has been influential upon other composers and their works. Hmm. This is a toughy. Great arguments could be made for the impact of the wind works of Mozart on composers such as Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, and others. But, however much I may love the Gran Partita, it doesn't hold a candle to the Mozart/da Ponte operas.
- The work in question was either (1) highly original for its time, or (2) summed up all that could be said regarding the time in which it was composed. What single piece ended what is known as the Romantic period? Beethoven is considered both a Classicist and a Romantic. Where did he turn the corner?
- Then there is the genre question: can we (I) safely compare Josquin's Ave Maria...virgo serena to Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen? I very well may try....
Thus, it's inherently obvious that my exploration and decision is going to take time and very serious contemplation. Oh well, another day, another list.....