For a couple of weeks now, New York Times‘ music critic Anthony Thomasini has been writing about how difficult it is to put together a list of the ten greatest composers of all time. On Sunday, he published his final list of The Greatest Composers.
As with most such lists that appear at the end of a year or a decade, Thomasini’s list should provide a starting point for a lot of friendly arguments.
Thomasini pretty much picked the same composers that I would have with the exception of his number 10: Bela Bartok (1881-1945). I’ve never really gotten his music.
In Bartok’s place I would have liked to see Frederick Chopin (1810-1849) recognized. Chopin was left out because he is pretty “one dimensional” as he didn’t write any operas, symphonies, chamber music, songs, etc.
Yes, Chopin wrote almost exclusively for the solo piano so I guess that you could say that he is “one dimensional”. But what a dimension! Incredible music that is both beautiful and challenging, not an easy combination to achieve.
Johann Sebastien Bach came out on top. No argument here. He was an incredible musical genius. His music will live on as long as there are people on earth to play and listen to it.
Spurred on by Thomasini’s articles about his List, I’ve been learning and relearning many Bach pieces: Inventions, Suites, Italian Concerto and the Well-Tempered Clavier. Most of these compositions I played as a young music major many years ago. Now, as a mature musician, I find them incredible expressions of the human spirit.
So, Bravo Bach and the other great composers — on and off the list — for your contributions to our culture and civilization.
Here’s a recording of Bach “Gigue” Fugue for Organ in G Major played be E. Power Biggs (1906-1977). Bach performed by Biggs was my inspiration as a young organist in High School and College. His performance here still gets my heart racing…