Reminder: Ecstatic Music Festival
Ecstatic Music Festival: Week 1 Pics

Tony's Top 10

The GreatestFor those who care, Tony Tommasini just released his final list of the Top 10 Composers of all time in this morning's Times. As some of you will remember from my own Top 20 list a couple of weeks ago, I disagree with Tony on a number of fronts, not the least of which is his refusal to include any living composers (though as the Times' Chief Music Critic, I can understand his not wanting to piss off anyone he might know personally.) And, you just have to laugh at his rationale for putting Verdi - who didn't even make my list - above Wagner:

"Verdi was a decent man, an Italian patriot and the founder of a retirement home for musicians still in operation in Milan. Wagner was an anti-Semitic, egomaniacal jerk who transcended himself in his art."

Note to Tony: if we were to eliminate Assholes from any list of the World's Greatest Artists, the museums, theaters and libraries in this country would be half-empty. At least.

Anyway, here's the list, in order:

  1. Bach
  2. Beethoven
  3. Mozart
  4. Schubert
  5. Debussy
  6. Stravinsky
  7. Brahms
  8. Verdi
  9. Wagner
  10. Bartok

More than half of these guys (sadly, there are no women on either of our lists) show up on my own list, which is frankly more than I expected. And, in retrospect, I do regret leaving off Debussy, who wrote some really unique, radical stuff that led the way for folks like Ravel and Boulez.

But, Mozart, Schubert and Verdi? No. Engaging and delightful as their creations might be, these guys wrote music for hire, not for eternity. They were craftsmen first, artists second. One could say the same of Bach, who approached composing as an occupation rather than as a calling, but Bach still managed to wield profound influence on his successors (albeit 100 years after his death.)

Who would I replace those three with? How about we start with Messiaen, who was arguably the most ecstatic and wondrous composer in history? Are we really going to leave Mahler - whose music was delivered wholesale from a realm beyond our understanding - off this list? And, anyone who prefers Verdi to Puccini seriously needs their head examined. (Wagner, after listening to Verdi's Requiem, put it simply: "It would be best not to say anything.")

I'm still not entirely sure what the point of this whole exercise was, but if nothing else, it did ignite some fierce debate: over 1,500 music lovers (incl. your's truly) took the time to write in with their own variously considered lists/ complaints/ grievances. So, at the very least, it's good to know people still give a damn.

Thoughts? Comments? Fire away.

P.S. You can vote for your own Top 10 (from a weirdly-selective list) here