I guess Anthony Tommasini can do whatever he wants, but this whole Top 10 Composers thing just isn’t as fun as it should be somehow. Here are his rules: Western art music, starting at the Late Baroque, ending short of the contemporary period.
But what are we looking for? He says “The Greatest”? But what do we mean by Great? The Best? Personal favorites? Most influential, or innovative? I just think there would be a lot more room for discussion and interesting reasoning if we could narrow our criteria and widen our scope.
Luckily I can do things the way I want to in my own home… and you don’t have to suffer Mr. Tommasini’s pitiable performances of great repertoire as a consequence.*
So, I propose we get waaay meta here and do a Top 10 Top 10 lists re: composers. By “composers”, I mean people who express themselves in music by writing notes on paper (or a computer), using a Western musical notation (traditional scores, figured bass lines, lead sheets, etc.); this needn’t be their exclusive vocation or mode of expression. So, we could include Sufjan Stevens – but not Irving Berlin. By “lists”, I mean the following:
4. Top 10 Composers for Non-Concert Settings (NCS’s)
i.e. incidental music, dance, theater, film, etc…
6. Top 10 Genre Composers
i.e. Chopin: Piano Music; Sondheim: Musical Theater Songs; Cliff Colnot: Jingles for Chocolate Candies… we’re not looking to cover any specific genres here, just choosing composers who are really excellent in one particular field.
8. Top 10 BEST, i.e. Most Technically Accomplished Composers
10. Top 10 Personal Favorite Composers
This is a favorite game of mine and has very prescribed rules… to be explained hence.
The games begin tomorrow.
*[N.B. - and this is going to be a long one - wtf gives w/ AT's lackluster performances? Perhaps this is the ultimate declaration of naïveté, but wouldn't you expect a critic to have a little more sensitivity to things like color and emotion in his performances? Like as opposed to technical polish? I'm not saying that AT is a virtuoso performer, but his playing is clean enough... and yet it seems totally to lack substance. Isn't that artistic substance what he's supposed to be reviewing? It's definitely what I'm more interested in reading about.
Caveat: I do respect Mr. T for putting his skillz out there to be witnessed by all, which is a bold thing to do, esp. for a critic.
But speaking of critics as practitioners, let's just talk about Terry Teachout for a second, because I do respect him as a critic, I think he's a good writer, and I like the breadth that he presents on his blog. I also like his regularly posted, detailed philosophy and guidelines of how to get a regional production reviewed. But the other day, he tweeted this:
Isn't that kind of an embarrassing trove of 'firsts' for a man who's been reviewing theater for like 20 years or something? Critic as fan v. critic as practitioner... I'd better stop before this whole thing turns into a post about Pauline Kael.]