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The Top 10 Classical Music Composers

Anthony Tommasini, music critic of the New York Times, has compiled a list of the top 10 classical music composers. This is not just a list plucked from the air, in the manner of the protagonist of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (who makes endless lists of songs. Rather, Mr Tommasini has polled readers, and provides ample justification for the inclusion of each composer on the list. Such lists are always subjective, but this is interesting because it has caused a stir amongst musicologists by seeming to give credibility to the idea of a classical Top Ten. Readers will, I am sure, have their own top 10, and I would be more than happy to hear about them!

See the list and read the accompanying article, including Mr Tommasini’s justification for inclusion of particular composers here

For what it’s worth, here is my own list (it is biased towards composers for the piano, of course):

1. Bach – obviously. The Grandfather of them all.

2. Haydn. Father of the symphony and ‘sonata’ as we understand it today. Beethoven’s teacher.

3. Mozart.

4. Beethoven. A revolutionary.

5. Schubert. Had a major impact on those that followed him, particularly Wagner, Mahler, Berlioz. Bridged the Classical and Romantic periods.

6. Chopin. Took the piano to its absolute limits and forced pianists to rethink the way the instrument was made and used. Helped in development of modern piano as we understand it today. Particularly influenced Debussy, Syzmanowski.

7. Liszt. Do not underestimate the wide-ranging influence of Franz Liszt.

8. Stravinsky. Father of 20th century ‘modern’ music.

9. Debussy. Impressionist and symbolist. Did incredible things with the piano – forget it’s a piano when playing his music!

10. Bartok. Draws on folk traditions and “the people’s music”.

 

The Piano Survey

Last year, I participated in several surveys of piano teachers in the UK, aimed at gathering more information about how many piano teachers are active currently, and the mode and method of piano teaching, as well as other related areas such as fees, average age/gender of students, study books used, teacher qualifications and ongoing professional development.

This preliminary survey, conducted by Sally Cathcart of The Oxford Piano Group, contains some diverting statistics. I was particularly interested to learn that piano teaching in the UK is unregulated, though many of us belong to professional bodies such as EPTA (European Piano Teachers’ Association), or ISM (Incorporated Society of Musicans). What troubles me is the lack of protection for music teachers in the event of an ‘incident’ or difficulties between teacher and pupil, from simple issues such as collecting overdue fees, to more serious accusations of ‘inappropriate’ behaviour and child abuse.

The Piano Survey – Preliminary Analysis Report

The Oxford Piano Group

How Musical Are You?

This groundbreaking study aims to reveal the musical abilities of the nation and help redefine what it means to be musical. (BBC Lab UK site)

The test, which takes about 25 minutes to complete, comprises questions and listening exercises (for those who have been through the treadmill of graded exams, these will be quite familiar!). It is quite fun – in fact, it is very interesting – and at the end you are presented with a colourful pie-chart indicating your musical awareness, and your scores for the listening games. The test results are being analysed by a team from Goldsmiths’ College, University of London.

I was relieved to find that I scored highly, particularly in categories such as “Enthusiasm for Music”, “Musical Curiosity”, and “Social Creativity”. My aural tests were pretty secure too – a good score for a piano teacher!

To take the test, click on this link.

Less Ambitious Operas

There’s an amusing, silly season thread doing the rounds on Twitter at the moment called “Less Ambitious Operas” (search tag #lessambitiousoperas). Here are some of my favourites (and some of my own):

Boris Not Quite Good Enough

The Love of Two Pears

The Tweets of Hoffman

Flu in Venice

La Spinta Gentile del Destino (The Gentle Push of Destiny)

Dildo and Aeneas

Nixon in China Town

The Semi-Functional Flute

Einstein on the Couch

Infidelio

The Floor Sweeper of Seville

Orpheus in the Cupboard Under the Stairs

The Mild Embarrassment of Faust

The One-Penny Melody

The One Night Stand of Figaro

The Turn of the Corkscrew

I could go on (and on)……….but I won’t. Plenty more on Twitter, or add your own in the comments box.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

“I believe that the only excuse we have for being musicians is to make it differently” – Glenn Gould

Whatever you may think about Canadian pianist Glenn Gould – genius, nutcase, eccentric – his life remains fascinating, partly because he was at once both enigmatic and open. He was extremely articulate about his music, as well as many other subjects, including art, poetry and philosophy, yet his interior life remains clouded by his eccentricities: the pills,  the scarves, the funny chair his dad made for him. This new film attempts to go beyond all the myths and misconceptions, and, from what I can tell from the official trailer, will be as insightful, perhaps more so, as Bruno Monsaingeon’s wonderful 2006 film ‘Hereafter’.

For North American readers, you can access the film online until 11 January here. For the rest of us, for the time being there is the official trailer, and then the release of this award-winning and highly-praised film on DVD in the UK in late March (pre-order from Amazon).

Genius Within – official website of the film

Bruno Monsaingeon’s website

The 12 Days of Mozart

Radio 3 is currently revelling in a major Mozart-fest, by broadcasting “every note he wrote” between now and January 12th. It has been a pleasure to tune in intermittently during the day and hear excerpts from his operas, choral works, symphonies, piano music, chamber music, and much more, reminding us of his immense and varied output, and in yesterday’s Breakfast show (presented by Rob Cowan), listeners were treated to a truly wonderful live performance by the Heath Quartet of the Divertimento in D major, K.136, which surely is a first for the Breakfast programme. (You can find a full programme listing and listen again here)

Other delights include Play Mozart for Me, a late-night request programme presented by Sarah Mohr-Pietsch. Listeners are invited to send in their requests, and to write to Sarah with thoughts on their favourite Mozart pieces, or why Mozart is important to them, or indeed any other personal ‘Mozartiana’. There are lunchtime concerts, evening performances, blogs and forums – and there is even a Mozart Mash-up where you can download 20 Mozart fragments, and create your own 60 second “mash up” (I am downloading the material as I write – just for fun). The best clips will be broadcast (and if my own mash up is successful, I will add a soundclip to this blog).

All this Mozart-mania suggests that “Wolfie” remains perennially popular, and Radio 3’s plethora of programmes and related articles, videos, blogs, interviews seems a great way to encourage more people to discover him. Many of us had our first encounters with his music as young children or novice students. Some of his earliest, most youthful piano pieces (many of which were written before he’d reached his teens) appear in the syllabuses of the early graded music exams, and I am sure most of us can recall a Fantasia or Sonata or two which we learnt when we were more advanced pianists.

While Mozart may be master of the Classical period, Franz Liszt, the bicentenary of whose birth is celebrated this year, is undoubtedly king of the Romantics. Let us hope Radio 3 finds a way to celebrate this all too-often misunderstood and under-represented composer with similar panache and enthusiasm.

For more on Radio 3’s Genius of Mozart season click here.