I’m Really Ticked!!
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    Yesterday and today represented the final countdown of favorite composers according to NPR. Yesterday was Bach (#2) and today was Beethoven (#1). This is purely political and anti-scientific. Beethoven IS NOT a better composer than Bach. This may be the results of a popular vote, but it is not an objective reality. It is also symptomatic of why concert halls program music from the classical era far more than the baroque or earlier eras. NPR also subscribes to this catering to the populace in its programming.

    OK… rock is more popular than jazz… Doesn’t make it objectively a superior form.

    How do YOU vote?

    So, here I propose an unofficial survey of the forum…

    Who is the “best” composer? Bach or Beethoven?
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    I am not at all surprised by that result, but am pleasantly surprised Bach reached #2. You should be pleased Mozart didn't. I certainly would place Bach above Beethoven in my preferences*. Each had different patrons, and different temporal milieus for bringing out their best talents; who knows how each would have developed with the patrons and milieus of the others?

    The cognate in painting is treating Beethoven like Michelangelo, Mozart like Raphael, and Franz Haydn like Da Vinci. Or perhaps Haydn is like Tallis, Byrd is like Mozart, and O Gibbons is Beethoven?

    Beethoven was a Catholic; Bach was not (though one of his greatest works was for the Saxon court that had adopted Catholicism as a formality to become eligible for the elective monarchy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). James McMillan offered some thoughts on the Catholicity of Beethoven for the Catholic Herald: https://catholicherald.co.uk/its-often-forgotten-that-beethoven-was-a-profoundly-catholic-composer/

    * I can listen to this forever; I don't I could say that about anything by Beethoven: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK7VItt-E6M
    Thanked by 2francis CHGiffen
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    I wasn’t surprised either, but I was definitely Pee ode!
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    Excellence in the arts does not discriminate according to one’s religion. I always disregard that ruse. Wagner’s music supports a demonic cult, but that does not cancel out the God gifted genius bestowed upon him. Same with Stravinsky… he exalted a satanic ritual, but the music is genius. I suppose you could also say Lucifer is also a genius, but his intended end is deceptive and deadly… and then eternally fatal.

    True Beauty is a reflection of the Almighty in every facet... theologically, spiritually, and artistically. Some (even ignorant of their omniscient benefactor) embrace beauty (in its artistic expression) even if they don’t know it’s very origin as they struggle towards the epiphany. Hendrix was another example of a modern Wagner of sorts.

    In short sentence, one’s religion does not make the ART great.. it can, however make the ARTIST a purer reflection of the truth in the beautiful… the marriage of the two.

    Our Lady is the perfection of Beauty married to Truth… “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.”

    We certainly lost an immense “truth married to beauty” because Bach was not a Catholic… his art would then have elevated the Roman Rite to a supreme expression which now only raises the mark of a theological question, or an enigma of Faith.

    The “Catholic Beethoven” doesn’t hold a candle to The “Lutheran Bach” when one is assessing artistic genius. We must always beware (be aware) of the facets of the gems on display.
  • Francis -

    Let us be thankful that concert halls offer Mozart and Beethoven more than Bach.
    A modern symphony orchestra is no medium for Bach, nor, as well, for Mozart.
    Stowkovsty hilariously showed us that!
  • A friend of mine says of NPR that it sounds professional and reasonable and balanced until it reports on something you know well. Francis' anecdote is another data point in that ledger, confirming the dictum.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    Let us be thankful that concert halls offer Mozart and Beethoven more than Bach.
    A modern symphony orchestra is no medium for Bach, nor, as well, for Mozart.
    I’m not sure I understand your reasoning. The medium should not dictate the content. The shape of the lips should not determine the words to be spoken. But that is precisely how the world operates to its own demise… Or at least it’s own banal descent into mediocrity and arrival to the state of irrelevance.

    Artless interpretations make us all yawn. The interpreter should leave .. the composer should stay.

    (Did you mean Stokowski?) the concert halls are plagued with stokowskis.

    The last time I went to a concert hall was years ago and it was, of course, Beethoven’s ninth… again. They were tickets passed on to me from a friend And it was a world class orchestra. However, I did have another free ticket before that and heard the same orchestra perform Holst planets. That was an experience.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    I should tell you this story.

    Four days ago my son sent me a video and asked me to identify the composer. I told him it was Beethoven and sent him a link to a video of a performance of The second(?) movement of moonlight sonata... You know… the one with the mad raging pianistic gymnastics.

    Da da da da, Da da da da, Da da da da, DA DA! (Repeat same fig on different chords)

    I mildly expressed my lack of exuberance for the composer and mentioned that Bach is better. He said, “I really like this”. I said “that’s good.”

    Then the survey on NPR happened a couple days later. So today I had to call him and tell him that he had won. Apparently I was wrong… Bach is second and Beethoven is first. He then said, “I hope this doesn’t change our relationship”. I chuckled and thought, “no, and definitely not my mind.”
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,169
    Methinks, Francis, that you are referring to the 3rd movement (the finale) of the Moonlight Sonata. The 2nd movement is a delightful little Allegretto im dreiviertal Takt.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    Tnx CHG… wasn’t sure.
  • I have long argued that Bach is king, and I think this is due to a few things. Firstly, one can argue that if there was no Bach, some of what came after couldn’t have been. He paved many ways, and expanded every genre he touched with perfect mastery. And his output is rarely matched. He also perfectly synthesized an entire age/movement and undoubtedly sits at its zenith (Baroque). Chromatically he burst the dam, and he can do text painting like nobody’s business (think of his Passions, for instance). He essentially invented the modern symphony (Brandenburgs were unprecedented, imho). He expanded keyboard technique substantially (one could possibly argue this for string technique as well, although I’m less informed in this regard). His counterpoint is like that of a famed Flanders tapestry; every single thread sits perfectly: each part has perfect clarity and interest int its own right, and yet is equally subservient to the whole. While much of his music is very florid and 'baroque' in the finest sense of the term, he also knew how to write hauntingly beautiful (and simple) melodies. Some of his adagios are some of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Even after centuries of development, he is still considered the undisputed master of an entire instrument (organ) and his music is perfectly modern and ‘contemporary’ to the instrument. It has stood the test of time and all other organ music is still measured against it.

    And lastly: scores (pun intended) of great composers turned toward him and considered his works as of the utmost value and importance. Mendelssohn, Schumann, Mozart, Franck, Dupré, Widor, and on and on and on all thought that to study his music was essential to grasping the “‘musical world”. If these other men that we list among ‘the greats’ (and there are many more than I listed) esteemed him so highly themselves, that should tell us something. The same goes true for many great performers (various instruments, but especially keyboard instruments). If the greatest organists, pianists, violinists, and cellists the world have ever known prize his music among the most precious and revered… well, that speaks volumes. We call these other people geniuses in their own right, and they in return revere Bach as far greater than themselves. Your honor, I rest my case.

    All I know is his Magnificat is my desert island piece. (Added bonus is I get to bring loads of friends to the island with me lol.)
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    Listened to the whole sonata today. I forgot about that nice little second movement.

    I like the last chord of the third movement. Seriously. I like the muddy ness of Beethoven bass chords. I do employ that uniquely Beethoven device in my own comps.
    Thanked by 1kenstb
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    Personally, I find FJ Haydn rather underappreciated these days, even if I personally love JS Bach more. If one were to gather JS Bach, GF Handel, Domenico Scarlatti (the three late Baroque greats born in 1685), and Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven together in an appropriate hall with resources for their respective music, I believe they would have a great jam, and that it would be Haydn who would grease the interpersonal wheels for this to happen (the greats of the 15th-early 17th centuries would have to jam together in another empyrean). I would love to have Haydn's music piped into the commodities and securities exchange floors of the world - as he is the Apostle of Sanity in Western music. [https://youtu.be/qoWdtGUe5fc?t=417 ]

    All this said, NPR only reportage was to report the results of the survey, not to decide them. A survey that puts JS Bach so high is hardly the most egregious such survey. I doubt Bach would have ranked nearly so highly a century ago, and certainly not two centuries ago. Even 250 years ago, IIRC, certain of his sons were ranked the greatest of the Bach dynasty.

    Meanwhile, I [heart] Wm Byrd. [And Glenn Gould's favorite composer was, notoriously, Orlando Gibbons. I can appreciate the love for his music. How can one not love someone who could pen this?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9pE5vrgBHQ ]
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    Bach was the last gasp of the excesses of polyphony before it crashed. You either like that music or you don't. While I listen to and even play some Bach, some of it I don't care for at all. Too many clashing melodies, run-on tunes that seemingly never end, and basically, formula music with little soul - fugues, especially. It reflects the philosophies and structures of a time politically and socially that is long gone. Time marches on, as the cartoons of my childhood often noted, and I am glad it did/does. It is great to have hundreds of years of music to listen to and play without stagnating in one period of music history.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,225
    All I know is his Magnificat is my desert island piece.


    Good choice. But I'll take RVW's Ode to Music.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    Dad, I think we have both been thrown out of the powdered wig society. ;-)
    Thanked by 1dad29
  • TCJ
    Posts: 977
    You can replace your powdered wig with some tar and feathers. :)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    Nah, we'll save the feathers for the chant bangers.
  • I find FJ Haydn rather underappreciated these days
    So do I. Listen to Die Schöpfung (creation) and you’ll realize he directly paved the way for the great symphonists right after him. His genius is truly humbling. There’s also a wonderful sense of humor to his music. He appears to have been a genuinely holy man, too.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    I have high regard for Haydn. Some of Mozart's supposed church music is too theatrical for actual church use. Haydn wrote some beautiful "church" works that are appropriate.
    Thanked by 2Carol kenstb
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    I've been puzzled how this classical earworm was not adapted into a congregational Alleluia or Amen:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QySbhySoCtY
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • Don't give budding composers any ideas!
  • I'll put Bach over Beethoven simply because when Bach doesn't have the entire choir at the top of the staff for 30 minutes (hi Beethoven 9)
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    I also defintely find Haydn more interesting and inventive
  • I distinctly remember the first time I sang Haydn: the university chorus of my Alma mater was rehearsing the Kyrie from the Lord Nelson Mass, and I recall thinking: “Wow, this music is awesome. I wish I could sing stuff like this all the time.”
  • It's just a popular poll, it's not scientific research. Chalk it up to one more thing NPR gets wrong :)

    I used to live in the territory of WQXR, the classical station out of NYC, and they had a classical countdown every new years eve, selected by online voting. However, in recent years I would come across them playing Ride of the Valkyries only to follow it up with, "and that's Wagner, whose Ring cycle came in #x in our countdown"...I seem to remember from my youth that they would play each piece that was selected in its entirety, 24 hours a day (rather than a few hours in the middle of the day as they do now). I can completely be misremembering that, but I seem to recall the countdown taking however long it took, based on the pieces included. That was at least more honest of a poll.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    Actually it is amazing that Bach topped Mozart… I always thought Mozart was the popular number one.
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 264
    Personally, I find FJ Haydn rather underappreciated these days


    I have always wanted to sing the Gloria from the Klein Orgel mass. I have an ordinary who likes to keep the trains running on time. I would really like to see the expression on his face when he realizes that the Gloria is over in a minute.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GO3WjU_cR4


    Thanked by 1francis
  • francis
    Posts: 10,707
    Well, that is a really cool Gloria.
  • I overall agree that Bach is the greatest composer (and likely even musician) who ever lived. His genius and cleverness in counterpoint is astounding and awe-inspiring. Like Beethoven said, though his name means "brook", it really should have been ocean, for he produced an ocean of harmony.

    That said, given that he is not God, in my humble estimation, he sometimes has some defect. I can't recall any off hand, but I know I've heard some pieces of his before that seem to sacrifice natural, raw beauty for the sake of consistent theory and technique. (This was a criticism that existed in his own time.) As far as that natural and melodious aspect of music goes, I give the cred to Handel (whom Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven all worshipped.)

    CharlesW, I'm sorry you're not into the fugues -- they are probably my favorites!
  • Fugues are my favorites too!

    And as far as weaving a melody goes, I'd probably tip my hat towards Tchaikovsky or even Mendelssohn.
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    Melodies are one thing; harmonies are another - and both need to be considered in vocal composition. Remember, Handel's purgatory is being needled by generations of choral tenors, given his too frequent use of a tenor line to fill out chords.

    Mendelssohn's choral voice leading is pretty solid; he had a fine sensitivity to what ordinary choral singers would feel confident singing, rather than writing fundamentally from the keyboard, the bane of good choral writing. I have sung one choral sacred music anthem by Tchaikovsky but otherwise am not familiar with his sacred choral music. What is melodious for an instrument is not necessarily as melodious in the human voice (i.e., the Bach problem mentioned above.)
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • writing fundamentally from the keyboard, the bane of good choral writing

    Indeed.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores