ain't baroque! :||
Don't Fix It

The Greatest

Note: By the end of this post I will ask you to create your own list of the top ten composers. I’m ruining the ending for you because I think it might be neat if you do it now, before you’re corrupted by my list or the NYT list or your grocery list or what have you. Just a thought. Thank you; good morning!

Hey, remember how I said the lynchpin of the Composer Cagematch! is not who you feel is the better composer but rather who you love more? Well, put a pin in it. We’re playing a new game now.

A couple weeks ago while at my grandmother’s house my family got into a discussion about who the greatest composers of all time were — greatest, not our favorites. (Yeah, my family has random chats about classical composers — just wait until I tell you about the great Dvorak’s Origins Argument of Thanksgiving 2011. That one still resurfaces from time to time.) My mom pulled up a list from The New York Times music critic to get his top 10. Take a gander here.

His list began with the traditional top three but then had me ducking a few curveballs — Brahms? Really? Then he said in his article he would expect such skepticism — and it got me thinking as to what MY top ten would be. Naturally I don’t mean to say I’m a completely impartial judge (I’d say the immediately preceding sentence already knocked me out of contention for that title), but in making such a list I think one would have to look at quality over blind adoration. You’ll see what I mean.*

So… for now, here’s my top ten. I betcha my list could change as early as tomorrow, but in this moment, here are what I call The Greatest:

  1. Bach
  2. Beethoven
  3. Mozart
  4. Stravinsky
  5. Schubert
  6. Bartok
  7. Shostakovich
  8. Handel
  9. Haydn
  10. Prokofiev

What I find most interesting about this exercise is less about who made it but who didn’t — or rather, which sorts of composers didn’t. I didn’t name a single composer outside the Austro-Hungarian or Soviet area; nary an opera composer to be found. This is the hole in my classical understanding; this teaches me where I need to go next to expand my repertoire — and maybe revise my list once I have.

Well? How do you feel about my list? I expect some fightin’ words as opinions must always create. And what about you? For bonus points, how has your list evolved? If I can remember, I want to make this list up again next year and see if it’s changed. Someone remind me in 11.5 months, okay?

* Do you SEE that? Do you SEE how I put Mozart at number 3, even though he makes me want to sic a fictionalized Salieri on him? He’s there because he was a genius, and even if I don’t dig most of his works, I can recognize that. Incidentally, this is also how I feel about Faulkner.


About Jenn

Despite being the former digital marketing intern at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Jenn German does not like Mozart. Beethoven could've totally beaten him up. Also she has an arts management graduate degree from American University, but this changes nothing.


9 thoughts on “The Greatest

  1. Wow, Jenn, there’s no Tchaikovsky or Brahms (You know, the guy with the cereal).
    Liszt I pretty much expect to not find, even though I believe he simply isn’t anyone’s Top 10 composer except for me.
    Wagner, Rachmaninov, Verdi–More people I would have considered.

    Posted by Chris McGovern | February 22, 2012, 8:11 am
  2. And hey, Grieg, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov,
    CHOPIN??? OMG, a top ten list is impossible when there’s so many that deserve to be on it.

    Posted by Chris McGovern | February 23, 2012, 7:58 am
  3. “nary an opera composer to be found”

    But you have the greatest opera composer of all time in spot number three. 😀

    Posted by Sheri | February 23, 2012, 8:07 am
  4. 1. Mozart
    2. Vivaldi
    3. Handel
    4. Verdi
    5. Chopin
    6. Dvořák
    7. Donizetti
    8. Shostakovich
    9. Bizet
    10. Rossini

    I did the first 10 composers who immediately came to mind as great, so this is a bit of a Freudian slip of a list. I’m a bit of an opera dweeb. Wowza.

    Posted by Mark J. | March 10, 2012, 8:30 pm
  5. Off the top of my head:
    1) Bach
    2) Beethoven
    3) Mozart
    4) Liszt
    5) Schubert
    6) Tchaikovsky
    7) Brahms
    8) Chopin
    9) Wagner
    10) Stravinsky
    That was a bit easier than I thought.

    Posted by Chris McGovern | March 10, 2012, 8:58 pm
  6. 1.)Bach…

    And if your not first.. your last.

    Posted by Joshua Baca | June 3, 2012, 4:52 am
  7. 1. Bach
    2. Purcell
    3. Brahms
    4. Handel
    5. Mozart
    6. Charpentier
    7. Vivaldi
    8. Schubert
    9. Britten
    10. Beethoven

    Posted by CCK (@20JahreCCK) | July 14, 2012, 7:24 pm
  8. Fascinating! I read that same NYT article when it came out and also wrote about it (plus made my own list). Amusing to realise how much debate it prompted! Maybe people just like listing things. Human nature et al.

    Posted by semanticmarmot | September 5, 2012, 9:18 am


  1. Pingback: The Best « If it ain't Baroque… - March 6, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: