Over at the NY Times, Anthony Tommasini, chief classical music critic, has undertaken the challenge of naming the top ten composers of the Western notational tradition....no, wait. He hasn't. He's undertaken the challenge of naming the top ten composers of the Western notational tradition since the high Baroque.
Over at Sounds & Fury, A.C. Douglas is claiming Tommasini has big balls; he's also naming his own top ten, none of which will surprise you.
Both of youse: forget it.
For ACD: Tommasini gives it away in his opening paragraphs, where he talks about top ten and top 100 lists in other fields (best 100 books in English, best films, etc.). I'd bet that a Times editor dreamed up this stunt. The idea has nothing to do with Tommasini's guts or manhood, and he loses exactly nothing by going through with the exercise. It has to do with marketing: someone had the undoubtedly correct idea that a feature like this, spread out over a week or more, complete with video and audio examples, would attract eyes. I own that it's an entertaining exercise, at the very least.
For Tony: Dodging around the fact that this is an impossible task in the first place, I wish you hadn't weaseled out of including the whole of Western notational music history. What a chance to advocate for composers outside the mainstream symphonic / chamber music canon, and introduce Times readers to composers new to them. Damn right you can make a case for including Josquin and Monteverdi in that list; also Hildegard of Bingen, Guillaume de Machaut, Guillaume Dufay, and many others.
It is especially crazy to omit Monteverdi, who operates right on the edge between the Renaissance and the modern. He didn't invent opera, but he wrote operas that are in a class with Mozart's; he wrote great secular works and great sacred works.
I'm more in agreement about the omission of living composers, though even there I am troubled. Omit the living and you essentially write women composers completely out of the picture. There were more women active between 1750 and the late 20th c. than one might think, but they did not have much in the way of opportunities to become well known or widely played. Today, we are lucky enough to have many, many women working as composers, and there's at least one whom I'd consider to have a shot at the pantheon.
For me: I looked at the illustrations for the article and crazily assumed they were Tommasini's final picks, despite the fact that there are thirteen faces. So there's a comment by me on the ArtsBlog about dropping Tchaikowsky and including Bartok. Well, I'd stick with that one, for sure; I'd add that it's critical to include Debussy, probably by dumping consideration of Chopin. Debussy and Bartok rank with Schoenberg and Stravinsky in terms of their influence on composers in the 20th and early 21st centuries. And I think one could safely lose Schumann, much as I love his music. I would like to see Verdi or Puccini included, in part because of all the German-language heavyweights in the thirteen, in part because they're that good. But it's nuts to omit Wagner, whose giant ambitions and harmonic language lead directly to the 20th century and serial composition.