aldona wrote:"The greatest composer" vs. "my favourite composer" - the answers to those questions are not necessarily the same.
Does anybody know Reger here, by the way?
Agree completely about Beethoven, and mostly about Bach. While is music is by far the most educational harmonically and theoretically, it does lack certain things, such as a very simple but easily whistle-able and memorable melody and many orchestration techniques.My old music textbook (the canonic History of Western Music by Grout/Palisca) would have it that Beethoven was the greatest composer. I'll push against this claim in a moment, but wish to examine this institutional perspective for a minute. While Mozart is lumped with Haydn and Bach with Handel and Rameau, Ludwig the primadonna gets an entire chapter to himself. This editorial decision seems to rest on the fact that every composer after Beethoven struggled to step out of the old man's shadow. With the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven had upped the ante for large scale works that were then considered the index of musical genius. "How the heck am I supposed to compete with that," asked a long line of composers from Schubert to Schoenberg.
Beethoven's world significance, however, extends beyond his formal innovations to the symbolism both he and we have attached to his music. During both World Wars, the Allies attempted to little avail to institute a moratorium on the performance of German music, but the campaign proved problematic. Try imagining a concert program without any German music. The audience became antsy. Germany could keep Mozart and Schoenberg but Beethoven's music with its message of heroism and universal brotherhood, the Allies backpedalled, belonged to the world. This is perhaps the historical basis for why we tend to hear Beethoven at Fourth of July concerts here in the U.S. and Olympic ceremonials around the world even though he has very little to do with the history of non-German nations.
Personally, though, I side with the Bachants. If Beethoven was the most innovative composer, then Bach was the most inventive. By inventive, I mean the older meaning of the word, inventio, a term of rhetoric which signified imaginative resourcefulness. Bach never failed to maximize the potential of his raw materials. I take this resourcefulness to be the composer's index of what makes a great composer (as opposed to a great melodist like Mozart or Rachmaninoff). Give Bach the musical equivalent of popsicle sticks and he could transform them into the most glorious cathedral. I never cease to be amazed with what he does with his musical ideas. I reckon that there are more homages to Bach in music literature than to any other existing composer. (Specific musical works and techniques by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Wagner, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Janecek, Busoni, Reger, Schoenberg and co., Shostakovich, instantly come to mind). Hence from this standpoint, Herr Bach takes the title. I could die happy if I could learn his entire works for keyboard.
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