Friday, January 21, 2011

Lists and the people who love them, part deux

I couldn't have timed this better if I were actually in control of what comes over the news wires into my little cyber-space. Here's a list from Anthony Tommasini, classical music critic of the New York Times, of his picks for the ten greatest (dead) classical composers.

As might be expected, all the usual suspects are there. As also might be expected, there are no female composers listed or even discussed. Making lists like this is so reductive as to be a pretty pointless exercise, imo. And yet we continue to make these lists, and people continue to read them and talk about them. So they must serve some purpose. Anyone care to discuss?

I am majorly procrastinating making my own list of music for this week's Yiddish Hour, which is going to be an all-classical extravaganza featuring interviews with composer David Schiff and Linda Magee, Executive Director of Chamber Music Northwest; I'll be playing music from Chamber Music Northwest's upcoming Feb. 2 concert and I'll be talking to Schiff about the world premiere of his newest work, Borscht Belt Follies. Tune in here on Sunday 1/23 at 10am PST; just click on the "listen now" button. Or if you're in Portland, you can listen to us on the air at 90.7fm.

But about those amongst yourselves (and leave me a comment too; I really wanna know)


Steve said...

I saw that article and just knew you'd have something to say about it. You should write a short (125 word) letter to the Times taking them to task and identifying some worthy contenders who were omitted.

David Leipziger said...

I'm stumped. The only well-known (that phrase probably exaggerates the extent to which she is actually known)classical female composer is ....rats, senior moment. I am trying to recall the name of the 10th Century (not sure about the Century) leader of an Abbey...AHA! Got it! Hildegarde von Bingen. Other names are shadow figures. Some of Mozart's music may have been written by his sister Nannerl. Some of Robert Schuman's music may have been written (or at least edited) by his wife Clara. I'd like to see your list, as I wonder if I will recognize any of the names on it.

Liz said...

Okay David, here goes:

Hildegaard von Bingen
Clara Schumann (who is a well regarded composer in her own right)
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (ditto)
Pauline Viardot
Pauline Oliveiros
Nadia Boulanger
Lili Boulanger
Meredith Monk
Joan Tower
Jennifer Higdon
Elisabeth Claude Jacquet de la Guerre
Ruth Crawford Seeger (stepmom of Pete)
Amy Beach
Barbara Strozzi

Those are just off the top of my head; here are more I had to look up in one of my nerdy musicology books:

Gwyneth Walker
Cecille Chaminade
Theresa Clark
Dame Edith Smyth
Maria Theresa von Paradis

and many many others. If you're interested, check out the Norton/Grove Anthology of Women Composers

Liz said...


The point of my post wasn't so much who was left off it as the inanity and pointlessness of the list being compiled at all. An eminent musicologist summed up my point well on the American Musicology Society's listserve:

"I think it's just a reflection on
Tommasini and the state of newspaper criticism. I asked James Oestreich, the music
editor at the Times and my old pal, whether there had been any difference of opinion about the project (actually what I wrote to him was "Please, oh please Jim, tell me that that ran over your objections"), and yes, he was as
irate as any of us might be that music coverage at the Times has sunk to the level of voting Haydn off the island or telling Tchaikovsky "You're fired." (He confirmed that, as I suspected, TV reality shows were the source of the idea."

bikelovejones said...

That reality shows were the source of this idea is just more proof of The Rotting Of The American Mind.
I think we're heading south.
Pass me that handbasket, willya?

Barry in Portland said...

What, no mention of Scriabin?

I'm shocked, shocked I tell you.

Barry in Portland said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.