Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The top 10 greatest classical composers (6, 5 . . .)

(The complete list.)

6. Haydn

Haydn is known as "the father of the symphony." He might not have actually invented the symphony, but he made it great. The same is true of the string quartet.

Most 19th century composers paid little attention to Haydn, but it's hard to imagine Mozart or Beethoven without him.

He claimed he wasn't a very happy person, but who else has ever produced so many compositions (over 1,000) that sound so much like sunshine? Here's the first movement of his 104th Symphony, conducted by Hubert Soudant (the music starts after 0:40):

His comical approach of toying with your expectations was especially strong in his finales; for instance, here's the last movement of the 96th Symphony, with Jan Caeyers conducting Le Concert Olympique:

5. Debussy

You could easily pigeonhole him as a composer of pleasantly "impressionistic" music on the borderline of Romantic and Modern. I prefer to think of him as the most revolutionary composer of the 20th century. If you had to pick just one composition that gave the Modern era permission to disregard everything that came before, you might pick Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (Prélude à L'Après-Midi d'un Faune). It flows along gently instead of hammering you over the head the way other revolutionary pieces (like the "Eroica" Symphony or the Rite of Spring) do. Here's Ion Marin conducting:

A more overtly Modern work is the 12 Etudes. Here's #9, For Repeated Notes (Pour les Notes Repétées), played by Yegor Shevtsov:


Ann Althouse said...

"Oh! The kind that Debussy, uh... [Wally makes a gesture with his hands by his head, like big ears.]"

Anonymous said...

I adore Debussy, and his importance is undebatable. (I also like his ostensible teammate Ravel but he is a far less important and less great composer.) "La Plus Que Lente" and "The Girl With The Flaxen Hair" are fabulous, also the two arabesques for piano (among my favorite pieces to play). One of my favorite Haydn symphonies is the "Morning," which wakes up gradually, optimistically, beautifully. Keep up those excellent choices!

Anonymous said...

Also, I am very curious to see what pieces you highlight for the only remaining composer whose name begins with a non-B. I have my own thoughts, but the choices are almost limitless!
--Uncle A.

Anonymous said...

Interesting... I consider Prelude de l'apres-midi de la Faun one of the most wretched pieces ever composed, regardless of whether Debussy is or isn't a great composer. It is maddeningly repetitive and psychologically deadening. Thank you for including Haydn though.