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Who In Your Opinion Is The Greatest Living Composer?

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I doubt that we are all familiar with the great living classical composers of today. But we are all bound to have heard at least several of them and to be familiar with their works. So who gets your vote? I will give my opinion (which I have in my mind at present) after I hear several opinions.

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My "big five" are John Adams, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Thomas Ades, Louis Andriessen and Nico Muhly. I don't know about greatest, but they're probably my favourite living composers.

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John Adams, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Thomas Ades, Louis Andriessen and Nico Muhly

If those are the best living composers, then 1- that sucks for everyone, 2- that's great for me!

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I think Pierre Boulez is one who will go down in history. But I wouldn't attribute that to his highly evolved (and constantly evolving, especially considering how much the man revises) style, but rather to his very successful, high-profile career (much of this was conducting, too).

 

But Pierre Boulez is an old man by now, his style is getting outdated, and I think he knows it too. I think one serious leading figure of our own time, the twenty-first century, is Georg Friedrich Haas. Take an hour of your time to listen to his "In Vain." You'll hear what I mean.

 

The problem with all of this, however, is that there are some great composers with brilliant musical minds, but not the best networking skills or career opportunities. These are the ones who work humble positions in composition departments at various music schools. The ground broken by Haas could have possibly already been broken thirty years ago by a composer that no one on YC could have possibly ever heard of. 

 

This rather modest level of success was reached by Bach, but see how we remember him today!

Edited by sanctushilarus

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Robin, can you recommend your favorite Muhly pieces please?  Based on what little I've heard, I haven't really 'gotten' his fame yet (aside from cult of personality, which he's obviously an expert at) but I feel like I could be missing something great.

Edited by June

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Thanks for the suggestion for Haas  - I really liked some of the ideas, and and some were mediocre, but it definitely has it's moments of nice orchestration!  :happytears:

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Very few composers whose value system includes a concept of "greatness" or "genius" are worth listening to.

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George Freidrich Haas, Simon Bainbridge and Ben Johnston are the living composers I'm currently listening to but this changes all the time.

 

I also don't like to think in terms of favourite composers; I think more in terms of favourite pieces of music. Even the best are capable of writing dross from time to time and vice versa.

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Very few composers whose value system includes a concept of "greatness" or "genius" are worth listening to.

Plenty of the greats had massive egos and fully believed they were geniuses and saw the genius and greatness in other composers and strove to be great themselves.

Maybe I am missing your point.

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Plenty of the greats had massive egos and fully believed they were geniuses and saw the genius and greatness in other composers and strove to be great themselves.

Maybe I am missing your point.

 

i'm not sure about "greats". i would name Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and perhaps Stockhausen. Wagner is an also-ran, Boulez only wrote a couple of good things early in his career, most of the other self-proclaimed greats are worthless.

 

none of those "listenable" composers are alive today, either. the living composers who think of today's music world as a pyramid with "greats" at the top and everyone else on levels underneath with X composer being better than Y composer but worse than W composer etc... whether or not they put themselves at the top of that pyramid, most of them just don't write music that's interesting at all

 

like GF Haas for instance, since his name has come up a couple of times... what is his "21st century masterpiece"? basically just a sanitized mash-up of Grisey and Ligeti with all the spikiness removed, nothing interesting to say or any new ways of saying it, in the words of richard barrett "someone who's studied a lot of scores closely and then thinks what comes into his head are his own ideas rather than an average of all that input". (not that RB is himself blameless on the "striving to create masterpieces" front, look at all those 2+ hour cycles...)

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i'm not sure about "greats". i would name Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and perhaps Stockhausen. Wagner is an also-ran, Boulez only wrote a couple of good things early in his career, most of the other self-proclaimed greats are worthless.

 

I'd add Mozart, Debussy, Mahler, Prokofiev, Liszt, Bartok off the top of my head as other composers who thought very highly of themselves (although maybe in Liszt's case it was not as a composer that he saw himself that way).  Not sure how you can call Wagner an also-ran given his influence on music.  Whether it was good or bad, the same could be applied to the others listed.  And that being said, look at the list we have compiled: the history of music would be entirely different without many of those names (and again, for better or for worse, depending on one's perspective).  Maybe thinking that way was partly a defence mechanism that these composers came up with to explain why their brilliant music was so often disliked or misunderstood.  On the other hand, maybe they had a look around and just knew they were better (although I don't personally agree in all those cases, certainly).  

 

As for today, I can't comment, but if history holds true, then it's likely at least some of the most important composers of today will think highly of themselves.  What I do wish people would drop, though, is the Wagner-Liszt-Boulez mindset of the "Music of the Future" crap, because history always proves them to be incorrect.

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Bartok off the top of my head as other composers who thought very highly of themselves 

 

 

I dunno...there is a famous incident where Bartok initially denied a commission because he thought the compensation was too much, despite the fact that he lived in poverty and was sick. 

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I dunno...there is a famous incident where Bartok initially denied a commission because he thought the compensation was too much, despite the fact that he lived in poverty and was sick. 

 

But he also didn't like the fact that Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony was getting more attention than his own works - hence his famous parody of it in his Concerto for Orchestra.

 

Regarding the OP: my vote would go for Penderecki, Arvo Pärt, Philipp Glass and John Williams.

 

I won't dig too much in the bashing of the great by the not-so-great, which was about as laughable as Tchaikovsky deeming Brahms as a "giftless bastard" or as Wagner and Rossini exchanging witty digs.

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i'm not sure about "greats". i would name Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and perhaps Stockhausen. Wagner is an also-ran, Boulez only wrote a couple of good things early in his career, most of the other self-proclaimed greats are worthless.

 

none of those "listenable" composers are alive today, either. the living composers who think of today's music world as a pyramid with "greats" at the top and everyone else on levels underneath with X composer being better than Y composer but worse than W composer etc... whether or not they put themselves at the top of that pyramid, most of them just don't write music that's interesting at all

 

like GF Haas for instance, since his name has come up a couple of times... what is his "21st century masterpiece"? basically just a sanitized mash-up of Grisey and Ligeti with all the spikiness removed, nothing interesting to say or any new ways of saying it, in the words of richard barrett "someone who's studied a lot of scores closely and then thinks what comes into his head are his own ideas rather than an average of all that input". (not that RB is himself blameless on the "striving to create masterpieces" front, look at all those 2+ hour cycles...)

 

I don't think Haas ever intended to write a masterpiece; just an honest piece of music for chamber orchestra. It just so happens that it was pretty well-received; I heard the conductor Simon Rattle, among some others, sing its praises, and decided that I should listen myself. I particularly liked the way in which a gradually shifting tempo can create a sort of fractal effect, so you don't know which sound-layer is which anymore. 

I had never heard that before, and was very much struck when I finally did. The closest thing I can think of is Ligeti's "devil-staircase" effect, which we hear in the piano etudes; but even this is an entirely different idea. As far as Grisey is concerned: yes, Haas seems very much influenced by the French spectral music movement. But it's a relationship similar to the one between Beethoven and Brahms; the influence is notable, but both composers were great in their own right. And the idea of music enhancing natural resonance is part of our own zeitgeist. There's nothing wrong with that! 

 

Maybe I'm naively optimistic, but I don't think anyone puts themselves at the top of any pyramid, and I think everybody writes music that's interesting in the same way that everyone is unique (whether I personally happen to like that piece is a completely different issue). But look at it this way: if I listen to Bach or Beethoven with the wrong mindset, it'll sound like cheesy, fancy, boring classical music. And if I listen to Webern or Boulez with the wrong mindset, it'll sound like weird, splashy, inaccessible, modernist crap.  I happen to hold all four of those composers in high esteem, so I make sure to listen with the right mindset. When I do, the music is as interesting and intriguing as if I were listening for the first time.

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Regarding the OP: my vote would go for Penderecki, Arvo Pärt, Philipp Glass and John Williams.

 

lol

 

Not to be mean but really lol

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I'd add Mozart, Debussy, Mahler, Prokofiev, Liszt, Bartok off the top of my head as other composers who thought very highly of themselves (although maybe in Liszt's case it was not as a composer that he saw himself that way).  Not sure how you can call Wagner an also-ran given his influence on music.  Whether it was good or bad, the same could be applied to the others listed.  And that being said, look at the list we have compiled: the history of music would be entirely different without many of those names (and again, for better or for worse, depending on one's perspective).  Maybe thinking that way was partly a defence mechanism that these composers came up with to explain why their brilliant music was so often disliked or misunderstood.  On the other hand, maybe they had a look around and just knew they were better (although I don't personally agree in all those cases, certainly).  

 

As for today, I can't comment, but if history holds true, then it's likely at least some of the most important composers of today will think highly of themselves.  What I do wish people would drop, though, is the Wagner-Liszt-Boulez mindset of the "Music of the Future" crap, because history always proves them to be incorrect.

 

well, i have no doubt that Mozart was a deeply unpleasant person (most people are) but the cult of the "genius" didn't really get started until Beethoven. Mozart had no concept of the composer-as-genius as we now think of it so i'll have to exclude him. you have a point with Debussy and Prokofiev though (i don't rate liszt and mahler's compositions very highly).

 

Wagner is influential largely because he and his small cult of admirers say he was influential. When one actually looks at music history, it's true that some of his harmonic innovations served as the groundwork for the stylistic revolution begun by the composers born in the 1860s-1880s, but they were hardly the most important aspect of his style (that kind of thing was "in the air" among that generation anyway [liszt/berlioz/raff/draeseke/etc]). Music drama went nowhere, gesamtkunstwerk was ignored, the whole philosophical underpinning of his music was already discredited by the time of his death. Bruckner and Mahler, the two "disciples" who were strongly influenced by him, never even wrote for the stage. As a composer he was somewhat above average—a gifted melodist, excellent orchestrator and powerful dramaturge; but prone to stretches of dull, bombastic, long-winded and generally uninteresting writing abetted by a chromatic whine that gives much of the rich harmony a sense of monotony, particularly in Tristan and the Ring. His vocal writing is also much less interesting than his instrumental writing, which is not a good thing in an opera composer. Of course, no composer is perfect. 

 

yes, the genius cult basically defined the history of 19th century music; music as we know it today wouldn't exist without it. plenty of "masterpieces" rise above their sententious underpinnings to become genuinely worthwhile pieces of music. the music world isn't really constructed like that anymore, though.

 

 

But he also didn't like the fact that Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony was getting more attention than his own works - hence his famous parody of it in his Concerto for Orchestra.

 

 

The fourth movement, "Intermezzo interrotto", consists of a flowing melody with changing 

time signatures, intermixed with a theme parodying the song "Da geh' ich zu Maxim" from Franz Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow, as the composer's pianist friend György Sándorhas made clear.[6] The later idea that Bartók was ridiculing the march tune in Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad"[7] came from a misinterpreted claim by the composer's son Peter.[8] It is much more likely, however, that both composers were parodying Lehár's universally popular song.

 

 

Bartók would probably have heard The Merry Widow in his youth seeing as it was produced to great success in Budapest in 1907, though i'm pretty sure he's lying about not trying to ridicule Shostakovich since it's kind of suspicious that he would write this supposedly innocuous parody a couple of years after Shosty's visit to New York and shortly after the Leningrad's domination of the american airwaves for a concert season. (iirc it was played something like 100 times in the USA alone in 1942/3, he was probably getting tired of hearing it)

 

that said, whether or not he was a nice person, bartók was not a particularly egotistical composer, or one who subscribed particularly to notions of greatness or genius. (nor was shostakovich for that matter, who was probably one of the nicest of the "great" composers, if rather insecure.)

Edited by .fseventsd

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Not to be mean but...

 

Coming from you, THIS warrants a LOL ;) .

 

Especially since you fail to tell us what your opinion is (not that I don't know: Nikolai Kapustin) or why is mine wrong (not that I care a lot about it, though).

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If this topic was posted at least one year ago, I would have said... Ravi Shankar. 

 

A few months ago, "Elliott Carter" would also have been a valid answer, for that matter.

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