Monday, 31 March 2014

My own Premier League of classical music composers

The Telegraph’s music-loving blogs editor, Damian Thompson, yesterday gave us his Premier League of great classical composers. You can read his article here, but I’ll spoil it by telling you that only Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner and Bruckner make it – Handel, Chopin, Stravinsky, Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich are all mentioned, but rejected, for a variety of reasons. Tchaikovsky (for some odd reason) isn’t mentioned at all.

Of Thompson’s Premiership names, I can’t really give an opinion about Haydn – he’s someone I’m saving for my old age, and, to be honest, he's not really my period. As for Bruckner, I used to be a bit of a fan, but whenever I’ve listened to him recently, I find myself glancing surreptitiously at my watch – similar length to Wagner, but without the hubris or astonishing genius.

Thompson doesn’t really give any criteria for his choices (apart from beauty and sublimity), but some of his distinctly arbitrary reasons for dismissing certain composers strike a chord (geddit?). Schumann produces beautiful music, but "creates a mess", and Brahms is “too brown” – I sort of know what he means: I’ve listened to a lot of Brahms and I find myself thinking, “Gosh, he’s brilliant!”, but then I never seem to be in the mood to listen to any more. Odd.

I’m nowhere near Thompson’s class as a music buff (I’m more Isthmian League Division One South than Premiership) but ignorance has never acted as a barrier to voicing an opinion, so here’s my own Premier League of classical composers. As the top division contains twenty teams, that’s the number I’ve gone for, and I’ve placed them in some sort of order based on genius, importance and pure personal taste (I haven't included any composers who leave me cold or whose music I find positively repellent). As will be obvious, I’m more of a fan of 20th Century classical music, nationalist composers and British composers than Thompson:

1.   J.S. Bach
2.   Beethoven
3.   Mozart
4.   Wagner
5.   Purcell
6.   Schubert
7.   Tchaikovsky
8.   Debussy
9.   Ives
10. Mahler
11. Janacek
12. Ravel
13. Stravinsky
14. Dvorak
15. Elgar
16. Verdi
17. Vaughan Williams
18. Sibelius
19. Prokofiev
20. Britten

While I'm at it, I might as well give you my Championship choice at the same time, which is even more firmly based on personal prejudice, and which is in no particular order:

Richard Strauss

NB. I'm certain that Haydn, Schumann, Berlioz and Vivalid should appear somewhere on these lists, but I don't know their music well enough to include them. I was tempted to include a number of personal favourites - but Arvo Pärt and John Tavener are of too recent a vintage, and, when  it comes to composers of film scores (e.g. Elmore Bernstein and Ennio Morricone), I'm never quite sure how much one's enjoyment of their compositions is to do with the films they were designed to accompany. 


  1. I'm so thick I don't even understand why you have two lists! What is this 'premiership' and 'championship' stuff? What is the difference?

    Anyway, Purcell should have been first - one of the few things about which I would have agreed with Constant Lambert (Kit's dad).

    1. The composers in the Premiership are better, more significant or I just like them more than the ones in the Championship. Glad to have cleared that up.

      20 years ago, Purcell wouldn't have made it onto either of my lists, so I'm making progress.

      I'd forgotten that Kit Lambert's dad was a distinguished composer and conductor. I wonder if Kit Lambert (when he wasn't off his tits) appreciated classical music.

    2. Very much so, apparently and was a strong musical influence on the young Townshend - including (pause for dramatic effect)... introducing him to Purcell, credited by Townshend as a major influence. You can hear it, too.

      Sorry I didn't get the football reference. I think that gene must have skipped my generation.

      Oh, dear.

    3. Fascinating! Any examples of where we can hear Purcell's influence on The Who (and I'm not being sarcastic)? I'm guessing "Tommy" for a start?

    4. I can do better than that! BBC R4 (in one of its rare moments of quality these days) broadcast a programme about Townsend a couple of years ago, in which he expounds on the connection.

      I suppose owning a recording of said programme would be contravening some sort of BBC regulation, so of course, I haven't got one.

  2. Thanks for not including Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg or Stockhausen. I know very little about them except for odd snippets on the radio and I recall Paul Whitehouse on the "Fast Show" saying "Anyone fancy a pint?"

    Also, Meyerbeer [once regarded as greater than Wagner]. I was once forced to attend a performance of "Les Huguenots" [5 hours +] in a very hot auditorium and I wriggled around so much that the elastic in my waist-band snapped and I had to go home holding my pants up.

    1. You're not a fan of the dodecaphonic (i.e. twelve tone) method? You surprise me.

      M&S's latest range of underpants come with the elastic waistband pre-snapped, as I've discovered this week. I know you can take their clothes back if they don't give satisfaction, but I think they might draw the line at worn underpants. Unless they fix this design flaw I may have to find another supplier or go commando.

  3. If you are over 60 it is inadvisable to go commando. You'll end up sitting around in the genito-urinary department with your legs splayed or walking around like "un valseur" [pained expression, stabby steps].

  4. If it is a design flaw, surely you can return to M&S and explain the problem. I recommend that you wear the garment while making your journey so that on arrival at the shop you can demonstrate its tendency to fall down. You might want to seek out a helpful young female member of staff for this purpose.

    Do let us know how you get on.