14 January 2011

Top 10 Composers

Bavarian Idol: Richard Wagner is heavily favored
to win at least once.


[From the Times] -- In our last installment, we narrowed our search for the all-time top-ten Western composers who could dance on the head of a pin; we reached an equally arbitrary and debatable number, thirty-seven, including luminaries who could not be omitted from any such list, such as Wolfgang Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, and Randolph Partain, surely the greatest Western composer ever to name his guest room after me.

But how to narrow the list, as we must, because after all, there is a limit to the number of composers who can fit at any one time on the head of a pin?

Must we eliminate Hans Pfitzner, on the grounds that he has a funny-sounding name; or Edvard Grieg, on the grounds that influential people dislike him; or Georg Friderich Handel, on the grounds that everybody likes him, and we want to be special?

Is Mark Adamo the cutest composer of all time, or does that title belong to John Corigliano — or can we require them to share it? And what weight do we accord to cuteness, anyway?

Ultimately, we must ask: what are we going to do with Charles Ives?

Already eliminated: Domenico Cimarosa
Can you believe that, in a tough economy, with newspapers in jeopardy,
somebody gets paid to write this stuff?

Last time, we reexamined the Romantics, and we bit the bullet: we eliminated Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin, leaving only Hector Berlioz, whom we’ll dismiss next time, because, I mean, come on; and Richard Wagner, because if we don’t wind up with him on the list, we’ll lose all credibility.

Ultimately, we will arrive at a definition of greatness — one based not merely a consensual opinion, but on a scientific scale. As you recall, we’ve put into place a data-based system to help us assess an individual composer’s statistical greatness.

After all, if we just blow names off the tops of our heads, we might as well be taking a banal cocktail-party conversation and reprinting it in The New York Times as if it were serious criticism — and who on earth would do a crazy thing like that?

Our scientific rankings take into account a number of quantifiable, measurable factors, including:

1. Number of CDs of the composer’s music sold within the past year;
2. Frequency with which the composer’s music is performed by orchestras in the top 10 cities in the U.S. and Europe;
3. Number of pages devoted to the composer in the Grove Dictionary; and
4. The composer’s penis size.

Liszt might have scored higher if he’d looked
more like Roger Daltrey and less like Abe Vigoda.


The chances of our coming up with any dark-horse candidates, any women, or any surprises are therefore eliminated immediately — and scientifically — making the process of selection as efficient as possible.

Using our scientific scale, we find that the candidates are currently ranked as follows, and if somebody put a gun to our head and forced us to name the composers on the head of that hypothetical pin, right now, the names would be these:

1. Richard Wagner
2. Johannes Brahms
3. Johann Sebastian Bach
4. Richard Wagner (again)
5. Richard Strauss
6. Johann Strauss, Sr. (due to his unusually large penis)
7. Ludwig von Beethoven
8. Gustav Mahler
9. Robert Schumann
10. (tie) Claude Debussy, Richard Wagner

Admittedly, this leaves us with a preponderance of Austro-Germans and of late-19th and early-20th-century composers, but them’s the breaks.

Thus far, Wolfgang Mozart is proving to be the Adam Lambert of our competition: beloved of fans and assured of a terrific career, but not exactly dominating the charts. So this time, let’s weigh the arguments in favor of eliminating him.

Mozart, the Adam Lambert of Western Music

Unfortunately, I’m out of space, so you’ll have to do this on your own.

Finished? Good. Okay, Mozart’s out of the running, for now.

Be sure to check this space next time, when Jan Sibelius makes a stunning comeback, based primarily on the size of his penis.

And in a few weeks, we’ll know for certain who the ten greatest composers of Western music are, and no one will ever disagree with us, ever again.

2 comments:

Mark said...

I always thought the Adam Lamber of Composers was the young Mendelssohn.

William V. Madison said...

I like the way you think, Mark, but unfortunately it's not arbitrary enough for our purposes here: Mendelssohn is clearly the Jennifer Hudson of this competition.