Mostly, but not all, dead white men
June 10, 2019 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Australia's ABC Classic FM asked its listeners to vote for their top 10 favourite composers, and over the weekend of 8-9 June counted down the top 100 results. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of long-dead white men, but also some unexpected results - who would have thought 12th-century nun Hildegard von Bingen would make it as high as 33? And although Aboriginal Australian composer William Barton clocked in at 87, at least he is still alive so has time to climb the ranks. posted by Athanassiel (27 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
this list is designed to annoy people right?
posted by leibniz at 7:32 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


1-100 link should go here
posted by deadwax at 7:32 PM on June 10


Oops sorry about link, too many tabs open.

And yes, I was discussing this with my brother who was INCENSED that Brahms hadn't made it to the top 10. Me, I'm just happy Mozart wasn't no. 1.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:36 PM on June 10


[Fixed link]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:40 PM on June 10


My mum was really happy with Beethoven at number 1 as they have been playing his music all day and there's none she dislikes. However, she acknowledged that the Mozart and Bach people were probably up in arms about it.
posted by kitten magic at 7:47 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


And yes, I was discussing this with my brother who was INCENSED that Brahms hadn't made it to the top 10.
Tell your brother he has a comrade in arms over here. In what world does VAUGHAN WILLIAMS rate higher than Brahms?
(I mean, nothing against Vaughan Williams. But really.)

Also, I think Bruckner scoring far below John Williams is a case of unrecognized debt (cf the Star Wars main theme and the first movement of the 4th Symphony), which I bet John Williams would be the first to say.

Australians seem to be pretty patriotic about their music, too, with several high-scoring names I've never heard of; I will have to go check out Elena Kats-Chernin's piano rags.
posted by huimangm at 8:21 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I wonder if you did this France, then Debussy and Ravel would score a lot higher (and they are my personal favorites)? Also if you had American classical listeners the result might be in a different order too.
posted by polymodus at 8:31 PM on June 10


Henry Purcell is at 45!?

No, that is just not okay. I'm glad Bach/Handel/Vivaldi made it up there, but there is so much more to early music than a few high baroque guys who get all the radio play. Purcell only lived to be 40 and was still the greatest English composer until Benjamin Britten. Unorthodox use of dissonance, masterful text-painting, and banging dance tunes.

PURCELL
ROCKED
SO
FUCKING
HARD

Have a listen. You won't regret it.
posted by YoloMortemPeccatoris at 9:24 PM on June 10 [12 favorites]


Seems to me a record number of women, living composers, and Aussie composers (some of them all three)- not bad. I didn't vote (busy, forgot), but I might've voted Lili Boulanger.

I wish instead of vapid patterns (most popular year/decade to be born! over half the top 100 have names starting with B, P, R, or S! Could this mean anything?!!1?) they could have speculated on patterns relating to the different composer types, or why the eight new composers this year, or something more interesting, though that may be too... political?

Barton seems to have made it onto a top 100 before (for the Concerto for Didgeridoo- though scrolling through the archives, the first time it came up in 2007 he was listed as a co-composer, the second time in 2011 he was left off, so, ?? Gonna email them about it actually.)

The number of film composers was perhaps unsurprising, given that that's the avenue that a lot of people consume classical music nowadays, though I have to wonder if some of them would still make the list if not for the film stuff. I've been playing through some of John Williams' more 'classical' pieces and wow, there's a huge difference in accessibility there. It kind of rang a bell with me because I've been wondering in my career how to reconcile the thing where less accessible creations and things that you write for self expression may not really be stuff that can be commercial- but the answer can just be, write both! Not that you have to like a composer's entire oeuvre to stan them, of course. Maybe there are people out there whose favourite composer is Stravinsky because of his neo-classical stuff even if they hate serialism.

Australians seem to be pretty patriotic about their music, too, with several high-scoring names I've never heard of
I think it kind of is natural to want to hear sounds and ideas that reflect your history and the landscapes you live in, to have someone put into order your feelings and interiority formed from your context. The other thing too is that well, if we don't champion it, who else is going to? When was the last time you heard Aussie music played live at your local symphony? The only composer I think of that people outside of Australia might be familiar with may be Percy Grainger? Maybe for his band stuff and people play them in high school? And Brett Dean maybe in Germany?

Had to laugh at this article duo someone at ABC's put out in prediction of this classic 100: 'You might think that the Classic 100 this year is just a question of what positions Bach, Mozart and Beethoven will occupy in the top three. But this year’s Classic 100: Composer isn’t an institutional vote about historical greatness. It’s a people’s vote. It’s about what YOU think, and the composers that YOU love. And it may just throw up some surprises, as Martin Buzacott explains in this three-part series.'
Spoiler alert the surprises are Schubert, Handel, Haydn, Saint-Saens, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Ravel. Wow, such surprise.

And although Aboriginal Australian composer William Barton clocked in at 87, at least he is still alive so has time to climb the ranks.
The other Indigenous composer I think might make a classic 100 is Gurrumul (whose music I've recommended on the Green before)- first Indigenous language album to win an ARIA, last year. He might have had less of a chance in this category because classical music-wise he's only put out that one album? But he made huge waves last year. Not that he would give a shit what colonisers think, judging by his character in the documentary that came out about him. I've been meaning to make an FPP about him- maybe when holidays hit.
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 9:38 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Australians seem to be pretty patriotic about their music, too, with several high-scoring names I've never heard of

I think it kind of is natural to want to hear sounds and ideas that reflect your history and the landscapes you live in


Not criticizing, sorry; just meant that the musical landscape obviously looks different, with a strong identity as Australians AND classical music fans, and it's a view I hadn't thought to go looking for before. I can think of the various American composers who might appear on a similar list in the US (or be higher up on it; you can have Copland but Gershwin deserves the top 25 if not the top 10); but it's nice to have all these new Australian options to seek out.

(And Lili Boulanger is awesome)
posted by huimangm at 9:56 PM on June 10


just meant that the musical landscape obviously looks different

Oh, I didn't mean it in a defensive way, just a neutral way haha, sorry it came across bad
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 10:06 PM on June 10


no problem :) ♫
posted by huimangm at 10:26 PM on June 10


There is a reason why the Australian charts will sound different
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:47 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


My main use for this chart is to start at the top, go down until I find a name I don't recognize and then have a listen. To that end it's an excellent chart.
posted by Harald74 at 2:15 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Ennio Morricone at #40

Nobuo Uematsu at #187

(I'm disappointed that there aren't more video game composers on there; video game composition is hard work and there's some incredible compositions there.)
posted by Merus at 2:40 AM on June 11


Why would anyone be surprised that a classical music list is mostly dead white men? The word composer is being drawn very narrowly here. My favorite composers are Duke Ellington, Mike Mogis, Miles Davis, Prince, Tom Waits, and Danny Elfman. None of them were on this list either, maybe because they weren't part of a centuries old European musical tradition.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:24 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


There is a reason why the Australian charts will sound different

That sounds normal to me. Not sure what you mean???

Only tangentially related but it reminds me kind of of what Australia sounds like on the world map (volume warning).
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 7:19 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


The critique of dead white men came out of musicologists who took issue with the fact that classical music as a tradition had taken, and today continues to take on a structural level, it upon itself to be the definition and arbiter of all serious fine art music. Dead white men is a known metaphor for this musical canon revisionism. It is a different claim than than trying to be contrary to the fact that Eurocentric music in history actually would have largely been written by white men.
posted by polymodus at 10:54 AM on June 11


Actually Danny Elfman is on the list, at no 122.

There are a whole heap of other names on there I don't recognise, but some of the ones I do don't fit the classical music canon. Scott Joplin whose ragtime works are arguably at the root of jazz; Joe Hisaishi whose beautiful music accompanies many Studio Ghibli animated films; Olafur Arnalds who does a wide range of things from almost pop music to electronica as well as pieces that sound more conventionally classical. And that's just a few.

Like others, I plan to use this list as a way to explore other music I don't know rather than as a confirmation of the impeccabillity of my existing musical tastes.

But Steve Reich definitely should have gotten in the top 100.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:13 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Elena Kats-Chernin's stuff is delightful.

This is the modern definition of classical music which refers to anything played by an orchestra, isn't it? Oh, well. I'm old enough that I remember when the listeners to Radio 3 were sedately up in arms about the fact that Duke Ellington was Composer of the Week one week. In those days, they would play the music from a gramophone record, then leave a respectful silence long enough to give a normal radio producer apoplexy before telling you what it was. The star presenter went off to become a jesuit monk. These days it's all chirpy people interviewing soap stars about their favourite piece of classical music, which usually turns out to be something from an advert, and telling you how they feel about the music over the top of the music. I don't care how you feel about it. Shut up and let me listen to it. The worst case is a programme on Saturday lunchtimes, where each week an excitable twenty something talks in half-sentences to another twenty something who sounds exactly like her about music that excites them, which is played in the background in short bursts while they talk over the top of it, sometimes giving you interesting facts about the music or the musician which are often just wrong, so I'm sitting there mansplaining to my radio, which I really shouldn't have to do. It used to be necessary to play Berio at me to make me bugger off and do something more productive with my time, and now all it takes is a chirpy twenty something called Jess. Oh god, I'm an old, aren't I? I thought I might be a bit with it because I like Jóhann Jóhannsson and Chilly Gonzales and I worship Anna Meredith, but I'm basically just an Old.

On the other hand, Late Junction.
posted by Grangousier at 4:51 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


(They've made Anna Meredith an MBE, by the way, a step on the path that I predict will make her Dame Anna Meredith by 2035, which just sounds right, doesn't it?)
posted by Grangousier at 4:53 PM on June 11


We Hildegard stans might be few but we are vocal and we are fierce. 33! Hell yeah!
posted by a hat out of hell at 5:43 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Doesn’t look like Frank Martin made the list, but his Mass for Double Choir is one of my top three favorite pieces. I highly recommend it.
posted by delight at 8:48 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Only tangentially related but it reminds me kind of of what Australia sounds like on the world map (volume warning).

Classic, love it
posted by mosessis at 7:13 AM on June 12


Doesn’t look like Frank Martin made the list, but his Mass for Double Choir is one of my top three favorite pieces. I highly recommend it.

I'd never heard of Frank Martin before. What a fascinating character. I'm only up to the Gloria but so far it's fantastic. Can't wait to check out more of his stuff, thanks for the rec.
posted by mosessis at 7:16 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Just came across this conference about dead white male composers. I wish they provided access to their papers or talks, though. But the IMSLP one has some great points about IMSLP's position in canonization practices, and the Inoperative Canon as a concept sounds like a hilarious and creative talk. The canon as commodity talk directly applies to ABC classic's upcoming CD/digital sales. I don't think a person can read through these abstracts and remain convinced that ABC's listing here is entirely unproblematic. I thought this music teacher's comment on ABC's countdown lists was empathic and questioning:

Someone on twitter objected to the #liketheOlympics hashtag on the basis that if this were truly like the Olympics the Chinese would be in serious contention, and of course not a Chinese composer was within cooee of this list. It reminded me of a concert I attended in 2002 – a prominent Chinese orchestra was playing the Sydney Opera House, with something from the orchestral canon, a few pieces from Chinese composers, and something commissioned especially for the tour from an Australian composer. It was a great night out, but startling to me: the Opera House Concert Hall was filled with Australians of Chinese heritage, a demographic I’d never seen in any numbers at orchestral concerts before. That event, and the omission of particular kinds of musical voices from this countdown, remind me that our society is much broader than the pop v art music debates often allow.Elissa Milne
posted by polymodus at 2:46 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Some Australians prefer Stravinksy, although he only reached Number 46.
posted by Coaticass at 12:15 PM on June 14


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