LarryD linked to an article in the New York Times in which the writer chose a list of the ten greatest composers of all time. Of course, the list was partial, surprisingly eurocentric for a politically correct paper, and endlessly debatable. The top three, in order, were Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. No surprises there, although I wouldn't have put Beethoven that high up the list myself, as you shall see. However, as Larry pointed out, the list was also interesting in what was not on the list. No Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky. Even more interesting, to me, there was no one before Bach's time.
So, in the interest of naming my own personal greatest, I've come up with a list of 5, with a brief example of why I have chosen these. It is a partial list in all senses of the word, and has no greater authority than my own, mean opinion. It's all for fun, so feel free to disagree and debate.
Without further ado, the five:
5: Thomas Tallis. Recusant Catholic who survived and was patronized by a protestant, then an uber protestant, then a Catholic, then another Protestant monarch. My reason for picking him is simple: Anyone who could write this, deserves a place near the top.
I dream of one day singing this piece in a choir.
My only problem with this piece is that it is incomprehensible. After the first few bars of the piece, the words vanish into a wall of sound. The next on the list worked against that problem, and it is reputed that by doing so, saved polyphonic music from being banned by the council of Trent.
4. Palestrina. He wrote hundreds of Masses and motets, and earned the name "The saviour of Church music". Here's his anthem to the Pope's, Tu es Petrus.
3. Mozart. He had to be somewhere on the list. As one writer said of him: "Mozart is God's way of making the rest of us feel insignificant." At the age of five, Mozart wrote the tune "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", which is also the tune for the alphabet song. To put that another way, at the age of five, Mozart wrote the most popular tune, ever. He also wrote many symphonies and operas, and also several Masses and music to accompany the Mass, including this little piece in honour of the Body of Christ, which has been called the most perfect forty-six bars of music ever composed.
It is also my desire to sing this piece in a choir, one day.
2. J.S. Bach. the man wrote over a thousand pieces of music, and not one of them was of inferior quality. I love so many of his pieces, I have a hard time picking just one. So, at random, (almost) I pick this one:
I also dream of one day playing this piece on a pipe organ. I've been working at it, and am getting close.
Now, for number one, I actually choose two. I couldn't decide between the two of them, so I call them 1a and 1b.
1a. Anonymous. My favourite artist of them all. Anonymous composed for such a long period, through so many genres, styles and mediums, his genius is unparalleled. Virtually any accomplishment in art, performed by any great artist, was prefigured and often done better by Anonymous. So numerous are his compositions, including almost the entire body of Gregorian Chant, I cannot think of a single example to name for you. Pick one of your own. Anonymous, I salute you!
1b Guido D'Arezzo. I have written his story before for this blog. Now, most of you don't know about this towering genius, and those of you who do may be surprised that I chose a man to whom no known compositions may be attributed, although he is connected to this one:
For the full story, see my link. The short story is that through this piece, Guido named the tones of the scale: ut, later do, re, mi, fa, sol, la. Because he named the tones, he could then write down the names, and in so doing he invented reliable written music, without which none of the other composers on this list could have composed at all. For making written music possible at all, and making it possible for Julie Andrews to sing "Do, a Deer, a female deer" I name Guido D'Arezzo the greatest composer of all.
As I said, these are my own choices, informed by my own opinion. You may have your own list that varies greatly. Feel free to say so in the combox.