Author Topic: Greatness in Music  (Read 78470 times)

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karlhenning

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Greatness in Music
« on: May 22, 2007, 11:06:27 AM »
How is it determined?  How can great composers be compared?

Is it more than opinion?  Is it more than authority (received opinion)?

Can Nielsen really be as great as Bach, if I just feel that it is so?

karlhenning

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2007, 11:07:42 AM »
First of all, it's not just a matter of being prolific, otherwise Telemann would necessarily be at least as great as Bach, yes?

Offline Guido

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2007, 11:18:24 AM »
Here's something I wrote to another GMGer a few weeks ago, and I wonder if anyone has any opinions on the matter:

I have a real problem with the word masterpiece - what does it really mean? By some people's definitions, nearly everything by Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, etc. would be considered a masterpiece, by others only perhaps their 20 greatest works each. Still other refer to many pieces by 'minor' composers as masterpieces. There seems to be a difference between 'a masterpiece' and 'a composer's masterpiece', if the composer is not up to the level of the 'true greats'. I am also very skeptical about holding some composers immeasurably far above others. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, seem always to be held in such high regard that people consider virtually nothing else composed as being any where near as good. I go through phases where I think this might be true (esp. Bach) but most of the time, I don't think its true that there is a clear line between a great composer and a very good one. I think great composers just had a knack of creating more great works. But then are there different grades of masterpieces? Are Brahm's masterpieces greater than Barber's masterpieces?
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Scriptavolant

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2007, 11:24:18 AM »
How can great composers be compared?


On the basis of common features. So, for example, you may compare Verdi and Wagner for reasons I won't enumerate but are neat; comparing composers which belong to drastically different historical periods and aesthetics is too me a completely obscure practice, fuelled by whatever you want but not an alleged "objectivity".

Quote
Is it more than opinion? 

Finally, aren't aesthetical principles just opinions? I mean, they're conscious and documented and cultivated, but they're still the product of viewpoints, aren't they?

bwv 1080

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2007, 11:31:23 AM »
The best way I know of is the collective judgement of musicians and informed fans - i.e. the "market".  It is very difficult to find an instance where, given a generation or so of digestion, the market has been wrong about the greatness of a composer. 

karlhenning

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2007, 11:36:13 AM »
Finally, aren't aesthetical principles just opinions? I mean, they're conscious and documented and cultivated, but they're still the product of viewpoints, aren't they?

Another great point;  though in this case "just opinion" is cultural context.  The context is not an absolute, but its meaning is better rooted than "just opinion."  OTOH, kneejerk bucking of the (admittedly non-absolute) consensus may better qualify as "just opinion."

Does not "contrarian opinion" have strength and conviction to the degree that it is equally well (or even better) grounded in the context?

(I see this is crossing with Steve's apt remark.)
« Last Edit: May 22, 2007, 11:58:33 AM by karlhenning »

Offline BachQ

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2007, 11:38:10 AM »
We don't even have an objective definition of MUSIC, let alone MASTERPIECE (or what constitutes a "masterpiece").  For example, could a random generation of noises/sounds be considered MUSIC?  If so, can one random generation be considered "greater" than another?  Can sounds of nature be considered music?  Crickets?  Can the song of a nightingale be considered a musical masterpiece?

karlhenning

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2007, 11:47:36 AM »
I have a real problem with the word masterpiece - what does it really mean? By some people's definitions, nearly everything by Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, etc. would be considered a masterpiece, by others only perhaps their 20 greatest works each. Still other refer to many pieces by 'minor' composers as masterpieces. There seems to be a difference between 'a masterpiece' and 'a composer's masterpiece', if the composer is not up to the level of the 'true greats'. I am also very skeptical about holding some composers immeasurably far above others. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, seem always to be held in such high regard that people consider virtually nothing else composed as being any where near as good. I go through phases where I think this might be true (esp. Bach) but most of the time, I don't think its true that there is a clear line between a great composer and a very good one. I think great composers just had a knack of creating more great works. But then are there different grades of masterpieces? Are Brahm's masterpieces greater than Barber's masterpieces?

Part of my ongoing quibble with this is the moving target which is the term "masterpiece."

From the old artisan guilds, when one learnt one's trade as an apprentice, the "graduation piece," so to speak, the work which demonstrated mastery of the craft, the art, was the artisan's masterpiece.  Did not mean "the greatest thing he ever did";  but it was a watershed in the artist's career, and it did refer to a single piece of work.

Where phrases like "chef d'oeuvre" seem to me not to mean one work exclusively, but indicates one of probably a set of outstanding creations.

As to the distance between (say) Bach and (say) Mahler, in a sense it is immeasurable (how do we measure it?) . . . but more importantly, it isn't a horse race, so "distance" is itself something illusory, yes?

All excellent questions, Guido, and I'm not sure there are answers.

bwv 1080

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2007, 11:49:08 AM »
who sells the most doesn't win and isnt really a good measure of true artistic merit and quality IMO. musicians can be poor judges too, as they tend to focus a lot on the mechanics of music and miss all else, like the meaning, essence, beauty etc. the majority of listeners/consumers arent that sensative, insightful and informed either, they just go with the flow. i find that great composers (part of the culturally elite) can be good judges...but even then it can be a bit dodgy at times due to fits of jealously and insecurity. 

Yes, they all complement eachother with strengths and weaknesses.  It has nothing to do with who sells the most, just who his held in the highest esteem. 

karlhenning

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2007, 11:49:32 AM »
who sells the most doesn't win and isnt really a good measure of true artistic merit and quality IMO.

This is why Steve cast "market" in quotes;  he isn't speaking of sales (though those, at least, are conveniently measurable).

Does the guild of Music still have professional standards and guidelines?

I should probably cast "guild" in scare-quotes, too  8)

Don

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2007, 11:52:16 AM »
How is it determined?  How can great composers be compared?

Is it more than opinion?  Is it more than authority (received opinion)?

Can Nielsen really be as great as Bach, if I just feel that it is so?

These topics will just keep spinning around without resolution.  Since individuals listen to music, I think it's best for each person to make these decisions on his/her own.  

karlhenning

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2007, 11:56:56 AM »
These topics will just keep spinning around without resolution.  Since individuals listen to music, I think it's best for each person to make these decisions on his/her own.  

So context and consensus are completely out the window, do you think, Don?

Since individuals listen to music, I think it's best for each person to make these decisions on his/her own.

I think my model allows the individual his sacrosanct preferences.

I still see practical reasons which resist letting all the meaning (opinion/greatness-determination) to the individual:  the individual listener still relies on a musical community to supply him musical product.

I find the discussion of value, even if resolution eludes us.

bwv 1080

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2007, 11:57:05 AM »
These topics will just keep spinning around without resolution.  Since individuals listen to music, I think it's best for each person to make these decisions on his/her own.  

OK, so if I say that for me personally, Andrew Lloyd Weber's music is greater than Mozart's then that is a valid proposition?

You cannot separate yourself from hundreds of years of musical culture.  True the culture is always changing and challenging its own propositions, but that is what makes it interesting and able to sort the good from the bad.  ISTM one has to either recognize that they are part of a larger culture or be stuck in aesthetic solipsism

Don

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2007, 11:59:02 AM »
OK, so if I say that for me personally, Andrew Lloyd Weber's music is greater than Mozart's then that is a valid proposition?


It would be valid for you, and I wouldn't be trying to change your mind.

karlhenning

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2007, 11:59:20 AM »
We don't even have an objective definition of MUSIC

And what are you going to do about it?  8)

karlhenning

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2007, 12:01:01 PM »
It would be valid for you, and I wouldn't be trying to change your mind.

What if the two of you were both on the board of the Wayne County Philharmonic, though, Don, and the rest of the board tended to agree with Steve that the orchestra needs to program more Lloyd Webber, and, maybe this season, no Mozart.  Would you try to change his mind?

Don

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #16 on: May 22, 2007, 12:01:57 PM »
I find the discussion of value, even if resolution eludes us.

Of course you do - you started the thread.   ::)

karlhenning

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #17 on: May 22, 2007, 12:03:00 PM »
Don't roll your emoticon eyes at me; my viewpoint is valid for me.

bwv 1080

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #18 on: May 22, 2007, 12:03:02 PM »
It would be valid for you, and I wouldn't be trying to change your mind.

What if I was your musicology professor and I taught in my class that Vanhall, Massenet, Glazunov and ALW were the greatest composers in the Western Classical tradition?  Still valid?

Don

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Re: Greatness in Music
« Reply #19 on: May 22, 2007, 12:03:35 PM »
What if the two of you were both on the board of the Wayne County Philharmonic, though, Don, and the rest of the board tended to agree with Steve that the orchestra needs to program more Lloyd Webber, and, maybe this season, no Mozart.  Would you try to change his mind?

Not about the relative merits of the music from each composer.

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