Sound of Charlotte Blog

Who IS the greatest composer?

Originally Posted : January 2011

Classical music critic Anthony Tommasini has got something crazy up his sleeve over at The New York Times. The blogger's newest idea for a story is so daunting and controversial, its consequences could be catastrophic. It has the potential to, in fact, upset classical music aficionados worldwide.
Tommasini has recently announced that he is on a mission to name the 10 greatest composers of Western classical music. Anti-climactic? Hardly! At the end of the day, there must be a Number One to end every countdown. To construct a list leading up to the number one composer of Western classical music -- now that is no easy feat.

Think about it. Is this even possible? Is the winner chosen based on the number of works they composed? Which is more revered pioneering a new style, or being the master of an older one? Does Beethoven get extra points because he was deaf? Or is Mozart boosted to the front because of his child-prodigy status? Then there's the issue of varying types of composition. For instance, how does one compare Wagner's opera to the oratorio of Handel... and then determine the better composer?
Well Mr. Tommasini, I fully support your decision to compile this list. After all, everyone has a favorite piece by a favorite composer what's better than taking the time to really think about why that piece is special, and what it is about that composer that makes him/her stand above the rest? Exploring why you are passionate about something and coming to its defense can make you appreciate it even more.
Now before I make this bold statement, please keep in mind the following: I do not have a PhD in music. I am not a world-renowned conductor, composer, or performer. I hardly know enough about classical music to serve as a critic, or write a book on the subject. I do, however, have fond memories of listening to public radio on long car rides with my father as a child. I am a senior in an undergraduate music program, and survived a grueling year of the most feared course sequence in the curriculum music history.

Based on these things, and my own personal opinion, I must say that my vote for Number One is Ludwig van Beethoven.

Let me begin by saying that I admire Beethoven's unwavering passion for music. Beethoven stayed true to himself, composing music the way he saw fit, and never relinquishing artistic control to patrons or audiences. Music came from his heart and from his personal experiences. He experienced periods of both extreme darkness and triumph. I don't just hear music when I listen to Beethoven, I hear his soul; it's as if the composer is interwoven into every melodic line musical phrase. When I say this I don't mean to take away from the god-like status he has been promoted to over the centuries, but I understand Beethoven on a more personal level. Human to human, we relate.

Like many other great composers, Beethoven altered the course of music history. His radical and revolutionary composition techniques aided in ushering in the Romantic Period. Beethoven broke from and expanded traditional musical forms, expanded instrumentation, and pushed performers of his music to the brink. He also had a knack for taking a theme and hiding it in a piece for the listener to experience again and again. Beethoven's harmonic explorations keep audiences on the edge of their seats, and I for one particularly enjoy the unpredictable nature of his symphonies.

In fact, I will now take this moment to be completely cliché and acknowledge that my favorite Beethoven work is Symphony No. 9. Hey, it's one of classical music's greats for a reason! From the fiery first movement to the recitative of the cellos and basses that introduces the "Ode to Joy" theme in the low strings I love every second of it.

I place Beethoven at the top for his innovativeness, passion, and ability (in my opinion) to have an impact on every composer that followed him. Who is your Beethoven? Who is it that, at the drop of a hat, you are able to say, "Now that is Western classical music's greatest composer of all time!"? Join the debate. Write to me at and let me know who you think should get that number one spot. After the Charlotte symphony music director reviews the responses, the winner will receive two tickets to a CSO concert of his or her choice and a backstage pass to meet Christopher Warren-Green! Deadline is January 20.

And don't forget to follow Tommasini's countdown on his ArtsBeat blog at

Liz Weger has come to Charlotte from Westerville, Ohio to serve as the Charlotte Symphony's newest intern. A senior at Otterbein University, Liz is a music and public relations major. With a vocal concentration, Liz studies voice privately and is a member of the Otterbein Concert Choir Otterbein's most select vocal ensemble. She recently accompanied the choir on its tour to China, where students participated in joint-concerts with university students in Beijing, Tianjin, and Xi'an. In 2009, Liz was the education intern at ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, and served on the orchestra's student advisory board. Hoping to soon have a career in arts administration, Liz is thrilled to have the opportunity to experience the arts scene of Charlotte.

Tagged as anthony tommasini, Christopher Warren-Green, countdown, greatest composer, handel, Mozart, new york times, romantic, wagner.