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Williams is the 50th Greatest Composer According to the Biggest Names in Classical Today

Oomoog the Ecstatic

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In an October survey conducted by the BBC, with responses from top composers such as John Williams, Steve Reich, John Adams, Eric Whitacre, Danny Elfman, John Corigliano, Michael Nyman, Carl Jenkins, Gabriel Yared, and 165 other major living composers today, John Williams tied Schumann and Rachmaninoff for 50th place in the Greatest Composers of all Time, surpassing many of the biggest icons in music history. Each participant was required to vote for the 5 best in history, and the results were totalled and ranked. Williams didn't vote for himself of course, but voted for Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, and Mozart. 


Someone posted about this survey earlier today, but the headline was only about Williams's picks. Not quite proper for this forum: Williams surpassed many of the greatest names in perhaps the biggest modern professional survey on Classical ever done, something for the books! All top 50 composers were written about in the article by some of the composers who specifically selected them. It is a magnificent article to read and absorb. Here are the Top ranked 50 as posted in the BBC article:


1. Bach
2. Stravinsky
3. Beethoven
4. Mozart
5. Debussy
6. Ligeti
7. Mahler
8. Wagner
9. Ravel
10. Monteverdi
11. Britten
12. Sibelius
13. Messiaen
14. Bartók
15. Shostakovich
16. Haydn
17. Saariaho
18. Brahms
19. Reich
20. Chopin
21. Vaughan Williams
22. Schoenberg
23. Gesualdo
24. Janáček
25. Schubert
26. Gershwin
27. Glass
28. Ives
29. Prokofiev
30. Lutoslawski
31. Cage
32. Tchaikovsky
33. Berg
34. Feldman
35. Varèse
36. Webern
37. Byrd
38. R.Strauss
39. Verdi
40. Elgar
41. Birtwistle
42. Knussen
43. Sondheim
44. Stockhausen
45. Satie
46. Tallis
47. Hildegard von Bingen

Each receiving the same number of votes:

48. Boulez
49. Schumann
50. Rachmaninov

51. John Williams

Interchangeable rank



Congrats Maestro, on making the Top 50! ;) :heart:



An article on the BBC Survey in Dec 2019's Magazine: http://www.classical-music.com/news/js-bach-greatest-composer-all-time-say-today-s-leading-composers-bbc-music-magazine

Dec 2019 BBC Issue with full article purchasable here: https://www.zinio.com/gb/bbc-music-magazine-m2404

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Please refrain from posting any more article content, due to respect to these composers like Williams as well as BBC for designing this massive survey (and I'm sure it would break some kind of forum etiquette / rules.) You can access the article in the above link and verify for yourself. It's loaded with every detail you desire.




1 hour ago, Modest Expectations said:

screenshot pls? I need to post it in the "John Williams: worthy addition to canon or charlatan" on Talk Classical


Talk Classical is a little old-fashioned ;) 

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I think the order in which they put them is nonsense. If judging by most popular or beloved (or as you like), how can Saariaho even break the top 50, not even mentioning she was put ahead of Gershwin. Including John Cage (can anyone actually name anything other than 4'33 and maybe his prepared piano concept) Morton Feldman, and the most surprising Charles Ives (who I love dearly with all my heart), but hardly anyone even knows who he is.


If you really wanted to measure a composer by how "great" they are, their accomplishments and impact to the history of music, and legacy of their field should be the starting point. Therefore making (really hard to say in what order, probably not possible given a historical context)- John Williams, Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messiaen, Claude Debussy, L.V. Beethoven, Arnold Schoenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Philip Glass, J.S. Bach (although a genius beyond measure, his music was hardly known at all until Mendelssohn brought him back, and even in his time he was considered kind of a weirdo at times- so not so sure he can be considered either). * Mozart and Haydn have been left of the list because their legacy was -seemingly- shattered by Beethoven- whom everyone copied for a great long time, however, all Beethoven really did was super stretch the boundaries of the "classical" period music, similar to Stravinsky in his time.


Now there are certain composers that were influential to some but not all : like Tchaikovsky to Stravinsky ( the Firebird really at moments sounds quite like the Nutcracker, which, in the entire Nutcracker ballet, the "non-famous" parts, often sound very very much, and even at times just taken directly, from Beethoven's 7th Symphony), and not sure I could say, but perhaps his big sweeping melodies influenced the Golden Age film composers. But this is not as easily documented.


Perhaps most people would not agree, but again its based on contribution. Olivier Messiaen influenced countless composers in his classroom, just as a very start. Stockhausen basically created "noise music", and furthered the boundaries of what could be done with electronic music (which can be seen still today which of course has genre crossed for the technique, not the music style itself), Schoenberg/ Boulez (although unintentionally for Boulez) created armies of disciples who continued writing in 12 tone/ serial fashion- Boulez taking it further with also his, in a different way, contributions to the electronic music field (with the hard work of the great fellows at IRCAM), Philip Glass also spurred a movement of composers, who didn't exactly steal his style directly, but the principle and harmonic progressions for sure (listen to the slow movement of his Tirol concerto, and don't tell me Hans Zimmer stole that and used it over and over again), Debussy (need I say it? how many times have you heard a composer say they were inspired by him- probably most of the people on that list, and then how many poor imitations or rip-offs of his music?).


And last of course, John Williams, who need no explanation, who I think in 100 years or less, be the hands down winner of the most influential of all time.


So finally, I think the BBC list just seems very random to me, without any kind of purpose at all. If people are going to make a list based on glib thoughts, and ignorance of a composers hard work and contributions (or there lack of) to their craft, then they shouldn't be making a list at all.......take THAT people who voted for Brexit!


(PS- The Sherman Brothers and Alan Menkan were not even listen, and they had a huge impact on the musical scene too, not to mention Andrew Lloyd Webber)


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Just fyi there are a few unmentioned composers who have the same amount of votes as Williams. 50th is just a placement approximation because no one composer could be higher than another if they have the same number of votes. Just want to give you girls the right info.

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5 hours ago, Brundlefly said:

Boring choices...


Nice to see Stravinsky, Bartók and Sibelius in the Top15!


Yeah, not so sure about some of the choices for this list, but I'm digging the respect for those fellas!

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2 hours ago, Dixon Hill said:

Nor Adams himself.  But Birtwistle?  Gesualdo?  Sondheim?  Knussen?  Go figure. 


These sorts of things love to form arbitrary barriers that become less and less justifiable with every question. 

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12 hours ago, Dixon Hill said:

Nor Adams himself.  But Birtwistle?  Gesualdo?  Sondheim?  Knussen?  Go figure. 


Seeing this is a BBC poll and a good portion of the 165 other respondents are likely British, you have to expect a slight dash of post-war parochialism. I admire Birtwhistle and Knussen, but Sir Max's omission here is curious


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57 minutes ago, Boom Tss said:


Seeing this is a BBC poll and a good portion of the 165 other respondents are likely British, you have to expect a slight dash of post-war parochialism. I admire Birtwhistle and Knussen, but Sir Max's omission here is curious



Sondheim, though? SONDHEIM!?!?


What's the excuse there!?

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Wait, Richard Strauss is 38?! and no Korngold? But Montiverdi is 10th? O.o



ok then..........


I'm not sure what constitutes best, I just always go with who my favorites are, and that list would be so different for me. I think any art is so subjective though.

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On 11/6/2019 at 1:17 AM, Gruesome Son of a Bitch said:

Where are Goldsmith and Horner? This is pure Kafka.

Goldsmith is someone who really deserves a place between these classic composers, but some people would probably think it's not authentic to include someone who's known for so many experiments with synthetic sound and always connected to the bad movies he was involved in.

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1 hour ago, Jurassic Shark said:

Elfman isn't great though. He's done some very good stuff, but he's more often mediocre than not.


In big action blockbusters these days, perhaps. But outside that, an impressive brilliant consistency.


But obviously, he should have no place on a list like this. Nor should Williams, for that matter. Let's keep things in perspective here.

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14 minutes ago, Jurassic Shark said:


My bad - I totally forgot about his 50 Shades magnum opus! :P



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1 hour ago, Modest Expectations said:

So when Dudamel introduced him at a concert in comparison with Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, and Shostakovich, he must have been really high :rolleyes:, right?


I can totally understand Dudamel's reasoning. What is yours?


Well, everyone is allowed to have an opinion. Williams would tower at the very top of my own list too, but not necessarily on top of a 'greatest' list, which has more of an 'objective' air to it.

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I don't understand your post, really.


When you do a list with the words 'greatest' or 'best', it will always have a more objective air than 'favourite' -- I say 'objective air' because lists will always have a degree of subjectivity involved, of course. In other words, my (or Gustavo Dudamel's) list of favourites would look considerably different than if I were challenged to make a list of 'best' or 'greatest' or 'most influential' or whatever.

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11 hours ago, Modest Expectations said:

My observation is that in oder to secure a place in the top... let's say 100 of the classical pantheon, a composer typically needs to extend the existing tradition in some way. It can be through impressive discoveries within the current paradigm, or through contributing to a shift to a new one. Given composer's music needs to be superior in some ways to that of the other composers.


The competition for this type of fame is very brutal. Did Goldsmith really manage to do it to a larger extent than the established classical fames?

Especially him, yes. More than Williams and more than several obligatory choices on the list. But in the end, this is really a pretty decent list!

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