Why was Bach so great?

Bach fulfills a huge number of criteria that people use to judge the quality of a composer. He had extraordinary harmonic control, he wrote beautiful melodies, he had great structural control, he wrote wonderfully for voice and idiomatically across all instruments, he was equally adept at both small- and large-scale works, he had a palpable sense of religious awe, he had a sense of humour, his music has great humanity, he wrote with an almost unbelievable intellectual rigour. Continue reading “Why was Bach so great?”

What did the 20th century contribute to piano music?

The simple answer to this question is a huge amount. I might even go so far as to say that use of the piano developed more in the 20th century than in any other period of musical history.

The great period of technological development was the late 1700s into the mid 1800s when the invention and refinement of the mechanism that allows the piano to play both loudly and quietly took place. Musically, composers certainly explored these new opportunities – look at the expressive range of Beethoven’s piano music in comparison to Mozart’s and the difference is obvious. Continue reading “What did the 20th century contribute to piano music?”

Is it fair to say Mozart had more natural talent than Bach?

Before answering this question, we have to unpack what ‘natural talent’ means. While there is no question that some people have more aptitude for particular tasks than others, I don’t think there is any evidence for true natural gift.

Certainly if you read the work of the Swedish psychologist Anders-Ericsson, you would be hard pressed to believe that in anything other than the most extreme cases and in specific kinds of activity there is such a thing as natural ability. Have a look here for an introduction to his ideas The Making of an Expert. Continue reading “Is it fair to say Mozart had more natural talent than Bach?”

What makes contemporary composers so important? What do they contribute?

I think this is a great question. It is really a question about what the value of art is as a whole – the things that make contemporary composers important are also what make every living artist important.

As with many of these questions, I think we have to define exactly what you mean by ‘important’. And when you say ‘what do they contribute?’, there is a piece missing – a contribution has to be made to something.

Continue reading “What makes contemporary composers so important? What do they contribute?”

Who is considered the most complete opera composer?

This is an interesting question. ‘Complete’ is often used as a synonym for ‘best’ – for me, though, I think it more properly should include a sense of how all-encompassing a composer is. Haydn, for example, could be considered one of the most complete composers because he wrote in pretty much every genre available to him.

Richard’s mention of Wagner as one of the most complete operatic composers is certainly on the money, not only because he wrote his own libretti but also because his opera encompass such enormous worlds. Continue reading “Who is considered the most complete opera composer?”