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What I mean by the title can be explained like this:

Well, there are some composers who wrote great music every single time (Category One). There are some composers who wrote some great music and some not-so-good music (Category Two). Then there are some composers who did not write any good music (Category Three).

Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff are great examples of category one.

Other than the Schoenberg-copycats (Note: Schoenberg himself would actually fit in Category Two due to his beautiful Nocturne for Harp and Strings), I can't think of many in category three.

I can think of a few that can fit in Category Two.

Anton Rubinstein would fit in Category Two for me. His Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor and his Staccato Etude in C major, is in my opinion, excellent music; Rubinstein's Piano Concerto No. 3 in G major, on the other hand, I can't listen to, even in Josef Hoffman's hands.

Another example is Edward MacDowell. Now he's a composer I love, and I find the majority of his music excellent (although my compatriots might disagree), so it was hard for me to admit this. But I personally dislike most of the pieces he wrote before his Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor. (The exception to that rule is the Prelude Op. 10 No. 1)

Alkan is the final person I'll put in Category Two for now... I feel like his shorter pieces are excellent (his 49 Esquisses as well as the Allegro Barbaro), but his longer pieces (like his Sonata) are too much for me...

What composers can you think of that fit in Category Two, and why?

Last edited by iaintagreatpianist; 02/26/21 05:43 PM.

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Definitely not Beethoven for category one. He wrote some terrible things in piano rep. A professor of mine had great conversations about it back in the day, guessing which pieces he wrote to "pay the bills" and fulfill contracts. Look at the Bagatelles, for example. One opus comes to mind that is good. The rest are terrible and outright silly! laugh


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All composers wrote some poor pieces. Some wrote pieces that rose above the rest. But anyone who thinks that there were composers who wrote great music all the time is just not familiar with all those composers' music.

Besides, there is no agreement on the relative merits of compositions. I do not agree with someone who thinks most of Beethoven's Bagatelles are terrible and silly. Besides, there is plenty of silly music which is not terrible.


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A lot of mediocre music was written by all composers.

But not all of them remembered to burn the lousy ones before they got published.

The ones who seemed to be born with a 'discerning' composing mind were simply more liberal with their flint and tinder - like Brahms, for example.


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Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory" is enough to knock him into category 2. Which just illustrates that such lists and categories are pointless.

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Nice thread. Most composers are tier 2. I think the only ones that truly occupy 1 are... none, but maybe Chopin. Let me be clear that this is not me being a mere fanboy. I believe that Chopin's inspired:unspired ratio is the highest of all composers, without debate. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven all composed so much music that it simply can't all be necessary. Inspirational 'duds' so to speak. Just my opinion. Chopin only produced 65 opuses, and almost none of them beyond his point of maturity are gratuitous. I believe this is due to his nature as a composer, who strived for absolute perfect beauty all the time, at the expense of his own mental health. See below:

His music was spontaneous, miraculous. He found it without seeking it, without previous intimation of it. It came upon his piano sudden, complete, sublime, or it sang in his head during a walk, and he was impatient to hear it himself with the help of the instrument. But then began the most desperate labor that I have ever witnessed. It was a succession of efforts, hesitations and moments of impatience to recapture certain details of the theme he could hear; what he had conceived as one piece, he analyzed too much in trying to write it down, and his dismay at his inability to rediscover it in what he thought was its original purity threw him into a kind of despair. He would lock himself up in his room for whole days, weeping, pacing back and forth, breaking his pens, repeating or changing one bar a hundred times, writing and erasing it as many times, and beginning again the next day with an infinite and desperate perseverance. He sometimes spent six weeks on one page, only in the end to write it exactly as he had sketched at the first draft - George Sand

As for the question posed in the original post, I don't think I can offer much as, again, I believe most composers belong to the second category. I think a more interesting way to frame this discussion would be to categorize composers by their inspired:uninspired ratios.

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Originally Posted by BDB
All composers wrote some poor pieces. Some wrote pieces that rose above the rest. But anyone who thinks that there were composers who wrote great music all the time is just not familiar with all those composers' music.

Besides, there is no agreement on the relative merits of compositions. I do not agree with someone who thinks most of Beethoven's Bagatelles are terrible and silly. Besides, there is plenty of silly music which is not terrible.
The correct answer! I think the largest group is probably group three. Just go to IMSLP and you'll see that you don't even recognize the names of 80+% of the composers because their music is never played because of its quality compared to the great composers.

Liszt wrote a huge number of weak pieces which is probably why around 10% of his pieces make up 90% of the performances of his works.

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One composer springs to mind as to have written (and published) only good (and wel written) music: Maurice Ravel, not a single flaw in his oeuvre, he deserves a special category: 1+.


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The problem with composers like Ravel and Brahms is that they did not release everything that they wrote. We do not know everything that every composer wrote.

Of course, Ravel thought that his Bolero was a potboiler!


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No composer only wrote masterpieces. Not even Bach, Mozart or Beethoven.

I guess category 1 composers are those with a few duds among plenty of masterpieces. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven; but also Haydn, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Tschaikowsky, Shostakovich. And possibly others. Chopin seems to be popular among some piano players.

Category 2 composers would be those with a few masterpieces among plenty of duds. I guess there are plenty of "Classical One Hit Wonders" that would fit the bill. Boccherini, Pachelbel, Bruch come to mind. Possibly Orff as well.
But maybe also some opera composers like Bizet, Weber or Rossini, who wrote a few outstanding operas and other pieces, and plenty of music that is, well, not on any classical evergreens hitlist.

Category 3 composers are not known because nobody plays their music. That's why I can't nominate one. Maybe the composers that Ivan Sollertinski named when trying to find someone to compare Scriabin to.


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Originally Posted by BDB
The problem with composers like Ravel and Brahms is that they did not release everything that they wrote. We do not know everything that every composer wrote.

Of course, Ravel thought that his Bolero was a potboiler!

Ravel also thought one of his famous pieces from early in his career had a messed up form. I forget which one - I think the Pavane for a Dead Princess, or maybe Jeux d'eau.

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Everyone wrote a dud at some point. Even With Bach, tell me you don’t find some of the preludes and fugues in the wtc boring.

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Originally Posted by iaintagreatpianist
Other than the Schoenberg-copycats (Note: Schoenberg himself would actually fit in Category Two due to his beautiful Nocturne for Harp and Strings), I can't think of many in category three.

Schoenberg wrote a lot of great music. What about Pierrot Lunaire, Transfigured Night, and the piano concerto?

Other serialists wrote great music too. Berg's violin concerto, Wozzeck, and Lulu come to mind.

Last edited by johnstaf; 02/27/21 11:49 AM.
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PS of course the serialists' great works aren't necessarily serialist. Some are and some aren't.

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Originally Posted by iaintagreatpianist
Alkan is the final person I'll put in Category Two for now... I feel like his shorter pieces are excellent (his 49 Esquisses as well as the Allegro Barbaro), but his longer pieces (like his Sonata) are too much for me...

So writing pieces you can't handle means the composer is deficient?

I couldn't handle Elliott Carter's Piano Concerto for about 30 years after I first heard it, and then I could. I suppose Carter should have dumbed it down for me.....but of course, that would have made it a different piece of music.

Last edited by wr; 02/27/21 12:43 PM.
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John, I really hope you wouldn’t take this as insulting but I was gonna say all composers had their highs and lows except for serialist who consistently created only rubbish 🤣 But it’s my very biased opinion against serial “music”, admittedly.

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/27/21 12:47 PM.

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Category 1: nobody
Category 3: Einaudi
Category 2: everyone else

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Originally Posted by Ubu
Category 1: nobody
Category 3: Einaudi
Category 2: everyone else

Fair enough. grin


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Frankly I don't think category one exists. The people you mention for this category wrote some amazingly boring, pedestrian, uninteresting, and repetitive stuff, along with the occasional sublime (OK, Beethoven scored quite a lot in the sublime). I'm a creative person who makes stuff for money. Some of it is OK, some worse, and some I'm very proud of. I think that extends to music. I'd like to suggest Irving Berlin as a category two composer (remember, nobody is perfect so category one doesn't exist in this or any other world).

Berlin wrote as many as 1,500 songs. What are the ones we remember and cherish: "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "Easter Parade", "Puttin' on the Ritz", "Cheek to Cheek", "White Christmas", "Happy Holiday", "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)", and "There's No Business Like Show Business". There are more, but you get the point. People have to pay the bills. With geniuses, lightening strikes several times but not always. Was Edison always successful? Nope.

Final analysis: Lose the God complex about Beethoven, et allii, and the non-existent category one, and cherish what imperfect humans bequeath to us, even if it's one or two items that speak to our heart.

Last edited by cfhosford; 02/27/21 01:48 PM.

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Originally Posted by CyberGene
John, I really hope you wouldn’t take this as insulting but I was gonna say all composers had their highs and lows except for serialist who consistently created only rubbish 🤣 But it’s my very biased opinion against serial “music”, admittedly.

🤣🤣🤣

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