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Originally Posted by CyberGene
I’m wondering if Chopin probably had relatively small hands since I also have small hands (I can play tenths but not very comfortably so) and haven’t found any intervals in his music that I can’t play.

Freddy had smallish hands but long, lean fingers with little webbing between them, which meant that he had a good stretch. There is a cast of his hand in the Chopin museum in Warsaw, if you get the chance to visit (after the borders open again.....).

https://www.alamy.com/chopins-hand-...pin-1810-1849-polish-image155404928.html

He has written quite a lot of 10ths which he didn't envisage being rolled, e.g. in his Funeral March (D flat - F').


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My opinions are probably of the plebian variety here, but I'm okay with that smile

In reality there is no way to determine greatness. We can try to come up with criteria but at the end of the day WE are the ones putting constraints around these composers.

I want to put a lot of caveats here: for the purpose of this discussion, I pretty much only care about piano-centric music (solo piano and concertos) since that is what I play. While I have been exposed to a tremendous amount of symphonic, vocal, etc, music throughout my life, nothing has ever moved me like piano centric music has. So, unfairly or not I will give piano centric music tremendous weight when considering this. I am also an unabashed concerto lover - I generally prefer both playing and listening to concertos more than I do solo piano music, with the exception of several very special pieces (Hammerklavier, a good Waldstein recording, Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Liszt Sonata in B Minor, the WTC, etc).

That being said, I think Rachmaninoff is undoubtedly one of the greatest composers - if uneven. To me, personally, he is a composer that in his finest moments shines brighter than most, but with narrower scope. That's okay with me - I can find more emotional meaning and intellectual challenge in several of Rachmaninoff's works than I can in many more of Schumann's or Schubert's (go ahead, stone me). On the flip side, a lot of his shorter piano works leave me cold.

For the last decade I've been trying to convince myself to learn his third concerto. I've learned chunks of the various movements (1st movement cadenza, some of the 2nd movement themes which I think are extraordinary) but every time I convince myself to learn the whole thing I am utterly overwhelmed by the understanding of the emotional and intellectual work it would take to plan a cohesive performance. Sure, the notes are one thing, but to me it's this understanding that I would need to emotionally focus on it and nothing else for a year plus to do it justice that scares me. I didn't have that feeling when learning his second concerto or Mvmts 1 and 2 of Brahms 2. I understood how to approach those. His third concerto is one of the only works that I am genuinely afraid to attempt and wonder if I ever will, and it's not because of technical difficulty.

I don't love everything Rachmaninoff wrote. And I think there are several composers who wrote a greater volume of high quality music than he did. But I could pick three or four works of his that I think touch the pinnacle of the human existence, and ten or fifteen moments throughout his repertoire that I think stand with anything ever written and make me feel like nothing from other classicaly "great" composers ever has. To me, that counts for something.




Last edited by computerpro3; 03/26/20 10:17 PM.
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Yeah the term "great" is a strange one when referring to quality.

For example, people refer to Mohammed Ali as great, possibly the greatest of all time. But he certainly wasn't the best boxer, technically speaking. I think the term "great" was for the most part used to refer to his achievements. There's a difference between "greatest" and "best", it seems.

I would say Rachmaninov was undoubtedly great in terms of achievement as a composer. Great enough to be considered important, certainly.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by CyberGene
I’m wondering if Chopin probably had relatively small hands since I also have small hands (I can play tenths but not very comfortably so) and haven’t found any intervals in his music that I can’t play.

Freddy had smallish hands but long, lean fingers with little webbing between them, which meant that he had a good stretch. There is a cast of his hand in the Chopin museum in Warsaw, if you get the chance to visit (after the borders open again.....).

https://www.alamy.com/chopins-hand-...pin-1810-1849-polish-image155404928.html

He has written quite a lot of 10ths which he didn't envisage being rolled, e.g. in his Funeral March (D flat - F').

Thanks, yes, I've seen these casts on many pictures but I need to see them in front of me in real size to be able to judge. I think I may have a comparable stretch since I can play 10ths without rolling, although as I said it's already approaching my limits and I need to be very careful not to play the 9th together since my arm becomes too flat. As a side note, because of my small hands and trying to stretch for larger intervals (and because I'm self taught and didn't have teachers to stop it), I've developed a very bad habit of twisting my pinky in the opposite way - arced down frown Some people noticed it on my first YouTube videos many years ago. But according to my mother in law who's a piano teacher, it's too late to try to re-learn that and since I play for pleasure only, no need to try to do... Anyway, I'm comfortable with Chopin's music in terms of interval stretches. Unlike Rachmaninoff's music wink As another side note, I have a modern Yamaha grand piano action (N1X) and a 100-year old Langer piano action and it seem the Langer has very slightly narrower keys where a 10th stretch is easier for me. I'm wondering if for example a custom keyboard with even narrower keys would be even better, for instance one that would allow me to play 11-ths.


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Originally Posted by BeeZee4
Well known artists who don't program Rachmaninoff on their solo programs: Andras Schiff, Angela Hewitt, Daniel Baremboim, Maurizio Pollini, Emmanuel Ax.
Any others?

Josef Hoffman programmed very little Rachmaninoff on his solo programs, despite Rachmaninoff himself claiming Hoffman was his favorite pianist. (I believe Hoffman only recorded two preludes.)

Hoffman was the dedicatee to Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto, but Hoffman preferred that piece's predecessor, Anton Rubinstein's Fourth Concerto. (Which sounds thematically similar to Rachmaninoff's Third, but it was written 40 years earlier!)

Last edited by iaintagreatpianist; 03/27/20 11:23 AM.

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I believe certain composers and their pieces in the less-played repertoire ought to be re-examined.
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Hoffman had small hands. I’m not surprised that a couple of preludes are the only Rachmaninov he played publicly. I also find those pieces the most accessible of his music, such as the famous C# minor one. They also are among the more technically accessible, though that would not have been Hoffman’s limitation.


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Originally Posted by Carey
Overall I'd say your top 20 list is solid - but I would personally switch Prokofiev with Sibelius.

After some personal internal debate, I decided my final top 20 list of composers should replace Sibelius with Shostakovich, arriving at the chronological list;

Bach
Handel
Haydn
Mozart
Beethoven
Schubert
Mendelssohn
Chopin
Schumann
Wagner
Verdi
Brahms
Dvorak
Tchaikovsky
Mahler
Debussy
Ravel
Shostakovich
Bartok
Stravinsky

Shostakovich was born before Bartok and Stravinsky, but despite showing great talent at piano as a child, took a degree in math and physics, and worked as an engineer for a time before deciding to devote life to music. We thus think of him as a slightly later composer than Stravinsky.


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I won’t open another thread but how great is Bruckner as a composer? 😁 I noticed it’s only on my top 10 list. I’ve also encountered some rather dismissal words about his music from various musicians and can’t really understand that madness, the guy is da bomb! (to use John’s words)


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Originally Posted by Sweelinck

Shostakovich was born before Bartok and Stravinsky
I don't mean to be pedantic, but Shostakovich was born later than both. I wonder if you mean someone else. At any rate I could probably agree with your top 5-10 or so, although Beethoven had to be second, I'd rank Brahms higher and find a place for Liszt.

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Rachmaninoff was probably the greatest composer born on April 1.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus

1. Women generally have smaller hands(palms and fingers) then men but many professional and amateur women pianists play the music of Rachmaninov.


Although the stretch is not entirely dictated by palm size or finger length, but also by how supple the hand is and therefore how close to a 180' the thumb and little finger can achieve while stretched. Perhaps this has something to do with it?

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Originally Posted by rmns2bseen
Originally Posted by Sweelinck

Shostakovich was born before Bartok and Stravinsky
I don't mean to be pedantic, but Shostakovich was born later than both. I wonder if you mean someone else. At any rate I could probably agree with your top 5-10 or so, although Beethoven had to be second, I'd rank Brahms higher and find a place for Liszt.

My list was intended to be chronological, not a relative ranking. You are correct of course that Shostakovich was born after Bartok and Stravinsky. That was what I had believed but when I looked up his birth year, I misread something— probably his father’s birth year. Other than misplacing Shostakovich in the list, it is chronological.

I consider Liszt a first tier composer, but he does not quite make my top-20 because of a feeling that he subordinated musical aesthetic to motifs to show off his technique in performances. This is not an uncommon critique of Liszt, and I do get that not everyone agrees with that assessment.

I don’t think it is possible to rank composers in numerical order but I think Bach, Beethoven, Mozart would be most people’s top 3 in that order. How would I ever decide on an ordering for Brahms and Mendelssohn? They are both outstanding. Pianists probably prefer Brahms.


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Originally Posted by CyberGene
I won’t open another thread but how great is Bruckner as a composer? 😁 I noticed it’s only on my top 10 list. I’ve also encountered some rather dismissal words about his music from various musicians and can’t really understand that madness, the guy is da bomb! (to use John’s words)


I assume most people here are ranking composers by their contribution to piano literature, and Bruckner would not therefore qualify. He's known largely for his symphonies. I personally do not understand the fascination with Bruckner. His symphonies leave me frustrated. They are repetitious to an extreme. The constant shifting between fortissimo and pianissimo passages is very tiresome and simplistic, as if he didn't know how to develop his themes or modulate across keys. The over-reliance on the brass section its equally irritating. There is only one composer I definitely would not pay to hear, and it is Bruckner, whereas I would go out of my way to hear any of the symphonies of his contemporary, Gustav Mahler.

But...millions of people adore Bruckner's music. There seems to be something mystical or hypnotic about Bruckner's symphonies that leaves his admirers breathless and overwhelmed at the end. He is regularly programmed, and many conductors love scheduling his symphonies. Since none of this can be denied, it would be foolish of me to ignore the fact that he is a great composer to many people.

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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
[quote=rmns2bseen][quote=Sweelinck]

I consider Liszt a first tier composer, but he does not quite make my top-20 because of a feeling that he subordinated musical aesthetic to motifs to show off his technique in performances. This is not an uncommon critique of Liszt, and I do get that not everyone agrees with that assessment.


It is difficult to rank Liszt as a composer, even for the piano. He wrote a tremendous amount of piano music over a long life, and much of it is never heard. This misses the point, though. He invented the piano transcription, and he used it to popularize the work of dozens of composers the general public was never going to hear unless they had the money to attend symphonic concerts or operas. He also took up symphonic conducting, which he brought to a whole other level that created the idea that the conductor was a performer in his own right - a superstar of sorts. Here too, Liszt programmed works new to the public, and was willing to put up with a lot of criticism because his instincts were right. This was how the public came to know the works of Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner, for example.

Add to this his invention of the tone poem, which Richard Strauss later developed to perfection, and considering Liszt's late piano music which is impressionistic and foreshadows Ravel and Debussy some thirty years later, and you have a man who was always a step ahead of his time. It is impossible to imagine what 19th century music would have been without Liszt, but it certainly would have been much poorer. In this respect, Liszt was one of the greatest all-around musical geniuses, and has to rank as one of the top five most influential composers of all time.

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Originally Posted by Numerian
Originally Posted by CyberGene
I won’t open another thread but how great is Bruckner as a composer? 😁 I noticed it’s only on my top 10 list. I’ve also encountered some rather dismissal words about his music from various musicians and can’t really understand that madness, the guy is da bomb! (to use John’s words)


I assume most people here are ranking composers by their contribution to piano literature, and Bruckner would not therefore qualify. He's known largely for his symphonies. I personally do not understand the fascination with Bruckner. His symphonies leave me frustrated. They are repetitious to an extreme. The constant shifting between fortissimo and pianissimo passages is very tiresome and simplistic, as if he didn't know how to develop his themes or modulate across keys. The over-reliance on the brass section its equally irritating. There is only one composer I definitely would not pay to hear, and it is Bruckner, whereas I would go out of my way to hear any of the symphonies of his contemporary, Gustav Mahler.

But...millions of people adore Bruckner's music. There seems to be something mystical or hypnotic about Bruckner's symphonies that leaves his admirers breathless and overwhelmed at the end. He is regularly programmed, and many conductors love scheduling his symphonies. Since none of this can be denied, it would be foolish of me to ignore the fact that he is a great composer to many people.

Thanks for your opinion. It's funny how I actually love Bruckner for exactly the same reasons you don't like him laugh I like the repetitions, the extreme contrasts, the mighty brass. People are different, that's good. I equally love Mahler and his 6th symphony is probably one of the best symphonies ever created. I would still slightly prefer Bruckner mainly because I don't like the use of vocals in some of Mahler's symphonies, it just spoils the magic for me. BTW, Mahler wasn't exactly a contemporary to Bruckner, I even think he was a Bruckner's student for a while. And as as second "BTW", the stark contrasts are also omnipresent in Mahler's music, maybe not in such a simplistic way as Bruckner but sometimes they are kind of overly exaggerated. In that regard I would rather prefer Sibelius whose music isn't relying on contrasts at all but follows a very logical and elaborate development of a simple cell. All that being said, these three composers (and Shostakovich to a lesser degree) are equally high in my opinion and I would listen interchangeably to any of them depending on the mood.

Last edited by CyberGene; 04/05/20 09:49 AM.

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Excellent summary of these composers! I also agree with you on Sibelius. His 2nd and 5th symphonies heard in a concert hall are powerful experiences.

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Originally Posted by Numerian
Originally Posted by CyberGene
I won’t open another thread but how great is Bruckner as a composer? 😁 I noticed it’s only on my top 10 list. I’ve also encountered some rather dismissal words about his music from various musicians and can’t really understand that madness, the guy is da bomb! (to use John’s words)


I assume most people here are ranking composers by their contribution to piano literature, and Bruckner would not therefore qualify. He's known largely for his symphonies. I personally do not understand the fascination with Bruckner. His symphonies leave me frustrated. They are repetitious to an extreme. The constant shifting between fortissimo and pianissimo passages is very tiresome and simplistic, as if he didn't know how to develop his themes or modulate across keys. The over-reliance on the brass section its equally irritating. There is only one composer I definitely would not pay to hear, and it is Bruckner, whereas I would go out of my way to hear any of the symphonies of his contemporary, Gustav Mahler.

But...millions of people adore Bruckner's music. There seems to be something mystical or hypnotic about Bruckner's symphonies that leaves his admirers breathless and overwhelmed at the end. He is regularly programmed, and many conductors love scheduling his symphonies. Since none of this can be denied, it would be foolish of me to ignore the fact that he is a great composer to many people.


Bruckner’s choral music far outshines his symphonies. Listen to the Mass in E Minor, Te Deum, and motets like Os Justi and Christus factus est. Some of the best choral music from the Romantic Era, and honestly, while Mahler 2, 3, and 8 are great, Bruckner was a much superior choral composer (though Mahler was of course a greater orchestral composer).

Back to symphonies, I take Mahler all day every day, haha.

Apparently, Bruckner was very self-conscious about his compositions, and if someone criticized or told him he needed to change something, he would almost always do it. Also, there is an infamous story about him showing up uninvited to Beethoven’s body being exhumed, and he actually ran up and kissed Beethoven’s skull… Or something like that!

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I believe I prefer Rachmaninoff as a symphonic composer to either Mahler or Bruckner.


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Originally Posted by Orange Soda King
Also, there is an infamous story about him showing up uninvited to Beethoven’s body being exhumed, and he actually ran up and kissed Beethoven’s skull… Or something like that!

Apparently he kissed both Beethoven's and Schubert's skulls when their bodies were exhumed. He certainly took hero worship to the extreme.


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I recall when the 15 member Dallas City Council was invited to a performance of the Mahler 7th Symphony by the Dallas Symphony at the newly opened Meyerson Symphony Center. Several of those folks and their spouses had never attended a formal orchestral concert in their lives. Like good troopers, they sat through the entire concert. A week later one of them was seen proudly wearing a custom T-shirt that said - "I survived the Mahler 7th." grin


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