2015年10月7日 星期三

馬友友Yo-Yo Ma, Jill Hornor,& Bobby McFerrin

Yo-Yo Ma has been performing professionally for the past four decades and over that time period, no one seems to have had more fun. In honor of his 60th birthday tomorrow, here are 11 standout videos of Ma at work and play.

The cellist has indulged his boundless interest in music throughout his career with no sign of slowing down.
WQXR.ORG

Ma is married to Jill Hornor, a German literature professor at Harvard. They have two children, Nicholas and Emily.[35]

馬友友伉儷、家人。



Kuo-Lan Szu 新增了 2 張新相片


【馬友友鮮為人知的愛情故事】

被西方媒體評為“最性感的古典音樂家”馬友友,居然沒有任何音樂學院的畢業文憑( sic)。雖然他已獲15個葛萊美大獎,卻一直拒絕登上領獎台。《時代》人物周刊的一篇文章認為:馬友友是古典樂壇的寵兒,也是最受爭議的叛逆者。幾十年來,這位華裔音樂家走過了一條艱難的人生孤旅。而他的愛情也如他的大提琴曲一樣,如天籟之音,充滿夢幻般的色彩…….....


“一吻之賭”失掉初戀

  馬友友出生於音樂世家:父親是音樂教育家,母親是歌唱家。4歲時,父親把他領到了大提琴面前,把巴赫的樂譜交給他。馬友友對音樂的痴迷讓人吃驚:兩年時間,他練琴的地板上居然被壓出了一片坑凹。

  6歲時,馬友友來到美國,跟著名指揮家斯坦恩同台演出。演奏完畢,觀眾把瘋狂的掌聲送給了這位音樂神童。

  幾年後,在斯坦恩的勸導下,9歲的馬友友決定進入正規的音樂學院學習。那時馬友友已經跟許多名家合作演出過,出了個人專輯,上了暢銷排行榜,已頗負盛名。但是,正處在青春萌動期的他開始放縱自己:他蓄起了披肩長發,開始曠課、抽煙、酗酒……

  一個週末,馬友友在百無聊賴時參加了一個同學的生日派對。朋友同他打賭,誰能在晚上12點時得到一個叫吉兒的女孩的吻,那麼第二天他就可以獲得兩張NBA的入場券和一整塊外賣海鮮比薩餅。

  馬友友對吉兒一無所知,只聽說她是才女,從小在歐洲長大。還有她因為外型酷似“芭比娃娃”有了“芭比小姐”的綽號。可是,當馬友友走到她面前的時候,手心卻開始冒汗,這是“派對王子”從來沒有過的。然而,漂亮的女孩卻主動向他伸出了手:“我叫吉兒,很高興認識你-YOYOMA(馬友友)。”

  入夜,晚風有些清涼,吉兒給馬友友講起一個故事:“14歲生日的時候,我在維也納得到了一張音樂會的門票,那是一個大提琴獨奏會。大幕拉開後,是一個跟我年齡差不多的少年。在鋼琴的伴奏下,他老練地開始了演奏,所有的人都被他吸引。那天晚上我對父母說,這個才華橫溢的少年是我見過最性感的男人……

  “我搬到了美國,到了紐約,試圖再尋找那個少年,可是不知道為什麼我再也沒有查到他音樂會的消息了。直到有一天我聽說了他在朱麗亞音樂學院就讀的消息,你可以想像我的興奮……”

  聽了吉兒的一席話,馬友友良久無言———那個少年之所以銷聲匿跡,是因為他正沉湎於各色派對和酒會中的緣故。12點到了,幾個朋友在遠處叫馬友友的名字,他一下子回到了現實。他想都不想就吻了吉兒,轉身離去。

  第二天,馬友友得到了NBA門票和比薩餅,可是他一點兒都不快樂。而吉兒知道那個晚上的內幕後覺得很受傷。她給馬友友送來一封信,信中夾著那張她14歲生日時馬友友的音樂會門票。她只寫了一句話:“我後悔回到美國,你摔碎了我的夢。”

  吉兒的信讓馬友友深受震動,一番痛苦思考後,他決心重新調整自己的人生。1972年春,17歲的馬友友決定從朱麗亞音樂學院輟學。院長握著他的手不解地問:“為什麼要讓自己的音樂理想湮滅?”馬友友回答很簡單:“我覺得現在的自己沒有資格繼續做一個音樂人,我迷失了太久了。”

  不久,吉兒要回歐洲了。馬友友聽說後趕到機場送行,卻沒有勇氣向她當面道別。飛機離去後,這個少年久久徘徊於機場外的草坪,眼中噙滿淚水。說起這段經歷,馬友友的母親說:“那是他的初戀。吉兒走後,他痛苦了一大段時間,甚至有一次他問我:有沒有辦法讓時間倒流?我告訴他沒有,但是我們可以重新書寫未來。於是,他考上了哈佛。”

哈佛邂逅重拾琴弓

  轉眼間,馬友友在哈佛已經進入了第4個年頭。在一個春光明媚的日子裡,習慣低頭思索走路的馬友友不小心撞到了一個人,他抬起頭的一瞬間呆住了。
  
  “你胖了高了,而且換了眼鏡。”她平靜地看著他說。他張著嘴,什麼都說不出,他的手心又在出汗……

  她就是吉兒,他們分手多年後竟又重逢。吉兒還是那麼熱情和大方:“聽說你在修人類學,這似乎跟大提琴無關呢!我修德文,剛剛入學。”與吉兒相遇後的那個晚上,馬友友一夜無眠。第二天一早,他把電話打到了吉兒的宿舍,吉兒的同室說她已回長島家中了。

  吉兒到家後意外地收到了馬友友的信,裡面是那張被保存多年的音樂會門票。在吉兒當年的留言旁邊,貼了馬友友這樣的字條:“你離開我後,愛情和音樂似乎都從我的生命裡消失了。我放棄了大提琴已經快4年了,現在的我不知道還能否會拉琴。昨晚,我躊躇了一夜,我想要為你做一件事情,彌補我從前的荒唐和輕薄。我想了很久,覺得只有一個辦法:我要為你舉行一個獨奏會。請別拒絕我。”

  馬友友為吉兒所舉行的獨奏會是在學院小禮堂舉行的。馬友友這輩子從沒有這樣怯場過,他調音許久,就是不敢拉出第一個音符。吉兒在台下耐心等著,她發現馬友友的手抖得厲害,就走到了他的面前,把手搭在了他的肩上,溫柔地問道:“親愛的,你擔心什麼呢?”馬友友憋紅了臉說道:“我擔心我演出失敗,你又跑回歐洲。”吉兒在馬友友的臉頰上輕輕地吻了一下,說道:“我哪也不去,你在哪裡,哪裡就是我的家。”

  馬友友受到了鼓勵,第一個深沉的音符終於從他的手中滑出。同樣是巴赫的《熱情》,所不同的是現在的《熱情》裡飽含著男人深沉的渴望。當音樂終於停下的時候,吉兒走上了台,俯身在馬友友的身邊說:“4年前的那個晚上,我曾經對父母說過你是我見過的最性感的少年。但是我隱瞞了一句話,現在我補充上,我要嫁給他!”馬友友的臉紅了,激動地抱住他的夢中情人,拼命旋轉。

  1974年,在哈佛大學生的反越戰集會上,馬友友在吉兒的鼓勵下,正式拾起了大提琴。在那個上萬人的集會上,他那首優美動人的越南民歌《湄公河春望》和匈牙利作曲家柯達依的《悲慘世界》震撼了在場所有人。演出結束後,會場裡一片寂靜,許久,大家才從他美妙的意境中甦醒過來,長久地歡呼著“YO-YOMA”的名字,如痴如醉。那次集會使馬友友深刻感受到了音樂給人們帶來的震撼力,他決定重出江湖。

愛妻助他走出陰霾
  1978年,馬友友與吉兒正式結婚。兩年內,他們的一雙寶貝兒女相繼出世。吉兒放棄了在哈佛繼續攻讀數學博士的機會,做了一個賢妻良母。吉兒不僅是丈夫生活上的好伴侶,也是事業上的好幫手。她以自己旅行非洲時所見的叢林音樂卡爾哈利的節奏為靈感,建議丈夫大膽嘗試非洲音樂元素。一年後,承載著馬友友全新創作理念的《Meyer》獲得了該年度的葛萊美大獎。

  同年,馬友友的4張新專輯全部打入了世界古典音樂排行榜。尤其是他的《巴赫靈感》專輯,由於對巴赫的全新詮釋風靡世界,被譽為二十世紀古典音樂界一個偉大改革,為古老的經典曲目賦予了新的生命。許多現代音樂評論家指出,馬友友的大提琴穿越了國界、戰爭、宗教,琴聲裡飽含了生命的激情和愛情的震撼……

  20世紀90年代初,正當馬友友處於事業頂峰之際,卻遭受了一場重大的危機。而在最艱難的時候,讓他重新站立起來的恰恰又是他的妻子吉兒。

  由於馬友友從20世紀80年代起,不斷地把世界各地的民樂、通俗樂甚至邊緣樂器都融入了他的創作,觸怒了嚴肅音樂界的保守派。1992年春,維也納國家劇院宣布取消與他簽訂的演出合約。同時,馬友友的恩師,也是他最依賴和崇敬的指揮家斯坦恩先生也拒絕與他同台演出。電話中,他對馬友友說:“孩子,你在自以為是的軌道上滑行得太遠了,難道你想把古典音樂變成兒歌秀?”

  馬友友無聲地放下了電話,被迷茫和孤獨徹底地打倒。那天晚上,他給遠在美國的妻子打了一個電話。吉兒第一次聽到丈夫哭泣,心都碎了。她推掉手頭的工作,飛到了丈夫身邊。
  
吉兒像母親一樣地摸著馬友友的頭說:“貝多芬說過規則就是用來打破的。你認為所有的古典音樂都是當時的民歌和流行音樂的最佳組合,你不願意我們的孩子和孩子們的孩子只知道莫扎特和巴赫,而不知道在我們這個時代還有音樂存在過!你沒有錯,這不是一個妻子的看法,而是你最信賴的朋友的由衷感慨!”

  1999年,馬友友醞釀了10年之久的《巴西之魂》專輯終於問世。經過曠日持久的論戰,葛萊美第12次給他“加冕”。2000年,他為電影《臥虎藏龍》演奏主題曲,這首新古典提琴曲獲得了當年奧斯卡最佳音樂獎。2004年春,馬友友再次獲得43屆格萊美大獎。迫於公眾和媒體強大的輿論壓力,維也納國家劇院再次向馬友友發出邀請。

  2005年春,馬友友在回答美國《時代》周刊專訪時說到他和吉兒的婚姻:“我慶幸擁有了這樣一位集美麗、智慧和愛於一身的女性為伴侶。我們是大提琴上的弦和弓,誰離開誰都不是琴,都不成音樂……”!








張繼高認為馬先生到哈佛大學陶冶,肯定比急著開演奏會....的,更能有文化的積累,真正的大師。

Thank you for the warm welcome, DeWitt Clinton Elementary!


馬友友
在歐美,大提琴家YoYo Ma的名氣響叮噹!三十年前就已經被稱為Maestro了!在台灣卻被詼諧利用做為「馬英九的朋友」!因此我用國際名號YoYo Ma來稱頌音樂大師。
YoYo Ma的CD,常年居暢銷排行榜,尤其是跨界合作之後,更吸納其他藝術家的粉絲(Fans),地位更加屹立不搖!
他演奏的《Portrait of YOYO MA》(如圖),可能是他的專輯中最平易近人的「小品精選輯」,非常適合睡前聆賞。貝多芬以莫札特的<魔笛>主題寫的變奏曲,讓人在反復又變幻的曲風中,陪養睡意;是日本作曲家的「純東瀛現代風」編曲;克萊斯勒在大提琴上的纏綿悱惻,絕不亞於小提琴;德弗扎克<母親教我唱的歌>,催眠功效也不輸給世界三大搖籃歌。
這張CD一開始的聖桑<天鵝>,讓我憶起他首次來台的少年風采。那是1977年,我在屏東師專教書。我知道旅美傑出的大提琴家YoYo Ma將首度到台北演奏,但萬萬沒想到在台北登台之前,他先到屏東暖身,那是因為屏東師專的劉天林老師與馬友友的父親馬孝駿在大陸是同學,而馬友友的聲望尚未如日中天。
那天下午音樂課一開始,我聽到禮堂傳來極棒的大提琴樂聲,當下知道來採排了,我立即帶全班學生去聽免費的世界級演奏(有徵求同意喔),我見識到極為大器的演奏與風采。他看到學生聽他採排,特別說:那就先拉encore piece的「Swan」囉!
相信我的學生日後知道他的地位,應該會很感謝劉老師的翹課(全校只有我一人這麼做),因為當天晚上,非常平價的票已經售罄,學生想買也買不到了。而我,當然也看到高雄的知名音樂人如蕭泰然、陳主稅、李金里……,全部都到屏東來。這是馬友友大師第一次也是最後一次在屏東演奏,而屏東師專的禮堂,並沒有空調喔!

Emily Hornor Ma, the daughter of Yo-Yo Ma, asked her father not to play at her recent wedding.







Yo-Yo Ma's Daughter Did Not Want Her Father to Play Cello at Wedding


No cello arrangements of the Wagner's Bridal Chorus as she walked down...


WQXR.ORG

All Ears with Terrance McKnight

Musical Polyglots


« previous episode
Saturday, March 15, 2014





This spring, cellist Yo-Yo Ma will receive the 2013 Vilcek Prize. (Michael O’Neill/courtesy of the artist)

Most Americans only dabble with words or phrases that aren’t in English. Less than 20 percent of Americans are bilingual. Music presents the same challenge for musicians. A musician fluent in Schumann lieder may not be fluent in the American Songbook. This week, host Terrance McKnight considers musical polyglots – musicians who depart from this trend and are fluent in various musical dialects and performance practices.




1976級的馬友友回母校哈佛大學政治"學院"之報導

http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/3/7/yo-yo-ma-cello-iop/

Yo-Yo Ma '76 Brings Music to IOP


By Zara Zhang, CONTRIBUTING WRITER5 days ago


Yo-Yo Ma


Yo-Yo Ma '76 speaks with David R. Gergen at a John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Thursday March 7. Y. Kit Wu

World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76 filled the Institute of Politics with the sound of music yesterday during a discussion on the arts, which culminated in an interactive cello performance that received a standing ovation from the audience.

The discussion, entitled “Cultural Citizenship," was moderated by David Gergen, the co-director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, a co-sponsor of the event.

“We normally define a ‘good citizen’ as someone involved in political campaigns and so on, but you can also use the arts to be a good citizen—to engage people, to challenge the status quo,” said C. M. Trey Grayson '94, director of the IOP, in explaining the significance of the theme. “Yo-Yo Ma is a leader in this respect.”

Sharing his own understanding of “cultural citizenship,” Ma said, “For me, being a citizen is about looking at how I can be useful at a time when some people say the arts is an ‘elite’ thing. I'm a human first, a citizen second, a musician third, a cellist fourth."

Ma was born in France to Chinese parents, and moved to the U.S. at the age of seven.

“A multi-cultural background can be confusing, but it can also be enriching,” Ma said. “You can look at things from different perspectives, which gets you closer to clarity.”

Ma studied music at the College, even though he said his real passion was anthropology.

“To this day, I often say that there’s nothing I’ve done since college that didn’t start in some way in college,” Ma said. “I met some incredible teachers and friends who opened up my world. It was an education that began a life-long quest to understand things.”

During the question and answer session that followed the discussion, a member of the audience asked about Ma’s source of inspiration.

"It's very simple,” Ma said. “I love people."

The cellist, whose 75 albums have received 15 Grammy Awards, shared his insights on music-making and performance.

"When I perform I'm not the most important person in the room. The audience is the most important person in the room,” Ma said. “The bow is an extension of my lungs, and the four strings are an extension of my vocal cords."

When he took up his cello, Ma turned the audience into a choir by asking everyone to stand on their feet and participate in music-making through singing. This collaborative effort made the JFK forum ring with the harmonies of J.S. Bach’s cello suite.

“Yo-Yo Ma is someone I’m very inspired by, because he was able to change my perception of music from something boring into something fun, and this changed me,” said John Lee, an alumnus of the Kennedy School, who is now a musician.
Yo-Yo Ma biography - The Official Yo-Yo Ma Site




www.yo-yoma.com/yo-yo-ma-biography - 頁庫存檔

31 Aug 2011 – For his latest album, Songs of Joy & Peace, the multiple ...

「yo yo ma」的影片



Yö - Prelude - youtube.com

3 分鐘 - 2007年6月30日 - 上傳者:lesludmm73

Yo-Yo Ma plays the prelude from Bach´s Cello Suite No. 1. Inspired ...




Edward Elgar - Cello Concerto - youtube.com

10 分鐘 - 2007年9月6日 - 上傳者:medpiano

Yo-Yo Ma with Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago SO in this ...


Uploaded on Sep 6, 2007





Yo-Yo Ma with Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago SO in this performance from 1997. This concerto will forever be associated with Jaqueline duPre, but YYM gives a performance that is beyond breathtaking. It is fitting that Barenboim is the conductor; I'm sure he feels this concerto is still in very good hands.





Yo- Yo Ma 2010 EPK_final.mpg - YouTube - youtube.com

1 分鐘 - 2010年3月21日 - 上傳者:TiffanyICC

在夢境與想像間探索心靈的絲路西出陽關,從古老的東方,跨越中亞到西方,這條 滿載音樂、駝鈴與馬蹄 ...




Yo-Yo Ma - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yo-Yo_Ma - 頁庫存檔

Yo-Yo Ma (born October 7, 1955) is a French-born American cellist, virtuoso, orchestral composer of Chinese descent, and winner of multiple Grammy Awards, ...


Early life - Career - Playing style - Notable live performances




馬友友- 维基百科,自由的百科全书

zh.wikipedia.org/zh-hant/馬友友 - 頁庫存檔

马友友(Yo-Yo Ma,1955年10月7日-)是一位大提琴演奏家,為法國出生的华裔美國人 ...





馬友友接下來舉了個他很常在訪談中用的例子:「任何大提琴家的核心曲目是巴赫 (Bach)的作品,其中每一個組曲的中心是一種叫薩拉班德的舞步。」


At the core of any cellist’s repertoire are the Cello Suites by Bach. At the heart of each suite is a dance movement called the sarabande.





Yo Yo Ma








馬友友因此提出:現代最重要的能力是,更設身處地、不評斷人的為他人著想 。






photo credit: [auro]

也就是所謂的同理心。而同理心源自於對藝術和文學的深層瞭解,才能下意識地進一步連結。 反觀我們自己,台灣教育長期存在著「太早分組」、「過度偏頗人文或科學培養」的問題,妨礙了同理心的培育。





馬友友獲甘迺迪中心榮譽獎



Kennedy Center Honors - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia







2011年09月08日18:08 蘋果即時





華裔大提琴家馬友友,與美國女星梅莉史翠普(Meryl Streep)等5人,因文化貢獻傑出,獲頒「甘迺迪中心榮譽獎」(Kennedy Center Honors),12月4日頒獎,美國總統歐巴馬將出席。

美聯社報導,馬友友是知名古典音樂家,55歲的他謙虛表示,這個獎項是培育藝術的重要時刻,多位音樂大師曾獲獎,他還太年輕了,不該得到這個獎。62歲的梅莉史翠普拍過超過45部電影,獲得2座奧斯卡獎,她說,能獲獎感到很榮耀,希望逝去的雙親也能看到她得獎。

另3位得獎者包括歌手兼作曲人尼爾戴蒙(Neil Diamond)、百老匯女演員芭芭拉庫克(Barbara Cook)、及薩克斯風大師羅林斯(Sonny Rollins)。甘迺迪中心榮譽獎設於1978年,芭芭拉史翠珊(Barbra Streisand)、帕華洛帝(Luciano Pavarotti)及歐普拉(Oprah Winfrey)等人曾獲獎。
























馬友友獲頒甘迺迪中心榮譽獎。資料照片










音樂家群英:Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin







Yo-Yo Ma 很久沒到台灣了.

上次在自由廣場聽他諒解台灣的處境. 用西班牙的Catalonia之獨立鼓舞我們.

這幾年"馬友友"的說法對他是大侮辱

Yo-Yo Ma是大師希望他能寫回憶錄.

YouTube應該有他上百的片. 今天用 此兩大師之小品:Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GczSTQ2nv94










音樂家有作品 只需要人詮釋 不用言詮 評比






The Greatest





Who are the greatest composers? Some candidates: above, from left, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Mozart, Schoenberg, Haydn, and Stravinsky; below, from left, Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, Handel, Bach, and Debussy.
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Published: January 7, 2011





Correction Appended




YOU know that a new year has truly arrived when critics stop issuing all those lists of the best films, books, plays, recordings and whatever of the year gone by. These lists seem to be popular with readers, and they stir up lively reactions. Like other critics I enjoy recalling the pieces and performances that struck me as exceptionally good, or exceptionally bad, during the year in classical music.

Related

ArtsBeat Blog: Top 10 Composers: Help Write the List on ArtsBeat (January 7, 2011)

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Clockwise from top left: Imagno/Getty Images; Keystone/Getty Images; Hulton Archive/Getty Images; The New York Times Archive


Clockwise from top left: Schubert, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart’s grave marker.


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Handel’s score for the “Messiah.”


Yet in other fields, critics and insiders think bigger. Film institutes periodically issue lists of the greatest films of all time. (“Citizen Kane” seems to have a lock on the top spot.) Rock magazines routinely tally the greatest albums ever. And think of professional tennis, with its system of rankings, telling you exactly which player is No. 1 in the world, or 3, or 59.

Imagine if we could do the same in classical music, if there were ways to rank pianists, sopranos and, especially, composers. The Top 10 composers of all time. Now that’s the list I have secretly wanted to compile. It would be absurd, of course, but fascinating.

Hold on here. I don’t do ranking. As I see it, the critic’s job description does not include compiling lists of greats in order of greatness. What I do is champion, demystify and describe the composers, works and artists I admire, and, as appropriate, puncture inflated reputations.

I am eager to share my enthusiasm for, say, my favorite Britten opera (I think I would pick “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) or my favorite recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto (Jascha Heifetz, with Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony: a minority opinion, I suspect, but what a thrilling performance). To say that something is your favorite is not to insist that it has to be anyone else’s or that it belongs at the top of a list of all-time greats.

My thinking about this was shaken, though, last spring, when Mohammed e-mailed me. That’s Mohammed Rahman, then a freshman at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. He was writing a paper on why people have different musical tastes, and he wanted to interview me. His questions were so thoughtful that I met him at a cafe.

Mohammed picked my brain about how my tastes had been formed, about what I looked for in good music. Inevitably we came to the question of how it gets decided that certain music, certain composers are the best. And of course some really are. I’m open-minded but not a radical relativist.

So if you were to try to compile a list of the 10 greatest composers in history, how would you go about it? For me the resulting list would not be the point. But the process of coming up with such a list might be clarifying and instructive, as well as exasperating and fun.

What criteria might you apply? Would a composer’s influence and popularity factor in? Schoenberg was arguably the most influential composer of the 20th century. That he pushed tonality past the brink and devised a technique to supersede it completely shook up the music of the era. Every composer in his wake had to come to terms with Schoenberg. But on the basis of his actual pieces, many of which excite and move me, does he make the Top 10?

What about a composer whose range was narrow but whose music was astonishing? Chopin, a staggering genius, wrote almost exclusively for the piano. And what do you do with opera? Is that a separate thing entirely?

Do you break music down by the elements and analyze, for example, who was the greatest master of counterpoint? The most inventive rhythmically? And then, of course, there is my personal take on things, which will, of course, factor in strongly but not be determinative.

Anyway, between talking with Mohammed and going through the annual “best of the year” ritual, I have been emboldened. So here begins an open deliberation leading eventually — in later articles, online videos and posts on ArtsBeat (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com) — to my answer to this irresistible question: Who are the 10 greatest composers in history? My editors urged that if I went down this path, I should go all the way and rank the Top 10 in order. But first I have to narrow the scope, so here are the ground rules:

I am focusing on Western classical music. There are compelling arguments against honoring this classification. Still, giants like George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Stephen Sondheim are outside my purview here. And on the assumption that we are too close to living composers to assess their place and their impact, I am eliminating them from consideration.

Finally, I am focusing on the eras since the late Baroque. You could make a good case for Josquin or Monteverdi, but I won’t. The traditions and styles were so different back then as to have been almost another art form. I’m looking roughly at the era an undergraduate survey of Western civilization might define as modern history.

So to get things going, let’s start with an easy one: Bach. He would probably be the consensus choice among thinking musicians for the top spot. But why?

Bach came at an intersection in music history. He was born in 1685, when the Baroque period was thriving yet vestiges of the Renaissance age of polyphonic music were lingering. By the time he died in 1750, opera, for which he had no interest, was a century-and-a-half old, music was getting hipper, and elegantly decorous styles like the Rococo were widespread. Even some of Bach’s sons, who revered their father, thought he was a little old-fashioned as a composer. Bach did not care how he was perceived. He was too busy being a working musician, a composer who wrote pieces to order for whatever his job at the time, whether in a church or a court, demanded.

Bach stood right in the middle of this historical crossroads. His music is an astonishing synthesis of what had been and what was coming. Elements of the high polyphonic tradition run through his work. Yet the era of simpler Baroque textures and clear, strong tonal harmony had arrived.

In just the collected Bach chorales — the four-part, hymnlike settings of church tunes that crop up in his oratorios and cantatas — he codified everything that was known about harmony and anticipated the future, including wayward chromatic harmony à la Wagner. In the opening measures of the chorale “Es Ist Genug,” the one Berg incorporated into his final work, the Violin Concerto, Bach even anticipates atonality.

The 48 preludes and fugues of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” are the ultimate exploration of counterpoint in all its complexities, yet also a dazzling collection of quirky, sublime and sometimes showy character pieces.

What composer before or after Bach could have written the opening Kyrie of the Mass in B minor? It begins with choral cries of “Lord have mercy” (“Kyrie eleison”) as harmonically wrenching as anything in Brahms or Mahler. Then, with transfixing calm, the winding Kyrie theme is heard in the orchestra over a steady tread of a bass, as the inner voices build up. One by one the sections of the chorus enter, until Bach has constructed an intricate web of counterpoint at once intimidating in its complexity and consolingly beautiful.

Another candidate for this list was also born in Germany the same year as Bach: Handel, who lived nine years longer. Whereas Bach came from generations of musicians and was expected to go into the family business, Handel’s father was a barber and surgeon with aristocratic clientele who was determined to see his son become a lawyer and discouraged his studies of music. But Handel’s talent could not be denied.

After receiving thorough musical training in Germany, Handel learned the ways of Italian opera in Italy. In one of the curious twists in music history, he wound up living in London and writing Italian operas for English-speaking audiences who were wild about this exotic art form. Handel was a masterly composer in this genre and a savvy businessman who eventually became an opera-house manager and made more money than Bach ever could have imagined. When tastes shifted and box-office receipts dwindled, Handel found a new career as a revered purveyor of oratorios in English.

Thanks largely to the early-music movement Handel’s operas, which had mostly lapsed into obscurity, have been rediscovered and championed by formidable conductors, directors and singers. They are now rightly seen as psychologically astute and musically rich. Handel’s instrumental and large-scale choral works were well known to Mozart and Beethoven, who admired Handel tremendously.

Still, at least in the operas, Handel mostly hewed to convention. In less-than-inspired performances, the operas can come across as pro-forma works, with dialogue in recitative to advance the stories and set up the inevitable strings of da capo arias (structured with a Part A, a contrasting Part B and an embellished return of Part A). I prefer the operas in which Handel took more risks, as in the astonishing “Orlando,” which has as wrenching a portrait of a man’s descent into madness as you will find in any art form of any era.

Handel is a giant. A music theory teacher looking for a perfect example of three-part contrapuntal writing, with basso continuo, can do no better than to show students the main allegro section of the instrumental sinfonia that begins “Messiah.”

Still, does Handel make the cut for the Top 10? I don’t know. I think he should pay a price for churning out all those da capo arias.

Including Bach is a no-brainer. But remember, the point is to come up with a list. Move ahead a bit in history, and we are in danger of having four places among the Top 10 given to composers who worked in Vienna during a period of roughly 75 years, from 1750 to 1825. What was going on in that town at that time to foster such awesome creativity?

Let’s see.


Correction: January 9, 2011




A cover article this weekend about choosing the Top 10 classical composers misstates, at one point, the length of time that opera had existed as of 1750, when Bach died. As the article correctly conveys in other references, opera had been around for roughly 150 years then, not “a half-century.”



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