The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide

The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide Review

An exploration into the question of greatness from the Chief Classical Music Critic of the New York Times

When he began to listen to the great works of classical music as a child, Anthony Tommasini had many questions. Why did a particular piece move him? How did the music work? Over time, he realized that his passion for this music was not enough. He needed to understand it. Take Bach, for starters. Who was he? How does one account for his music and its unshakeable hold on us today?

As a critic, Tommasini has devoted particular attention to living composers and overlooked repertory. But, like all classical music lovers, the canon has remained central for him. In 2011, in his role as the Chief Classical Music Critic for the New York Times, he wrote a popular series in which he somewhat cheekily set out to determine the all-time top ten composers. Inviting input from readers, Tommasini wrestled with questions of greatness. Readers joined the exercise in droves. Some railed against classical music’s obsession with greatness but then raged when Mahler was left off the final list. This intellectual game reminded them why they loved music in the first place.

Now in THE INDISPENSABLE COMPOSERS, Tommasini offers his own personal guide to the canon--and what greatness really means in classical music. What does it mean to be canonical now? Who gets to say? And do we have enough perspective on the 20th century to even begin assessing it? To make his case, Tommasini draws on elements of biography, the anxiety of influence, the composer's relationships with colleagues, and shifting attitudes toward a composer's work over time. Because he has spent his life contemplating these titans, Tommasini shares impressions from performances he has heard or given or moments when his own biography proves revealing.

As he argues for his particular pantheon of indispensable composers, Anthony Tommasini provides a masterclass in what to listen for and how to understand what music does to us.

Title:The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide

    Some Testimonial About This Book:

  • Angie

    There could be a great deal of debate on why Tammasini chose these composers to include in his book rather than others, but that's not a debate that much interests me. This is part history, part memoi...

  • George

    I have been a reader of NY Times chief critic for years and this book is terrific! Loosely based on his Top Ten Composers project, an eight-week series of articles which caused a sensation in 2011, es...

  • Freddy

    New York Times chief classical music critic Tommasini proves to be an engaging guide through the history of classical music, focusing on the heavyweights from the Renaissance (Monteverdi), Baroque, (B...

  • Carl Nelson

    A wonderful, personal, informative reviewStarting with a justification of an exercise he is uncomfortable with ( it flows out of a New York Times series on the top 10 composers) the author writes conv...

  • Dan Downing

    As with many books concerning music, one must allow time for listening when reading this one. For instance, imagine my amazement when Mr. Tommasini starts with Claudio Monteverdi, and I realize I don'...

  • Tim

    I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that Aaron Copland didn’t make the cut....

  • PWRL

    SM...