Review: Tommasini’s new “Indispensable Composers” book

Posted on: December 7, 2018

“In 2011, Anthony Tommasini, the chief classical music critic of The New York Times, launched a Top 10 Composers project with a series of articles voicing his picks and inviting readers to comment,” writes Phillip Lopate in last Thursday’s New York Times. “Out of that project came The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide, in which Tommasini cheerfully acknowledges the problematic nature of canon formation, especially in a field like classical music where the standard repertory can become ossified. Nevertheless, he defends the value of distinguishing the great from the merely good. He has expanded his list of indispensable composers from 10 to 17, all, it seems safe to say, unarguably great: Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartók. While I would quarrel with omissions like Mahler, Vivaldi, Liszt, Janacek, Mussorgsky, Berg, Shostakovich, it would be wrong to assume Tommasini disparages those left out … He has continually shown open-mindedness toward all kinds of music … The point is not to get stuck arguing over his choices, but to accept the book as a vehicle for a writer of immense musical knowledge to share his insights about many favorite pieces.”

Posted December 7, 2018