The Making of Lists: An Alternative 100

This is a post about lists, and it’s going to get specific about making lists about music. If you are not of the High Fidelity school of music discourse this post may irritate. Discontinue use if irritation persists.

Lists reflect those who make them, but they also reflect the list-making process. A To-Do list might be broken down into things to do before lunchtime, things to do before the weekend and things to do before Christmas, as a way of managing different priorities. A shopping list might be organised according to retail establishments, or even by way of supermarket aisles. Even books list contents by chapter, by title, alphabetically or by author name. There are all kinds of ways of organising the lists we make.

A radio station I rarely listen to recently compiled a list, as voted by its listeners (and me), of the 20th century pieces of classical music most cherished by its listeners (and me).

The enthusiasm for lists seeming to be universal, particularly amongst readers of blogs and consumers of music (see High Fidelity link above, and cf Rage programming, any hit parade/countdown music presentation format, and hints for bloggers), this appears to be a winner of a broadcasting idea. Lists are a starting point for debate and discussion, and all curation is (at heart) sophisticated list-making, so there seems little to lose in such an endeavour.

But a great list needs clear definition. Favourite Compositions for Viola in Quintuple Time. Favourite Compositions for Piano by South American-born-and-raised composers. Favourite Art Music Compositions for non-orchestral instruments composed 1996-2000. And so forth. Generally speaking, the more specific the confines of the list the more intriguing the results.

And this ABC Classic FM top 100 20th century classical music pieces featured an unhelpful looseness of definition in two key ways.

1. Time Constraints. So the 20th century either began on January 1, 1900, or on January 1, 1901. Decide which and be brutal at excluding works not within the arbitrarily decided starting point. Yes, this means that works composed in 1899 were not, in fact, 20th century works at all. And a century lasts 100 years, not 110 or 111. So works composed after December 31, 1999, or after December 31, 2000 (keep it consistent with the decided-upon starting date) shouldn’t have been included either. Unless you change the name of the list.

2. Intention/Reception/Production. The 20th century saw a diffusion of musical styles and consumption, and the term ‘classic’ or ‘classical’ has come to represent a particular subset of styles and consumption models. The final list included works composed for film/performed by orchestra: an interesting cross-roads of what constitutes classical music. Brilliant and demonstrably popular film scores were not included, one assumes because of their unsymphonic approach. TV themes of similar popularity and interest also went unnominated. Musical theatre entries told the same story, the scored-for-symphonic-orchestra-and-composed-by-legitimate-classical-conductor West Side Story featured in the list, but nothing else from this genre. In fact, the moral of the story seems to be that if it’s symphonic in ambition it probably counts as classical music in this list-making process.

So what if we made some different parameters for the construction of a 20th Century Classic 100? What if we broke it down a little in the voting process, and then compiled an über-list from the results?

How about this: vote for up to 3 in each of the following categories; the same composition can be included in as many categories as you please; dates of composition are strictly from January 1, 1901 through to December 31, 2000.

1. Astonishing

2. Beautiful

3. Ground-breaking

4. Orchestral for the Concert Hall

5. Small Ensemble/Chamber

6. Non-orchestral instrumentation/forces/media

7. Keyboard

8. Opera/Music Theatre

9. Film/TV/Games

10. Vocal/Choral

You can vote for as few pieces as you like, or for as many as 30. The most voted-for pieces will make it into the top 100, irrespective of category.

Who’s in?


13 thoughts on “The Making of Lists: An Alternative 100

    • Ah, yes, I should have suggested places for placing votes. Here in the comments is fine! Also, if people want to vote via twitter, let’s hashtag votes #alt100. I’m currently searching for a survey tool where we could compile it – the wordpress poll options are single question only, so not suitable for this 10 category question….

  1. I like your definition of the 20th century.
    Reminds me of Wanda Landowska’s comment on various ways of playing Bach:

    Not at all ipsissima verba, but along the lines of:

    OK. You play it your way, and I’ll play it BACH’s way

    One of the bonuses is that we don’t have to suffer Tosca!

  2. Yes, I’m in! Fantastic idea, thanks for making it happen Elissa.

    1. Astonishing
    Reich: Drumming
    Stockhausen: Gruppe
    Nancarrow: String Quartet No. 3

    2. Beautiful
    Boyd: Meditations on a Chinese Character
    Part: Fratres (violin/piano)
    Takemitsu: Rain Tree Sketch

    3. Ground-breaking
    Cage: 4’33
    Reich: Come Out
    Xenakis: Melanges

    4. Orchestral for the Concert Hall
    Gubaidulina: Zeitgestalten
    Webern: 5 Pieces for Orchestra
    Schnittke: Symphony No. 8

    5. Small Ensemble/Chamber
    Boulez: Pli selon Pli
    Cage: Amores
    Feldman: For Philip Guston

    6. Non-orchestral instrumentation/forces/media

    7. Keyboard
    Janácek: On an Overgrown Path
    Debussy: Etudes
    Cage: Sonastas & Interludes for Prepared Piano

    8. Opera/Music Theatre
    Adams: Nixon in China
    Glanville-Hicks: The Transposed Heads
    Ligeti: Le Grand Macabre

    9. Film/TV/Games
    Nyman: The Draughtsman’s Contract
    Takemitsu: Dodes’kaden

    10. Vocal/Choral
    Ligeti: Lux Aeterna
    Strauss: Four Last Songs
    Boyd: As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams

  3. 1. Astonishing
    Ives: The Unanswered Question
    Reich: Different Trains
    Varese: Hyperprism

    2. Beautiful
    Ives: The Unanswered Question
    Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time
    Crumb: Black Angels

    3. Ground-breaking
    Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
    Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire
    Cage: 4’33”

    4. Orchestral for the Concert Hall
    Berg: Violin Concerto
    Debussy: La Mer
    Penderecki: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima

    5. Small Ensemble/Chamber
    Webern: String Quartet, Op. 28
    Crumb: Black Angels
    Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste

    6. Non-orchestral instrumentation/forces/media
    Reich: Different Trains
    Babbitt: Philomel
    Stockhausen: Gesang der Jünglinge

    7. Keyboard
    Debussy: Images for piano, Books I & II (1905 & 1907)
    Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin
    Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus

    8. Opera/Music Theatre
    Adams: Nixon in China
    Strauss: Elektra
    Britten: Peter Grimes

    9. Film/TV/Games
    Williams: Star Wars
    Nyman: The Draughtsman’s Contract
    Nyman: The Piano

    10. Vocal/Choral
    Berio: Sequenza III for solo voice
    Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
    Britten: War Requiem

  4. Hmm…on second thoughts, possibly the Bartok Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste should go in ‘Orchestral’…if so, just remove the Penderecki and replace with Bartok. 😉

  5. Here are mine (it will change in the next 5 minutes) – I left so… many great pieces out I feel slightly guilty:

    1. Astonishing
    Berio: Sequenza
    Bartok: String Quartet No. 4
    Birtwistle: Panic

    Scnittke: Piano Quintet
    Linberg: Clarinet Concerto
    Sibelius: Violin Concerto

    3.Ground Breaking
    Varese: Integrales
    Sockhausen: Kontakte
    Reich: Different Trains

    4. Orchestral for the Concert Hall
    MacMillan: The Confessions of Isabel Goudie
    Sculthorpe: Earth Cry
    Norgard: Symphony No. 6

    5. Small Ensemble / Chamber
    Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8
    Crumb Black: Angels
    Sculthorpe: String Quartet No. 8

    6. Non-orchestral instrumentation / forces / media
    Reich: Different Trains
    Zappa: G Spot Tornado
    Varese: Poeme Electronique

    7. Keyboard
    Cage: Music for Prepared Piano
    Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur L’enfant Jesus
    Ravel: Le tombeau de Couperin

    8.Opera/Music Theatre
    Strauss: Elektra
    Berg: Lulu
    Turnage: Greek

    9. Film/TV/Games
    Glass: Koyaanisqatsi
    Zimmer: Inception
    Leifs: Hekla

    Adams: Harmonium
    Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horns & Strings
    Ligeti: Lux Aeterna

  6. 1. Astonishing
    Janacek Glagolitic Mass
    Lovelock Organ Concerto
    Schoenberg Pierrot Lunaire

    2. Beautiful
    Part Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten
    Durufle Quatre Motets
    Copland Quiet City

    3. Ground-breaking
    Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor
    Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time
    Holst Second Suite for Military Band

    4. Orchestral for the Concert Hall
    Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
    Sculthorpe Kakadu
    Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine

    5. Small Ensemble/Chamber
    Steve Reich Nagoya Marimbas
    Ross Edwards Marimba Dances
    Stravinsky Octet

    6. Non-orchestral instrumentation/forces/media
    Grainger Free Music
    Ron Grainer Dr Who theme
    Nilovic Portrait d’un Robot

    7. Keyboard
    Steve Reich Piano Phase
    Ravel Piano Concerto for Left Hand
    Peggy Glanville-Hicks Etruscan Concerto

    8. Opera/Music Theatre
    Bernstein Candide
    Berg Lulu
    Lloyd Webber Jesus Christ Superstar

    9. Film/TV/Games
    Michael Nyman The Draughtsman’s Contract
    George Dreyfus Rush
    Glass Koyaanisquatsi

    10. Vocal/Choral
    Langlais Messe Solennelle
    Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms
    Howells Collegium Regale (canticles)

  7. Well i see already this is going to throw up some interesting selections & avenues for exploration.

    This kind of listmaking after all is the antithesis of a popularity contest…

    I would be struggling (or wasting a lot of time…) to fill a lot of these categories though without resorting far & wide beyond “classical” repertoire…

    Feldman – all of it.
    Basic Channel – 1 to 9

    Vladislav Delay – Entain
    Derrick May – Strings of Life
    Oval – Systematisch
    Jesus & Mary Chain – Psychocandy

    The extent to which a fascination with Norgard, Durufle, Birtwhistle, or the myriad of other inpenetrables or obscurities this survey will now throw up makes one less “conservative” however i still think is questionable, & entirely a matter of perspective.

  8. My nominations –

    1. Astonishing
    Messiaen – Turangalila Symphonie
    Shostakovich – Symphony No. 4
    Scriabin – Prometheus

    2. Beautiful
    Bartok Piano Concerto No. 3 (2nd movement)
    Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 (2nd movement)
    Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3

    3. Ground-breaking
    Stravinsky – Rite of Spring
    Messiaen – Turangalila Symphonie
    Sculthorpe – Sun Music

    4. Orchestral for the Concert Hall
    Mahler – Symphony No. 7
    Shostakovich – Symphony No. 10
    Holst – The Planets

    5. Small Ensemble/Chamber
    Shostakovich – String Quartet No. 8
    Shostakovich – Piano Trio
    Prokofiev – Cello Sonata

    6. Non-orchestral instrumentation/forces/media
    No idea

    7. Keyboard
    Ravel – Gaspard de la Nuit
    Shostakovich – Preludes and Fugues
    Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No. 7

    8. Opera/Music Theatre
    Shostakovich – Moscow, Cheryomushki
    Bernstein – West Side Story
    Shostakovich – Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

    9. Film/TV/Games
    Tiersen – Amelie
    Jarre – Lawrence of Arabia
    Williams – Star Wars

    10. Vocal/Choral
    Orff – Carmina Burana
    Strauss – Four Last Songs
    Shostakovich – Symphony No. 14

    11. Non-piano Instrumental Concerto
    Prokofiev – Symphony-Concerto for Cello
    Shostakovich – Cello Concerto No. 2
    Gubaidulina – Offertorium

    • Yes, just yesterday I was thinking it might have been useful to differentiate works for soloist and orchestra from specifically orchestral works…..

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