Last year ABC Classic FM invited its listeners to nominate their ten favourite pieces of music, and a Top Hundred was complied on the basis of the nominations. It was a wonderful experience listening to as much of it as one could, being exposed to things one wouldn’t normally listen to and hearing the extraordinarily disparate voices of people who phoned in from all over the country with their comments. But the top five left me unsettled. They were:
5 Handel, Messiah
4 Mozart, Clarinet Concerto
3 Beethoven, Pastoral Symphony (no. 6)
2 Beethoven, Emperor Concerto (piano concerto no. 5)
1 Beethoven, Choral Symphony (no. 9).
Am I the only one to find this lineup too heavy? The self-aware showing off of the soloist at the beginning of the Emperor Concerto is so nineteenth century, and the use of music to make statements about Freiheit, Freude and goodness knows what other things in the Choral Symphony, together with a sense of music that takes itself very seriously (think of the beginning of the fifth symphony) are characteristics of Beethoven I enjoy in small doses. Rather than the dramatic self-consciousness of romantic genius, it’s the effortlessly spontaneous and endlessly delightful melodies of Mozart for me! And while I always enjoy Handel, among other things for his brisk cheerfulness, should we accept the implication of this particular top five that Bach wrote nothing better? Really?