Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Thought 168: My Top Ten Piano Composers and Why Chopin is Last on the List

Piano music, be it classical, jazz or pop is one of my life's great loves. However Chopin's piano music does very little for me, even though I acknowledge that it is beautifully crafted and the love affair of many talented pianists. 

I can't entirely put my finger on why his music largely leaves me cold but, for want of a better way of putting it, I'd say it lacks a certain tonic crudeness that I love to hear in the compositions of a Bach, a Haydn, a Mozart, even a Schumann.

Music is about energy and I for one tend to derive more energy from works of the baroque and classical periods than the romantic and contemporary periods much as I adore some pieces from these last two artistic developments in classical piano.

I would rank my top ten (classical) piano/keyboard composers as follows:
  1. J.S. Bach: I simply have derived so much energy, inspiration and cheerfulness from so many of his pieces that this is a no brainer.
  2. Haydn: Haydn's piano sonatas have a purity, a playfulness, a clarity that I find more appealing somehow to Mozart's or even Beethoven's, which carry some of their characteristics. 
  3. Beethoven: Beethoven's early piano sonatas are what I like to call "Haydn on steroids". My favourite Beethoven sonata is the Pastorale (op.28). I also like Sonata no.24 Für Therese and the all famous Pathétique, especially the first and last movement. I also love the middle movement of the Moonlight. However there is plenty in the Beethoven piano sonata corpus that I find inordinately dull. I only like one of his Bagatelles, the B Minor one.
  4. Mozart: I like the early Mozart piano sonatas for their cheer and classical purity but, as I said, I take more to Haydn's classical period sonatas than Mozart's. I do have a weak spot for some of Mozart's more famous (and ever so slightly cheesy) sonatas as well.
  5. Schumann: Schumann produced an inordinate amount of bland piano noise but occasionally generated true gems such as the first Fantasie stücke Des Abends as well as a very invigorating piano sonata (his first). And of course I'm rather fond of Arabeske and the first four pieces of his Symphonic Studies suite.
  6. Mendelssohn: Mendelssohn gains a place on this list by the sheer beauty of the first Song without words (which I intend to learn) and I also love the Midsummer Night's Dream Wedding March, a piano solo transcription of which I happen to have in my collection of tunes to learn
  7. Schubert: I don't care much for Schubert's piano sonatas (apart from the pearls that are the A minor one, no.16, and the B flat one, no.21) as I find that he constantly repeats chords making them beyond dull in some cases. But I love a couple of his impromptus (the second one from the first series and the first one from the second series) so he's earned a place on this list.
  8. Berg: like Mendelssohn this is on the strength of a single piece, namely Sonata Op.1
  9. Liszt: I love his first piano concerto perhaps second only to Bach's first keyboard concerto and the Sonata in B Minor contains some exquisite moments. I also enjoy his transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies, as I've heard them played by Glenn Gould. 
  10. Chopin: Chopin is last on this list but I do have time for some of his Etudes as well as his first Polonaise. His first Ballade also contains an amazing passage even though I don't take to it that much in its totality. Most of the Nocturnes are also delightful and I for one prefer intimate Chopin to virtuoso Chopin. I find that I have long overdosed on the Preludes and never much liked them to start with. 
Addendum - Having recently discovered the sonatas of Scarlatti and some keyboard pieces by Handel I would have to add those composers right after Haydn, thus demoting Liszt and Chopin at the bottom to 11th and 12th place respectively.