The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On Thanksgiving, which classical music composers do you most give thanks for? | November 26, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Thanksgiving.

I know that even loyal readers have better things to do today than read my blog — eat turkey, visit with family and friends, watch football, nap

But I was looking for a theme that is appropriate to the day.

Many radio stations play American classical music as a way to honor the day.

But I was looking at it in a bigger, more inclusive and less parochial way.

So, I ask, what classical music composers do you most give thanks for?

It’s probably pretty predictable, but for me there are three: J.S. Bach, Chopin and Schubert, in that order.

I guess Bach tops them all because without him the others might not exist — if I understand music history well.

Besides, Bach (painting at right) is not only the Big Bang beginning of Western classical music. In Bach you can find everything: Baroque moments, Classical moments, Romantic moments, even Modernist moments.

For his part, Chopin (photo below left) had an uncanny sense of how to fuse the Classical and the Romantic, how to meld form with feeling. Plus, he is so consistent. He doesn’t fail very often. His magic almost always works.

Did anyone ever have more innate musical talent than Schubert (below right), who was so prolific before he died at 31. His harmonies and melodies break your heart and then put it back together. Take your pick–songs or piano works (big sonatas or smaller miniatures), string quartets or piano trios, symphonies or masses. You can’t do better.

I know, I know.

I should be more thankful for Haydn and his astonishing inventions.

For Handel and his ear-easy humanism.

For Beethoven and his willfulness and astonishing technical command of music.

For Mozart and his otherworldly combination of pathos and grace.

What can I say?

Maybe next year.

Maybe next Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, tell me: When it comes to classical music, which composers do you give most thanks for when and why?

The Ear wants to hear.

And also to thank you for all your support. I had dared to hope for 7,500 hits by Jan. 1., 2010.

Now — as of yesterday — we’re already there.

So thanks, and keeping spreading the word.

Every hit counts.

And every reader matters.

I’ll be giving thanks to all of you, and for all of you, tomorrow.

Posted in Classical music


  1. On further consideration: Of course Thanksgiving is parochial. National identity is by definition parochial. It’s also a social occasion. It just felt somehow put of place to use the occasion to throw more bouquets to a handful of European geniuses. And I realize that makes me quite parochial.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — November 26, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

  2. So, no Mozart, no Brahms? Ingraters!

    I think Thanksgiving isn’t “parochial” — it’s national and distinctively American. It’s a good day to celebrate the composers — hymnodists and folk artists — who gave us music to increase fellow-feeling through community singing and shared relief for being, for a day, out of the storm.

    I think it’s parochial to think that Bach and Chopin are universal in world culture. But if these are the composers to whom you are personally grateful for bringing you personal pleasure, consolation and edification, then that’s fine. In its parochial way.

    Happy Thanksgiving! In my parochial way, I’m grateful for you.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — November 26, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

  3. It’s really hard to say, but I think Dvorak, Debussy and Bach. But that’s only three from a huge range of composers.

    Comment by Nic — November 26, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

    • Great choices, Nic. Hard to argue with.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and write a comment.
      See the other comments from someone who agrees with you about Dvorak.
      And aren’t we lucky we don’t have to like only three?
      Happy Thanksgiving to you.
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 26, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

  4. Happy Thanksgiving, Jake. Bach is my number one as well. The first transcendent moment I ever had was playing a two-part Invention as a young teenager. Completely lost myself. I’ve had a special connection ever since. And you’re right, WPR will be playing a lot of American-themed music after 11 today (including Dvorak’s American Suite) but not exclusively. Steph

    Comment by steph elkins — November 26, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

    • Hi Steph,
      As always, thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to comment.
      And thanks for all you do at Wisconsin Public Radio for us classical music fans.
      I am listening to it now and will listen to it much of the day.
      Maybe the previous writer who left a comment about why Dvorak should be on my list will hear the American Suite.
      WPR is one of the things I will be giving thanks for — today and every Thanksgiving and every day.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and Norman, and all the EWPR staff.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 26, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

  5. hey, you should also give thanks for Dvorak, he did a great job between 1892-1895 in NY

    Comment by Ricardo — November 26, 2009 @ 12:37 am

    • Ricardo,
      Thank you for reading the blog and writing.
      And, yes, Dvorak would be very high on my list — check out the blog post I did a couple months ago about how he is underappreciated and underperformed.
      So you’re absolutely right. But still, Dvorak’s not among my top three.
      At least not yet.
      Maybe one day.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you.
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 26, 2009 @ 4:30 am

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