The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear needs your help. Rank major Baroque composers Bach, Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi in terms of enjoyability and quality.

September 18, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger


Last week, The Ear struck a nerve.

He commented that he sometimes wished that the Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann (below) – the most prolific composer ever of classical music – had composed less because he might have composed even more compelling music.

georg philipp telemann

Here is a link to that post, which also featured Telemann’s lovely Concerto for Viola in G Major, which The Ear finds quite beautiful and engaging.

Of course what I said was considered heresy by some. I heard some pretty strong rebukes from devout Telemann fans and -– no surprise -– a Telemann scholar.

It’s not that The Ear doesn’t listen to music by Telemann or like many of his works. (One such work is Telemann’s own “Water Music,” which stands comparison to Handel’s “Water Music” and which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

But he has to be honest: Telemann is just not tops on his playlist.

Consider the Big Four of Baroque composers (in alphabetical order):

Johann Sebastian Bach


George Frideric Handel

Handel etching

Georg Philipp Telemann

and Antonio Vivaldi


When The Ear looks over his CD collection and reviews his listening habits, he finds that what he most often listens to and what he likes best, falls in to the follow ranking: 1. Bach, 2. Vivaldi, 3. Handel and 4. Telemann.

True, Handel would probably rank a spot higher if The Ear really listened to his operas. But even Bach turned to Vivaldi for insights into composing.

So here is what The Ear wants to know:

When you listen to the four Baroque composers, what is the ranking of the four for frequency of listening and enjoyability?

And how do you rank them in terms of quality?

Granted, this business of ranking artists is something of a parlor game. And the results will hardly be definitive in proving anything.

But just maybe others will see that The Ear is not alone in his opinion about the comparative virtues of Telemann, who is certainly a major composer.

So leave your views and ranking in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear!

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