We have unanimous confirmation of German superiority via WQXR. WQXR is a New York public radio entity which has been a standard bearer for the arts over the past several decades. In a poll of 11 conductors, the 10 conductors who answered the question all chose Germanic composers. The question was, “If you could only conduct one piece of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
Here’s the “score”:
- Wagner 3
- Beethoven 2
- Mahler 2
- Bach 2
- Mozart 1
- Haydn 1
- Brahms 1
- R. Strauss 1
- Orff 1
Richard Strauss, Four Last Songs
Nylund and Noseda with Berlin Philharmonic
Yes, that adds up to more than 10. The rules of the game weren’t strictly enforced which means several conductors named more than one piece.
The one conductor who didn’t answer was even included in the article. If you ask for one piece of music then stick to making them choose one piece of music. What’s this world coming to?
Haydn made the list? Yes. Haydn’s The Creation was chosen. I must say it’s difficult to argue with that. The Creation is the crowning achievement of the classical era.
I was surprised to see Carl Orff’s *Carmina Burana” named. All elitists know that if you’ve heard "Carmina" once you’ve heard it a dozen times. Why pick that as your one piece? To be fair, the conductor who picked it conducts the New York Young People’s Choir. With that in mind, it makes sense. I’ve stopped weeping for our youth. They don’t understand the concept of weeping anyway.
I was surprised that Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 was chosen twice. I wasn’t surprised for Mahler to be one of the favorites but the same Mahler symphony twice is interesting.
At only 22-25 minutes Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs was the shortest piece of music on the list. However, those 20 plus minutes are some of the most glorious ever composed.
At 17 hours long, Wagner’s Ring Cycle was the longest piece on the list. The Ring Cycle was chosen twice and Tristan und Isolde once. Wagner makes sense as the most chosen composer. Wagner’s music is as multilayered as it is long, which makes it a prime prospect with which to spend the rest of one’s musical life. The Ring Cycle is infinite in its potential for subtlety and grandeur.
So why the Germanic dominance? Is it better music? The cheap answer is no because all music is equally profound based on context. That works as a theory but we need to look at it based on behavior. Only one piece of music for the rest of your life removes the context of other music. If we play the game with fairness, then we pick what we feel is the best music. The notion of all music being equal goes out the window.
Should you want to visit the idea of identity politics and claim that all these conductors were white males, so of course they chose the composers at the top of the traditional hierarchy, you'd be disappointed. Six of the 11 were female conductors.