"Polymath" composers

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hollowman
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"Polymath" composers

Post by hollowman » Sun Aug 24, 2008 5:05 pm

I use the term "polymath" in quotes, because I'm recoining its definition -- i.e., limited to within the area of classical music.

What composers were (or are) considered "masters" in multiple styles, periods or genres of classical music?

For example, Samuel Barber, in additon to his popular romantic lyricism, seems to have covered many bases:
"Later he added Debussy, Stravinsky (Capricorn Concerto, 1944), polytonality (Second Symphony, 1944), atonality (Medea, 1946; Prayers of Kierkegaard, 1954), 12-tone rows (Nocturne, 1959; Piano Sonata), jazz (Excursions, 1944; Hand of Bridge, 1959)." (from Schirmer)

In a way, this is an unrealistic question because modern composers have the advantage of choosing all the stuff from the past.

But in no way does being a compositional "polymath" imply that one is superior to "nonpolymaths". In the area of science, Newton was and Einstein wasn't!

IcedNote
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by IcedNote » Sun Aug 24, 2008 5:21 pm

I seem to read this question more effectively as which composers had the biggest transformations throughout their careers.

Schoenberg would definitely fit that bill.
Beethoven...not as dramatically as Schoenberg, but just as dramatic in another sense (Classicism to Romanticism, if you consider his third period to be Romantic).

How far off am I from your question?

-G
Harakiried composer reincarnated as a nonprofit development guy.

hollowman
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by hollowman » Sun Aug 24, 2008 5:51 pm

IcedNote wrote:I seem to read this question more effectively as which composers had the biggest transformations throughout their careers....Schoenberg would definitely fit that bill.
Beethoven...not as dramatically as Schoenberg, but just as dramatic in another sense (Classicism to Romanticism, if you consider his third period to be Romantic)....How far off am I from your question?
You're on the mark! And Schoenberg is a great example!

jbuck919
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Aug 24, 2008 6:40 pm

Stravinsky.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Heck148
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by Heck148 » Sun Aug 24, 2008 6:58 pm

hollowman wrote: What composers were (or are) considered "masters" in multiple styles, periods or genres of classical music?
Stravinsky is the obvious nominee...he excelled at numerous different styles...
Copland is another, and Morton Gould is good also .

Ralph
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by Ralph » Sun Aug 24, 2008 9:46 pm

Copland actually straddled genres as did Bernstein.
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IcedNote
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by IcedNote » Sun Aug 24, 2008 11:34 pm

John Corigliano is a living composer who does different things depending on the occasion.

-G
Harakiried composer reincarnated as a nonprofit development guy.

Heck148
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by Heck148 » Mon Aug 25, 2008 6:32 am

I think Shostakovich could qualify as well.

he was able to master many different styles and genres of music...esp if we include the early stuff - the film music and the ballets...

he at times flirted with jazz, but this posed significant political risk - jazz had to be used only to depict the decadence of the incompetent, materially-motivated west - a representation of its lack of "socialist purity of spririt", and the antithesis of "wholesome proletarian values of labor and commitment to class equality, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah"
altho, DS did not embrace atonalism, he certainly used polytonalism and chromaticism in many of his works, esp the later ones...

piston
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by piston » Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:48 am

At least two ways to address this question: a. a composer's unilinear stylistic progression from his student years to his late works; b. a composer's stylistic versatility at the point of his full artistic maturity. I don't really view Schonberg as a "polymath" composer because "unilinear" progression is not my conception of polyvalence. Schonberg, at the point of artistic maturity, was pretty much locked into his own system of composition and the corresponding works do not strike me as being versatile. Similarly, Bartok progressed rapidly from his late-romantic style to a very personal modern idiom which did not exclude jazz and certainly involved a lot of folk-based music (from a variety of cultures). He seems to be more versatile in this progression than a Schonberg or Webern.

Stravinsky was very versatile but tended to also evolve in stylistic stages or periods. Numerous other composers, on the other hand, demonstrated versatility within a short time span. Ravel, for instance, did neo-classical (Tombeau de Couperin), jazz (piano concerto), folk or ethnic-based music (especially his Spanish sound but also Jewish melodies and his wonderful Tzigane), impressionistic (many piano works), very "modern" (sonata for violin and cello), children's (Enfant et les sortileges), even anti-colonial (chansons madecasses)! Now, that's versatility, poly-something!!!
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

SONNET CLV
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Re: "Polymath" composers

Post by SONNET CLV » Mon Aug 25, 2008 11:21 am

George Andrews.

I was first tempted to suggest Iannis Xenakis, until I understood what hollowman meant by "polymath".

Selections given so far (Stravinsky, Barber, Ravel, Schoenberg) are right on. I once presented three pieces all by Schoenberg to a class which was to evaluate the "skills" of the "three" composers represented by the works. (It was not a music major group.) The discussion proved interesting both before I announced that Schoenberg had written all three works ... and afterwards!

Competent professional composers can, of course, handle a variety of styles. A common assignment in composition classes is to compose or arrange a piece "in the style of so and so." Someone like film composer John Williams can do whatever and whomever he likes. As could Schoenberg. Schoenberg beats out many because he was also able to develop his own original, unique, personal style. Heck ... I can arrange a piece in the style of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikowsky, Schoenberg .... That proves little today. Could I have accomplished those styles before Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikowsky, Schoenberg did? That would be a measure of genius. I wish I could anticipate what the next great "style" will be! I could garner for myself some musical immortality.

I choose, however, George Andrews. George Andrews is the arranger of most of the pieces on that delicious RCA Christmas album titled What If Mozart Wrote "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" performed by the Hampton String Quartet. It's fun to sit round the Christmas tree, basking in the warm glow of the fire-place and the screaming grandchildren and ponder which composer's style is featured in such classics as "The Christmas Song", "Winter Wonderland", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", and "The Little Drummer Boy". Heck, you don't have to guess whose is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." They gave that one away on the cover.

--SONNET CLV--

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