Fraud at Polls

Remember this week’s election? The votes are in, and so is the fix—WCRB has announced Boston’s Top 100 Classical Pieces, and surprise, surprise: nary a living composer to be found. Here’s the first 40:

I’ll be charitable on the quaint Victorian transliteration of “Rimsky-Korsakov”, but “Musorgsky”? “Copeland”? Really? And including both Appalachian Spring and “Variations on a Shaker Theme” is rather gilding the lily, isn’t it? They even screwed up my name:

Even auf Deutsch it’s two T’s. On the other hand, there’s some interesting musicology going on at the WCRB compound:

Tchaikovsky’s 35th Symphony, eh? I’d send both that and the Mozart to Pristine Audio and see what they think.

This thing stinks to high heaven, though. No vote counts, no list of nominees, just a corporate fiat with a bunch of very suspiciously familiar characters on it. Thanks to everyone who threw away a vote, if only to prove a point. Pride goeth before a fall, WCRB—you just lost this music lover. Nice work.

Update (3/5): Either accidentally or purposefully, WCRB did use a proper transliterated version of what’s usually seen in the U.S. as “Mussorgsky.” See comments.

Update (3/6): Nope, it was a typo. Now that they’ve fixed most of them, “Mussorgsky” it is.


  1. King FM (Seattle) is owned by the Symphony (and other arts orgs) and still the top 98 (for its broadcast address 98.1) is virtually identical to your top 100. I guess it pays the bills.But geeeez Dvorac is dead. Nadia B is dead. all the people who copied Tony D’s work for Nadia are dead. The friggen 20th century is dead. I’m not sure what it is I’m trying to say here, but whatever it is, it puts a twist in my knickers.

  2. Hey, they came <>close<> to including one piece by a living composer. The guy who wrote Albinoni’s Adagio died in ’98.What do I take away from this list? People don’t like relaxing music. Most of the pieces at the top are violent and loud.(By the way, I didn’t bring this up before, but how can a list of “Boston’s all time” greatest music not throw a nod at the city’s (and country’s, for that matter) first great composer — William Billings? I realize that we’re a new-music crowd, but where’s the love for anything written before 1700?)

  3. What a shame, but since the list was generated by a commercial radio station (when I lived in Boston 20 some years ago WCRB was far more conservative with their programming that WGBH, WBUR, an WHRB), everything they list and play has to have some kind of name brand recognition. It is if they are calling out to a very conservative audience (readers of Yankee Magazine?) and trying to let them know how musically literate they are.When I worked at a radio station we always played music by living composers. We even played vocal music on the weekday mornings. Unfortunately, after about 13 years, and for various reasons, there was no longer a place for classical music on the station, and the 100 or so people in town who appreciated the programming were disappointed. The rest of the area’s population would have probably voted just like the people in Boston and Seattle, but they might have been more careful with their spelling.

  4. The biggest giveaway that the thing’s a fix: anyone who still wants to hear Pachelbel’s canon doesn’t know what it’s called.Hang on, where’s the Diamond Music on this list?

  5. As far as I can tell, the typical “classical” radio station is just a step (if that) away from easy listening. I think that those of us who would prefer classical music not be pigeonholed as stuffy and vapid would be better off if they all folded.When I moved to NC about 8 years ago, the local NPR station (WUNC) filled its day with innocuous and completely forgettable classical music. I thought it was great when they went to all talk. Now they broadcast the NC symphony once a month or so, which strikes me as much more useful than a day full of obscure 18th century lightweights.As far as Pachelbel goes, Ben has a good point–I once had a student who wrote that she was hoping to get married to the lovely strains of Vivaldi’s <>Pachelbel Canon in D.<> There’s a classical radio listener for you.

  6. Taruskin tells a funny story about how the “g” ended up in the Musorgsky family name. Basically an effort by Modest to avoid the jokes around “Musor” (roughly “nasal discharge”). Which is to say he didn’t want to be known as “Snot-sky”.

  7. <>Mea culpa<> on the transliteration of Modest’s name. I’m so used to the American version that I just never noticed the other (more accurate) variant, which, I find, is preferred by both New Groves. (The 1980 won’t even admit to “Mussorgsky” as an alternate.) In my defense, that part of my brain is probably swamped with remembering to check under “Ch,” “Cj,” and “Tj” in the card catalog when I’m investigating Tchaikowsky.Jeffrey’s story sent coffee, appropriately, up my nose. I’m telling it to everyone I see today.

  8. Honestly, even if many of the voters had submitted works by living composers, the range of choices they’d submit would be too wide to beat out the classics; they’d all cancel each other out. That’s the advantage of being an established classic – you’ve beaten out a lot of your immediate competition for name recognition, whether fairly or not. Critiquing WCRB is like shooting dead fish in a barrel, but as fun as that is, I think this kind of elitist snickering can do as much damage as the pandering playlist of WCRB. These comments make me feel like I need to go to some basement meeting and bravely say, “My name is Michael. And I enjoy listening to Pachelbel’s Canon.” (And I’ve played the cello part at countless weddings!) There are a lot of other pieces in that top 40 that I enjoy as well and I don’t find it remotely surprising that my more idiosyncratic preferences don’t show up in this kind of poll.

  9. I like a lot of the stuff on the list, too—although they did manage to include every Beethoven symphony except my favorites. (And, honestly, I’m largely indifferent as to whether I hear #9 again in my lifetime.) I’m more ticked that they asked for people’s favorites, and then, I strongly suspect, tallied only those pieces that they deemed acceptable, if they tallied anything at all. I know of at least four people who voted for the Rzewski, and I find it hard to believe that the Suk “Fantastic Scherzo” or the Vaughan Williams “Five Variants on Lazarus and Dives” picked up more support than that.

  10. Point taken, and I agree about Beethoven 9 – especially the last movement. It is fun to see the Suk one spot ahead of the St. Matthew Passion. J.S. must be thinking, “if only I’d cut a few arias . . .” As for Rzewski, they probably assumed the name was made up and tossed his votes.

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