Author: Jeffrey

The Greatest Living Classical Composer

The Greatest Living Classical Composer

Mahler’s Having a Moment. He’s Got Lydia Tár to Thank for It.

When I recently learned of the death of George Gershwin, I couldn’t help but think of an anecdote that happened to my friend, the late George Plimpton.

Plimpton was sitting at a fancy dinner table in Washington, D.C., one of those old-school affairs where guests dine at the formal end, and the host is expected to be a man of the highest social rank.

At some point, after the main courses, the dinner conversation turned to a well-known pianist who’d become a little famous. He’d written a few good songs, had a number of hit records under his belt, but still hadn’t cracked the world famous music scene.

“How about the greatest living musician?” one of the guests asked.

Plimpton is a big fan, but not of jazz—the ‘Big Band’—but of a certain kind of classical music. It was a popular form that emerged in the late 1800s: it was an easy medium to get into, and it was a good one for composers like Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, and Brahms—all of whom were in a class of their own.

It was a rare style of music for a man like Plimpton to have an interest in; he had nothing against it, but he also didn’t know much about it, and he didn’t particularly enjoy it, either. Nevertheless, he knew enough to tell the story as he knew it, without saying anything about the pianist, and of the great classical composers who had written about them, and of the great artists who had played them.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll tell you about the greatest living classical composer.”

He then told the story of one of the greatest living classical composers. The name is Ludwig van Beethoven. If you don’t know who he is, you should, because he is, as Plimpton has said, the greatest living classical composer.

Beethoven was an incredibly good musician, but he was also a man full of contradictions. He could be very cold, for instance, and could be incredibly generous—not to mention a very

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