Skip to content

Can We Predict Music Legacy?

music legacy

Clara Schumann, Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms

 

When it comes to music legacy, it is difficult to foresee the future. A few days ago, Jeff Slate declared for NBC News that Paul Simon will only be a footnote in music history and that ‘anyone but the Beatles and Bob Dylan will be worth more than a passing mention.’ I thought it was a completely aberrant thing to say, but we have to wonder, is history this forgetful? Can we predict music legacy based on what we have observed in the past?

This very exhaustive website lists more than 19 000 classical composers and I obviously don’t know half of them or even a hundredth of them, many names are part of popular culture. When it comes to classical music, the last centuries are filled with hundreds of composers who left a body of work but didn’t leave a legacy powerful enough to be remembered by common people.

For example, 182 composers are listed under the genre ‘classical’ (1730-1820), an era sandwiched between the baroque period and the romantic period, but out of this classic period, I can say that I only know 5 (2.7%) of them: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (1776-1822), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), and maybe Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), but only because I saw the movie (Amadeus)

From the more ancient Baroque era (1600-1750), 228 composers are listed, and I would say that only 10 of them (4.4%) are familiar to various degrees: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), François Couperin (1668-1733), Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751).

The 1800s, or the romantic period, was a very prolific one and 473 composers are listed, but I would say that only 31 of them (6.5%) made a name for themselves (to me): Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904), Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), Franz Schubert (1797-1828), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Georges Bizet (1838-1875), Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880),  Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Gaetano Donizetti (177-1848), Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), Erik Satie (1866-1925), Charles Gounod (1818-1893), Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839-1881), Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), Clara Schumann (1819-1896).

This is somewhat subjective as someone with more knowledge in classical music will certainly recognizable many more names – you can try by yourself – but I am talking about the most popular musicians, the ones who made it in the popular culture, and I am not even sure all these names would qualify.

974 classical composers are listed for the 20th century era, and once again, I would only claim to know 21 of them (2.2%): Béla Bartók (1881-1945), Ennio Morricone (1928-2020), Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), Richard Strauss (1866-1949), Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), Hans Zimmer (1958-), Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), George Gershwin (1898-1937), Philip Glass (1937-), Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), Carl Orff (1895-1982), Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), and Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007).

Can we see a trend? Overall, 3.6% of all composers who have composed music between 1600 and the present times are household names and if I take the most successful period, the glorious 19th century, we would reach 6.5%, but this is still a very modest proportion, but not a negligible list.

This Wikipedia page gives a somewhat exhaustive list of all the singer-songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and you can once again recognize familiar names and less familiar names: there are 1010 of them. Thus, if history follows the same rule, can we expect that between 3% to 6% of them will still be well known in 2 centuries, so approximately between 30 and 60 of them. We are far from ‘anyone but the Beatles and Bob Dylan will be worth more than a passing mention.’ We can expect history to be much kinder than this.

Leave a Comment





Amazon_Smile_logo
LET-ME-HELP-LOGO

Support Let Me Help Inc by shopping at smile.amazon.com

UK Top 10 Singles 5-20-22 – 5-26-22

By Iman Lababedi | May 21, 2022 |

the best song on Harry’s third album

Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – November 1972 (Volume 4, Number 6)

By Steve Crawford | May 21, 2022 |

Lester Bangs is threatened with possible death

Press Releases For May: Here Are The Artists

By Alyson Camus | May 21, 2022 |

A whimsical and wonderful folk tune

The Early Bird: Top New Recorded Releases 5-20-22 – 5-26-22

By Iman Lababedi | May 20, 2022 |

a godawful reworking of “Juicy”

The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 5-20-22 – 5-26-22, Harry Style’s “Harry’s House” Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | May 20, 2022 |

his sweetness bleeds over

Ryan Adams Played Truly Epic Shows In NYC And Philly

By Alyson Camus | May 20, 2022 |

Ryan Adams is currently playing the best shows of his career

Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – October 1972 (Volume 4, Number 5)  

By Steve Crawford | May 19, 2022 |

We leap ahead almost a year

April Rose Gabrielli At Cafe Wha, Wednesday, May 18th, 2022, Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | May 19, 2022 |

A flatout triumph from a major performer

Brief Encounters: New Albums 5-13-22 – 5-19-22 Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | May 18, 2022 |

New Wave pop bliss out

Haim At Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, May 17th, 2022, Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | May 18, 2022 |

I WISH I HADN’T GONE

Scroll To Top