We tend to be reluctant these days to say that one piece of music is better than another or that one composer is better than another. Often this reluctance is a good idea, especially if the ranking serves no useful purpose, and because “better” is sometimes hard to define. But sometimes the reluctance is a mistake, and it’s a mistake based on confusing taste with judgment.
You’re perfectly entitled, for example, to prefer the works of Salieri to those of Mozart, if that’s your taste. But if you say that Salieri is a better composer than Mozart, you’re simply wrong. And you’re not wrong based on taste; you’re wrong based on the combined judgment of countless experts, and of history. Do you agree with the judgment that the two greatest composers of the late Baroque were Bach and Handel? Well, that means, unavoidably, that the rest of the late Baroque composers weren’t as good. And by the way, we don’t have to apply our judgment only to composers who are dead.
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.