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Taste vs. judgement

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
SC Public Radio

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.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.