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  • Writer's pictureSteve Crowther

Britain's Got Talent: 25 best British composers of all time.

Classical Music Magazine asked 167 top international musicians to vote for the best British composers of all time. Here are the results… Do you agree - and who was voted number one?

So, hold on to your hats…

Illuminati: in at 22 are no less than four of the best: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-94), Herbert Howells (1892-1983), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) and Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006).

Steve: OK, I’ll give you lot Ms Maconchy but the others, maybe not.

Illuminati: in at 19 we have three worthies: Oliver Knussen (1952-2018), Helen Grime (b.1981) and Jonathan Dove (b.1959).

Steve: No.

Illuminati: at 15 we have four luminaries: Judith Weir (b.1954), Gustav Holst (1874-1934), John Dowland (c.1563-1626) and George Benjamin (b.1960).

Steve: Judith Weir and Dowland and possibly Holst.

Illuminati: in at 14 we have Ethel Smyth (1858-1944).

Steve: Nah

Illuminati: 13 is Frank Bridge (1879-1941).

Steve: OK

Illuminati: at 12 we have Sir Harrison Birtwistle (1934-2022).

Steve: I would put him in the closing pack, surely.

Illuminati: two vie for the 10th place; Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) and James MacMillan (b.1959).

Steve: bit lofty for the impressive Sir James but Thomas Tallis at 10, you have got to be pulling my leg. Joke.

Illuminati: at 9 is George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).

Steve: Handel, at No.9, Handel? Ok, he might have been born in Germany and we are no longer part of the EU…

Illuminati: at 8 Thomas Adès (b. 1971).

Steve: Adès ok but greater than Handel. And Tallis?

Illuminati: number 7: Michael Tippett (1905-98).

Steve: one of my favourite composers. Higher up surely?

Illuminati: Six: William Walton (1902-83).

Steve: OK but not ahead of Tippett.

Illuminati: then…Five; William Byrd (c.1540-1623).

Steve: a true great.

Illuminati: Four: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Steve: Good call but a bit too high up. Probably The Lark wot did it.

Illuminati: Three: Henry Purcell (1659-95)

Steve: Yup

Illuminati: Two: Edward Elgar (1857-1934).

Steve: yup

Illuminati: One and blast off… Benjamin Britten (1913-76).

Steve: a true great but I demand a recount.

Well, the list is clearly inclusive and presumably the survey was conducted (good, eh?) in a bar with maybe Sir John Curtis buying the drinks. Well, who should be wearing the crown?

Presumably Tallis, Byrd, Handel (if we can claim him as one of us - a Brit) and Purcell with Elgar breathing down their necks and maybe Tippett and Britten breathing down his. All blokes, I know.

So, who is missing? Well, of the living composers: Michael Finnissy, Nicola LeFanu, James Dillon and, a wild card, Michael Nyman? Those no longer with us: Jonathan Harvey, Arnold Bax and, of course, Frederick Delius. But then we can’t include a composer born in Bradford of all places, who lived in France and ‘suffered the effects of syphilis’, as Wikipedia politely puts it.

But I’ll sign off with a question: why is there a photo of a youthful Sir Paul McCartney instead of (Dame) Ethel Smyth?

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