25 Oct 2019

What kind of Settling the Score voter are you?

From Settling the Score, 2:00 pm on 25 October 2019
Eight diverse people looking upward with curious expressions

Photo: Rawpixel Ltd.

  • Listen to New Zealand's favorite classical music in Settling The Score 7am-7pm this Monday 28 October on RNZ Concert radio or livestream.

This year we invited people to comment when they voted in our classical music countdown, offering some interesting insights on why people vote the way they do.

RNZ Concert radio programmer David Houston a.k.a. 'the data cruncher', gives us a peek behind the curtain.

Opening up my glorious spreadsheet of voting data, this comment was the first to greet me:

"Beethoven is not a composer, just an exhibitionist who makes loud noises to get attention, so he is not included..." - Malcolm

Beethoven conducting

Beethoven conducting Photo: Katzaroff, Public Domain

Did I just hear a mic drop in that comment? Sorry Malcolm, apparently your sentiments aren't shared by many of your fellow voters. But way to take a stand!

Some voters took the opposite position:

"Beethoven is the master!" - Julie

"Beethoven gives one optimism for the future." - Maureen

Illuminated by a wealth of comments, the musical personalities of voters started to take shape in my mind. Here are some of the voters I'd like to introduce you to:

The Uplifter

"The Lark Ascending is beautiful and uplifting. Every morning I wake to a lark singing outside the window and all is well with the world." - Marianne

Beauty makes the world a better place, and many of our listeners find emotional well-being with the wealth of beauty in classical music. Voters chose works like the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, and Fauré's 'Pavane'.

The Patriot

"I love New Zealand music and I would love for a young female composer to be celebrated on RNZ by winning Settling the Score." - Rosa

"David Hamilton's music relates beautifully to our New Zealand identity." - Iain

Composer David Hamilton

Composer David Hamilton Photo: Supplied

Traditionally, New Zealand composers have struggled to gain a foothold on the Settling the Score countdown, and many voters wanted to support Kiwi composers. Some went even so far as to tell us to throw their vote in with whichever living Kiwi composer was in the lead.

Gareth Farr (particularly 'From the Depths Sound the Great Sea Gongs') and David Hamilton ('The Moon is Silently Singing') had strong followings, with a new entry into the voting this year, the music of Waikato-based composer Janet Jennings.

The Lobbyist

"To support my good friend's favourite and the more I've listened to this wonderful piece it's become a favourite of mine as well."

"Because my schoolteacher told me to vote."

Similar to the Patriot, but more organised! Some listeners got their friends and colleagues to vote with a single mind. This is not new to Settling the Score, and so long as it's done fairly (one person to one vote), it adds variety, and gets more people voting. Convince your friends!

Some specious voting did need to be weeded out. Schubert's Ninth Symphony had some suspicious characters trying to rocket it to the top. For fairness, we took one vote from each voter, but ignored repetitive voting.

The Chorista

The Choristas are lovers of the human voice. There are several subsets: the Choral Groupie, the Opera Fan, and the Songster. Each are different, but what they have in common is that all three of their choices went to vocal music. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that classical music-lovers prefer instrumental music.

"I have loved singing these pieces as part of a choir, where voices can join in such beautiful harmonies." - Ruth

The Choral Groupie is a force to be reckoned with as choral music looms largest by sheer number of works, from Fauré's consoling Requiem, to Tallis' monumental 40-part 'Spem in Alium'.

"Mimi's aria transports you so effortlessly to her world in 'La Bohème' and makes me always appreciate the small things in life." - Sam

Elza van den Heever as Vitellia at The Met

Elza van den Heever as Vitellia at The Met Photo: Richard Termine/ Met Opera

The Opera Fans' tastes are unfortunately fractured…voters couldn't wade through the vast numbers of glorious arias to settle on a few key choices. Verdi, Puccini and Wagner led the charge, and wherever possible we grouped arias from the same opera into a single choice to increase support for the work.

"I am absolutely thrilled when I hear Four Last Songs. They make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear them, and when I shuffle of this mortal coil I want to be carried out to one of them." - Michael

The Songsters are different from the Opera Fan in that they voted for opera singers singing songs of both the orchestral and piano-accompanied variety. These had the advantage of having larger works to throw their weight behind, such as the ever-beloved Strauss 'Four Last Songs' and Elgar 'Sea Pictures'.

The Grand Designer

"I love the symphony's form. Shostakovich is almost forgotten now but was once seen as a gargantuan." - Nick

"Heard the Shostakovich for the first time in the Proms season this year. Seemed like I was shaken into a whole new level of hearing." - Nicola

This group of voters rewarded innovation, structure, and scale, particularly represented by the symphonies Beethoven and Shostakovich, and to a lesser degree, those of Bruckner and Mahler. From their votes, I sensed a love of being swept away by gargantuan, epic sounds carefully laid out like the stones of a vast cathedral.

The Eclectic

"I find all three pieces a pleasing combination of spiritually inspirational, refreshing and modern - perfect for my ear and mind" - Christine

Carol the Meadow Lark. Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes of an Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), from The Burgess Bird Book for Children

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes of an Eastern Meadowlark. Photo: Public Domain

Think everyone who votes for 'The Lark Ascending' must be an Uplifter? Think again. A small, but delightful bunch of voters could only be pinned down by the variety of their votes. My personal favourite eclectic votes were:

  • Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, VW's Lark Ascending, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture
  • The Lark, Nielsen's Violin Concerto, Glazunov's The Seasons
  • Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony, The Lark, and Handel's Messiah

Jazz, soaring violin, and cannon fire...why not? English, Danish, and Russian? Sure thing. An hour of dazzling French colour with the creepy electronic Ondes Martinot and a baroque 3-hour classic about the life of Christ? Bring it.

Infinite Variety in Infinite Combinations

Do you recognise any of these voters in yourself, or perhaps your friends? Naturally, with over 1000 years of history and the many thousands of choices voters have when it comes to picking their favourite classical music, there is huge variation in the music that was nominated.

From the simplest song to the most complex symphony, Settling the Score voters will never fall easily into simple categories. In fact, with so much choice, it's a miracle that we're able to settle on a countdown at all.

But there is a collective mind in the lovers of classical music, and great music tends to resonate with people from all walks of life. So be comforted in the knowledge that, even if your favourite piece didn't make it into the top 79 works we were able to fit in the countdown on Monday, you are not alone in your love of this great genre of music!

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra at the Christchurch Town Hall

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra at the Christchurch Town Hall Photo: Duncan Shaw-Brown