28 Oct 2019

Settling The Score: Highlights and fun facts 2019

From Settling the Score, 12:00 pm on 28 October 2019

When it comes to RNZ Concert's annual classical music poll some years there are no great surprises. But other times there are some big ones...

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

Beethoven is New Zealand's favourite composer in 2019

"I adore Beethoven…His music simply fills the air and is just magical." - Carol

Beethoven portrait by Ferdinand Schimon

Beethoven portrait by Ferdinand Schimon Photo: Boston Public Library

The fact that Beethoven is New Zealand's favourite composer this year is perhaps not a surprise. After all, what could be more iconic than Dah-dah-dah-Daaaaah? In fact, since ever I've been responsible for herding voting data into a countdown, Beethoven has been top dog, with more votes cast for this composer's works than any other.

But there were some surprises in this year's Settling the Score voting. Don't worry, there won't be any spoilers here about the countdown which airs on Labour Day Monday from 7 am to 7 pm on RNZ Concert.

  • What kind of Settling the Score voter are you?
  • Instead we'll focus on the entertaining surprises in voting trends, and some of your comments on why you voted the way you did:

    Top 10 most voted for composers:

    Giuseppe Verdi

    Giuseppe Verdi Photo: Theobald Chartran, Public Domain

    1. 1. Ludwig von Beethoven
    2. 2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    3. 3. Johann Sebastian Bach
    4. 4. Giuseppe Verdi
    5. 5. Franz Joseph Haydn
    6. 6. Franz Schubert
    7. 7. Sergei Rachmaninov
    8. 8. Ralph Vaughan Williams
    9. 9. Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky
    10. 10. Richard Strauss

    Hello Joseph Green (aka Giuseppe Verdi), welcome to your first time on the Top 10 favourite composers' lists!

    There is a significant gap in voting numbers between Mozart and Beethoven, less so between Mozart and Bach, and then the gap narrows as we go down the list, to just a few votes between Tchaikovsky and Strauss.

    These may be the 10 most popular composers by overall voting numbers, but because they are split acorss many pieces, not all of them appear in the STS Top 10. Bonus points if you can guess who.

    "Bach - Because his music is the cornerstone on which our Western music is built" - John

    "I have to vote for Mozart....my grandmother had two books by her bedside. Shakespeare, and 'My beloved Mozart'" - Josephine

    Top 10 most prolific composers

    Another interesting way to slice voting data is to see which composer had the most works in the running:

    Lilburn in his garden, c. 1996

    Lilburn in his garden, c. 1996 Photo: Gwyneth Brown

    1. 1. Beethoven: 41
    2. 2. Mozart: 38
    3. 3. Bach: 33
    4. 4. Haydn: 31
    5. 5. Schubert: 27
    6. 6. Handel: 21
    7. 7. Tchaikovsky:18
    8. 8. Rachmaninov: 15
    9. 9. Lilburn, Dvořák, Richard Strauss: 11
    10. 10. Vaughan Williams, Saint-Saens: 10

    First off, Bach is dethroned on this list! Last year Bach was first for most works nominated, followed by Mozart, and then Beethoven.

    The second thing catching my eye is that Kiwi composer Douglas Lilburn is tied with Dvořák and Richard Strauss with eleven pieces each voted for. Dvořák had works like the New World Symphony and the Cello Concerto in the running, Strauss The Four Last Songs and Rosenkavalier, and Lilburn had his Overture Aotearoa, Four Canzonas, and the Drysdale Overture as his top three most voted works.

    Notice Vaughan Williams tied for 10th with Camille Saint-Saens. Famously his Lark Ascending roosts at the top of the countdown, but only 10 of his works warranted New Zealand's choice as a favourite. Perhaps it's not that surprising, but we do know that along with The Lark, The Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and the Fantasia on Greensleeves are all hugely popular with New Zealanders.

    Kiwi Composers

    Again, you may not be surprised that Douglas Lilburn received the most votes of Kiwi composers, after all he was a key figure in the development of New Zealand classical composition.  With works such as his 'Overture Aotearoa' and 'Dysdale Overture', his musical description of New Zealand landscapes are now part of the core repertoire of Kiwi musicians.  This year also saw a surge in support for his 'Four Canzonas'.

    Composer Janet Jennings

    Composer Janet Jennings Photo: Supplied

    This year, out of the the North-West field came a vibrant shout of support for Waikato composer Janet Jennings, whose recent album called Play-Pen on the Atoll label featured a series of works that a group of voters from the Waikato region had experienced live.  They've banded together to support the composer and the album recorded and produced in the region. 

    1. 1. Douglas Lilburn
    2. 2. Janet Jennings
    3. 3. Gareth Farr
    4. 4. David Hamilton
    5. 5. David Farquhar
    6. 6. Salina Fisher

    This year saw strong support for living composers Gareth Farr and David Hamilton as well, gathering around the imaginatively titled works 'From the Depths Sound the Great Sea Gongs' and 'The Moon is Silently Singing'.

    “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

    Award-winning composer Salina Fisher’s 'Rainphase' is another favourite that draws listeners. Although Rosa's wish may not come true this year, perhaps more female composers will feature in 2020's voting?

    To Lark or not to Lark

    “The Lark Ascending is so beautiful, the soaring notes of the violin emulate the lark's flight so perfectly and take me with it to the heights of fantasy.” - Suzanne


    “Keep doing this please because I have a yearly bet going on Vaughan Williams Lark Ascending not winning and I’ve lost every time so I need at least one year where I can win my free coffee. Peace out.” – Aiden

    Peace out, indeed. No single work seems to evoke such gnashing of teeth as poor old Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’.  Many want it to stay at the top, many voted to unseat it. 

    This much is known: A significant number of RNZ Concert listeners ADORE the Lark. From this year’s comments, many listeners are annoyed that so many adore it, but let’s look at the silver lining…fewer say they downright hate it.  It’s simply a matter of personal taste about what voters would like to see at the top. 

    That is, after all, the point of Settling the Score…to give you, the public, a chance to talk about the music that means the most to you.  And don’t forget, Settling the Score is a 12 hour broadcast, not just what happens in the last few minutes. Think about the other composers whose fortunes rise and fall from year to year.

    Whether or not the Lark ascends once again this year, or another well-loved piece of music takes its place, have heart, because unlike government elections, you don’t have to wait another three years to give your favourite music the love it deserves!

    Hands in the air voting.

    The people have spoken. Photo: Public Domain