An Audiophilia Top Ten. Number 12 in the series. (The Greatest Conductors - deceased)

by admin on March 29, 2011 · 21 comments

in Audiophilia Top Tens

BBC Music Magazine’s most recent issue has a list of the world’s greatest conductors. A Top 20. Of course, the list will be contentious, and many will conside inclusions on both ours and the BBC Music Magazine’s list wrong. The BBC omits Bruno Walter, certainly in my Top 5, and includes the likes of Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Charlie Mackerras, very fine musicians both but hardly worthy of sidling up to Furtwangler and the ommitted Willem Mengelberg! There’s that contention. Oh well, I’d love to read your lists. Have at it in the comments.

So, here goes for our Top Ten Series No. 12. No. 13 in our series will be the greatest living conductors (posted Thursday of this week).

1. Herbert von Karajan
2. Carlos Kleiber
3. Bruno Walter
4. Sir Thomas Beecham
5. Wilhelm Furtwängler
6. Arturo Toscanini
7. Karl Bohm
8. Sir John Barbirolli
9. Sir Georg Solti
10. Leonard Bernstein

I’m allowing myself some Honorouble Mentions: Fritz Reiner, Otto Klemperer, Pierre Monteux, Willem Mengelberg, Carlo Maria Guilini, Eugen Jochum, Sir Adrian Boult, Victor de Sabata.

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An Audiophilia Top Ten. Number 13 in the series. (The Greatest Conductors - living) — Audiophilia
03.31.11 at 8:01 am

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Will 03.29.11 at 12:47 pm

Fritz Reiner belongs on any such list at least in the honorable mention category.

roy harris 03.29.11 at 4:43 pm

what are the criteria you use to determine greatness.

i think claudio abbado, ernest ansermet and bernard haitink should be included in the top 12 list.

i suspect that there are some subjective criteria for ranking one conductor above another, but like other aesthetic phenomena, there are no absolutes and many disagreements.

if you asked 100 conductors to compose a list of the top 12 wouldn’t you think that there would be significant disagreement among the experts.

the perspective of a musician probably differs from the perspective of a conductor, especially a soloist.

admin 03.29.11 at 7:08 pm

Will — you’re absolutely correct. Fixed!

Cheers, a

admin 03.30.11 at 9:01 am

I’m getting harangued from my friends on Facebook. I hope they post up their lists here.

I adore Karajan, but I knew most would disagree with his top placement.

Great stuff!

John Jansson 03.30.11 at 10:58 am

My top 10 Conductors (deceased)

1=: Wilhelm Furtwängler
1=: Sir John Barbirolli
1=: Otto Klemperer

4=: Karel Ančerl
4=: Jascha Horenstein
4=: Vernon Handley
4=: Bruno Walter
4=: Sir Thomas Beecham
4=: Leonard Bernstein
4=: Igor Markevitch

Too difficult to run 1 to 10, but am content with the slightly higher placement of the first “equals”. Tod Handley is a personal favourite, unlikely to feature in any list outside of England, but was one of the finest conductors and musicians I have ever seen - just didn’t have the megabucks recording contract.

roy harris 03.30.11 at 11:23 am

while i would agree with some of your selections, i might substitute stokowski, gergiev, mravinsky, and van beinum.

you still have not provided insight into your reasons for your selections.

if its just subjective, that’s fine. there are probably 100 of lists that could be constructed.

if however, you have standards for selection what are they ?

admin 03.30.11 at 1:26 pm

Sub jec tive.

Of course.

Love van Beinum and Mravinsky. Stokowski was a Charlatan, IMO.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I place von Karajan very highly. In fact, he’s my favourite.

admin 03.30.11 at 1:33 pm

Great list, Jon.

Ancerl is beloved here in Toronto. Markevitch in Montreal (some very funny stories).

Tod Handley. Very fine conductor. Love his Elgar. Did you hear him do Brahms, Mozart or Beethoven?

Cheers, a

roy harris 03.30.11 at 5:41 pm

ok. since it is subjective. i will chime in and provide my favorites:

1) abbado
2) toscanini
7)van beinum
9)benjamin britten
10)james levine
11) marriner

i expect a lot of flak for these selections. that’s ok. it’s only opinions.

until someone proposes some set of judging criteria, greatness in the arts is not absolute.

admin 03.30.11 at 8:24 pm

I’ll talk to you about Marriner when I see you in June. :)

Evan 03.31.11 at 10:55 am

I actually made a list of my own with some commentary on why each person is on there which people might find interesting.

Anyway, it’s there for anybody who’d like to look.

Best Wishes,


admin 03.31.11 at 12:41 pm

Good list, Evan. Love Kubleik. But you lost me with Jarvi pere. Ugh!

Cheers, a

Fergus Macleod 04.01.11 at 11:25 am

I think if most conductors had to conduct like someone - they would chose to conduct like Kleiber (son not father).

admin 04.01.11 at 12:47 pm

Google his YouTube vid of Rosenkavalier. Sheer joy and brilliance.

George Graves 06.01.11 at 11:32 pm

Beecham is an “acquired taste” for anything other than Mozart and Delius. Barbarolli too is overrated in your list. I’d demote both of them to honorable mention or less and promote Fritz Reiner, Georg Szell, Bruno Walter, and Eugene Ormandy to the front ranks. Ormandy, during his tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra, probably did more to advance the cause of classical music, at least in North America, than any other conductor.

BWFrazer 01.15.12 at 5:55 pm

The problem is that as time rolls on more great Maestros will pass, many greats on the list would then have to be left off to keep the list at 10. By adding a “rule” that increases the list by one person every 5 years then maybe time will not forget the likes of a Reiner or a Solti or even HVK.

admin 02.24.12 at 8:58 am

Interesting to re read this list months later. I would redo the list slightly. Some hons mentions in, and a couple ‘demoted’. :)

Dr Pan K 02.12.13 at 4:48 pm

Dimitri Mitropoulos ranks easily among the top, but as he is of another era and left little or nothing in stereo many seem to forget him.

Russians are also off the list, pity..

Add Kertesz too, his Dvorak and Schubert are amazing.

admin 02.12.13 at 7:23 pm

Mitropoulos and and Kertesz are both wonderful.

As for Russians — Svetlanov, Kondrashin and Jansons are great conductors.

Stephanie Macho 02.25.13 at 12:27 pm

I am always surprised when I see lists such as this one which omit Stokowski. Despite his well known eccentricities and “creative” changes to more than a few musical scores, his music making was often intoxicating to those who loved the beautiful sounds he pulled from an orchestra with his sometimes unorthodox approach. He was the “Anti-Toscanini” and I suspect his legacy to date has taken taken a beating due to those who have had little patience for his romantically interpreted Bach transcriptions and his flamboyant sense of showmanship and have not really listened to the wealth of truly fabulous recordings he left us with.

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