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Thursday, December 16, 2010

A yawning gap

When I was taking that informal poll I mentioned four posts ago about the greatest composer of the 20th century, I asked Jon Leaf, he of the tested 211 IQ:

I got this email back from him this morning:

I know who you're going to say as I think you alluded to it once before: Richard Rodgers. (Am I right?) 

This subject has interested me for a while because Stravinsky's name was often put in first place by critics, and, while he certainly wrote a few really excellent pieces, he wouldn't even make my top ten. My view: he wrote a very little very great music, and even that is mighty cold and lacking in both feeling and melody. Here's my list in a very approximate order: 

1. Richard Strauss
2. Gustav Mahler
3. Giacomo Puccini
4. Jean Sibelius
5. Sergei Prokofiev
6. Sergei Rachmaninoff
7. Edward Edgar
8. George Gershwin
9. Francois Poulenc
10. Eric Wolfgang Korngold (very underrated, I think)
11. Richard Rodgers
12. Aaron Copland

I'd also rate Debussy and Copland above Stravinsky with Walton, Kern, Berlin, Porter, Bernstein, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon on at least equal level and Roy Harris not much below.

There's no doubt that Rodgers was a genius, but I find a lot of his music to be willfully lacking in depth.

This one email illustrates the difference between a certified genius-level IQ like Leaf and a guy -- like me -- who just thinks he's smart. First, I don't even remember ever telling him that I liked Richard Rodgers (Leaf never forgets anything). Second, I'm not even familiar with half the guys on his list other than as names that sound vaguely familiar, and some I don't even know as that.

You may be thinking, well, Leaf is probably just a music guy, and really, how hard is it to come up with a top ten list in something you're interested in? After all, he did say in his email he's thought about the question.

But had I asked him who the greatest scientist of the twentieth century was, or greatest engineer, or greatest artist, or greatest basketball player, or greatest writer, or greatest history writer, or greatest poet, or greatest businessman, he could have given me a similar list.

Despite all the incredibly stupid things I've done in my life, I'm actually not measurably dumb: As a kid my IQ tested well above average -- but not up in the ether. So I am less than halfway from average to Leaf. Does this mean that Leaf feels the same way hanging around me that I feel hanging around someone who is subnormal?

Does he find me tedious, and unoriginal, and unimaginative? Does he find my opinions uninformed and illogical? Did he become acquainted with the limits of my repertoire awfully quickly? Does he wonder at my faulty memory? Is his every other thought, what a freaking idiot? Can he not wait to get away from me?

A disquieting thought.

Jon, as far as your analysis of Rodgers as being "willfully lacking in depth" goes, let me offer the following well-informed and logical rebuttal, which is fueled by and somewhat reflective of my IQ: Eff you.


Jonathan Leaf said...

Gee, where to begin.
I wish any of the flattering things you said were true. I do love music and have thought about it a lot - unlike most of the other subjects you mention. I wish I were as bright as you about 90% of everything. By the way, just as I dopily included twelve names on an ostensible top ten list, you managed to misstate your IQ as it relates to the population. If you took an IQ test based on standard-devaition, you were closer to four standard deviations from the mean than three. And, by the way, the score I got when I was five wasn't based on standard-deviation. It was calculated by placing mental age (as indicated by the test) over chronological age and multiplying by one hundred. So, the numbers aren't comparable. I wish I could do a crossword puzzle as fast as you - and I know the difference may reflect a notably INFERIOR intelligence to yours insofar as these matters are indicated by standard psychometric exams.
But I think my opinions about 20th century composers are most definitely correct!

John Craig said...

Actually, you just illustrated the crucial difference between you and me: had I gotten a blow job like the one I just gave you, I would have accepted it at face value. (No pun intended, I guess.)

I've never been smart enough to see through flattery.

(The denial I was looking for had to do with my company, not your IQ, but that's okay.)

John Craig said...

PS -- I've listened to Stravinsky's Rites of Spring, and it certainly doesn't fill me with an inchoate, romantic longing. Nor does it evoke any other emotion, except possibly boredom. So I have to agree with you about him. But I've also listened to Rachmaninoff and some of the others, and they don't move me either, so as far as I'm concerned, even if it makes me a simpleton, I still put Rodgers at number one.

And Paul Simon? How can you rank him ahead of Lennon/McCartney, or Jagger/Richards? Or Holland/Dozier/Holland, who wrote most of the Supremes' hits?