Tommasini cheerfully acknowledges the problematic nature of canon formation, especially in a field like classical music where the standard repertory can become ossified. Nevertheless, he defends the value of distinguishing the great from the merely good ... In newspaper reviews he has continually shown open-mindedness toward all kinds of music, and The Indispensable Composers is sprinkled with admiration for Grieg, Berg, Britten and others who did not make the cut ... One cannot help coming away from it with a more rounded understanding of classical music at its peak. Maybe he can follow it up with a book dedicated to 'Not Quite Indispensable Composers but Pretty Terrific Nevertheless' (Mahler, please?).
..fascinating, provocative and eminently readable ... I could use the chapter on Monteverdi as notes for my own lectures on the birth of opera and the early Baroque without committing plagiarism. It contains everything I think an audience needs to know about the subject. Later in the book, Mr. Tommasini’s explanation of Schoenberg and the development of the so-called 12-tone system is likewise brilliant and succinct ... Beyond Mr. Tommasini’s wide range of musical expertise, he is a compelling and colorful writer who can define musical terms succinctly for the layman—counterpoint, meter, recitative—without losing touch with the professional musician. He is a master of finding just the right adjective to describe a work or a performance—a particularly important skill for a music critic ... What comes through consistently and unequivocally is Mr. Tommasini’s love for music and sense of adventure in listening to (as well as performing) it.
New York Times chief classic music critic Tommasini picks the 'unfathomable achievements of indispensable—and indisputably great—composers ... Also starring Schumann, Verdi, Debussy, Puccini, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and, briefly, some up-and-comers like Philip Glass and George Benjamin, all exuberantly presented for your edification and enjoyment.