Are "the greats" of art/music/literature mostly considered that because they were the first or most influential? Are there artists today who compare with Shakespeare, Mozart, Michelangelo, Bach, Rembrandt, etc, in their respective fields/genres?

Romanticism is a complex beast. But I think the enlightenment period is a bit less complicated to deal with. I think it's clear in the enlightenment where the artistic centers are, what is turning the gears. Why they shifted over the course of the 19th century is a much more complicated matter, tied in with the messy history of the French Revolution, the collapse of colonialism, German unification, all that stuff.

And I really don't think they are remembered that much, honestly. Pergolesi is, but really that's also mainly historical happenstance. Beyond Pergolesi, only the people who actually go looking for this music explicitly will ever come into contact with it, even people who study music as their career. It is really a stretch to say that any of them are "remembered."

I'll pull out my music history textbook (by Craig Wright) and check the index. Pergolesi gets 2 pages. Hasse actually comes out pretty well at 4 pages. Jommelli and Vinci are left out completely. Bach gets 2 chapters, 23 pages, for comparison, not to mention multiple references outside of the chapter. If historical circumstances were different, the tables could very well be completely turned.

So the only people who remember Vinci are those who have gone looking for Vinci (and our poor students who, in our excitement, we subject to this music as well!). The works that are performed by these composers are done mainly as "excavation projects," most people see them more as historical curiosities, usually with an air of disdain (oh, look at this cute aria by this guy who shares a name with Leonardo da Vinci and was written at the same time as BACH). And we don't always get their beat works, either, since many of their works have been lost and what is performed depends on part on how readable the manuscript is rather than performing what might be their best work.

One final difficulty is listening experience. Italian music is written under very different aesthetic assumptions from German music. Bach was considered far too complicated for Italian tastes, but 19th century romanticism saw complexity and seriousness emerge as one very strong source of Musical value. The other values that arose also brought us further and further away from Italianate aesthetics. Charles Rosen, as recently as 1991 speaks of "the failure of eighteenth century heroic and tragic opera to create enduring works which could still seem artistically relevant to us today" and essentially writes off the entire genre of Italian opera as utterly flawed. But this is the problem: Rosen looks at Hasse and wants to hear Wagner. He looks at the eighteenth century through Romantic eyes and finds flaws when the music he discovers isn't Romantic. The exact same thing happens in this review of Galuppi's Gustavo Primo.

Both of these authors look at eighteenth century opera and are baffled by it. They fundamentally do not understand why it exists and come out of it basically saying "thank God Haydn and Mozart rescued us from this dreck!" But they are judging this music from a foreign aesthetic standpoint. Italian opera is not romantic opera, and what constitutes greatness in it is not the same as what constitutes greatness in romantic works. So we have a lot of distance between our current aesthetic inheritance and the types of ears that can appreciate the remarkable productions of the Italian Galant.

So it's difficult to say what would make things different and what constitutes "greatness" in this respect. I rely on my own tastes (purely subjective) and historical "boots on the ground" reports of what people were listening to at the time (which does not necessarily equate to lasting greatness). That's the best I can do, I suppose.

/r/InsightfulQuestions Thread