The Back Street Boys of Classical??

I have recently started piano lessons and theory with a wonderful teacher who is remarkably intelligent and has decades of experience playing and composing. When asking me about my taste in music, I think I mentioned Stravinsky, amoung others, from a basket of jazz, pop and classical music that I have enjoyed. I guess I need to be humbled as a student as I was a little embarrassed when he used the expression "salon composer", which I took to mean popular with the bourgeois but not taken seriously by musicians. An additional faux pas of mine was thinking that Vince Guaraldi should be found in the "jazz" section of Tower Records. Could someone educate my a bit more about classical (In the Tower Records, not historical sense of the word) composers? Who would be considered the N Synch of their time? And which composers have really endured as as worthy and challenging for people who really understand music? I realize this is somewhat subjective but hopefully will inspire lively debate.
There is a great book called "Discovering Great Music" which give you a synopsis of the major composers (including, up to a point, their "stature" as musiciansa) along with recommended piece/recordings. should carry it. This is a good starting point. The Penguin Guide to Classical CD's is another more or less OK source to get feel for who's who in the world of classical composers. However...I would say your teacher is a bit of a jerk. what matters is that you find the music that moves YOU and makes you sit up anlisten, NOT what the pros think about it. I dated a pianist who thought Mozart was "Mickey Mouse" music, but that did NOT stop me from listening to Mozart Symphonies. If you REALLY must/want to know what may impress your teacher I guess you could drop names like Mahler, Bartok, Wagner, Satie, Beethven, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Bach, and so on and so on. But there is NOTHING like finding out who/what you like, kicking back and enjoying the music. If you'd like some specific recos, e-mail me privately w/ your phone number and I'll give you a call.
As a composer, myself, I have to say that you should really disregard your teacher's comments about Stravinsky. Stravinsky has been, in fact, absolutely, without question, the most influential composer of the past century. That applies instrumentally, rhythmically, developmentally and stylistically. Some might say the same about Schoenberg, but that applies more to his music theory, not his compositions. Your teacher is certainly free, as you should also be, to have his opinions and tastes, but don't let him turn you off to one of the world's greatest composers that quickly. After spending years in a collegiate conservatory atmosphere, I have really never met any professional musicians who think that Stravinsky's music is "salon music". I have met those who don't particularly like Stravinsky's music, but that's a different thing altogether.
It is, however, generally popular, as a professional musician, to insult composers of merit. People obtain a feeling of superiority from trying to point out what they see as weaknesses in others of the same profession. For many years, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Mozart have been the objects of much insult. This, in spite of the fact that they are three of the most talented composers to have walked the earth. Franz Josef Haydn, himself, told Leopold Mozart, the young Mozart's father, that the young man was the greatest composer to have ever lived. But for many years, people have said of him that he wrote, as Charles Ives said, " for nice people." Interestingly enough, Samuel Barber said of Charles Ives that "he was a hack."
Try reading Lukas Foss's essay at It's not necessarily a response to your question, but I think that you might find it interesting.

Happy listening!!
Your info is exactly what I was hoping to hear. AlexC, he did mention Bartok as someone worthy of his high trained ears. I have found Bartok challenging, but I have always enjoyed Tchaikovsky and find his music very accessible. Kurtisjeffers, your point about insulting peers in one's profession is a good one -- borne of human insecurity and jealousy and applicable to many occupations! Love the feedback and suggestions so thank you.
Mozart, no doubt. Although Bach may have crawled a few backstreets in his time...
Might I also offer Robert Greenburg’s “Understanding Great Music” by You won’t be disappointed. I concur with Kurt. Anyone who dismisses Stravinsky as anything less than one of the great composers if not the greatest composer of the 20th century, particularly a music teacher, is either jealous or isn’t acknowledging his own biases and tastes. Stravinsky along with Debussy changed the course of music from the Romantic era to the Modern era. As a teacher I would think that the important fact is to encourage the student’s taste rather than influence or attempting to change it. But then again, we don’t live in a perfect world and generally our OWN individual preferences prevail. A great example of the popular sport of a critic trashing the work of a composer would be of Rachmaninov’s 1st Symphony, written just out of the Moscow Conservatory. It generally wasn’t well received and one critic wrote of it “If there was a convervatory in Hell, Mr. Rachmaninoff would take first prize.” Taste in music is as in taste in the equipment that reproduces, it is personal. Especially in music, the most abstract of the arts. I personally believe individual tastes should be nurtured and encouraged rather than dismissed. “Why do you like Stravinsky”? CW first, last and most importantly trust what you like, listen, learn and the rest will fall into place You should make it very clear what you like and let your teacher know why. This is also part of the learning. Trust your teacher completely only in the technique of learning and playing the music. Learn ABOUT the music, its origins, development and the composers from as many different sources as you can.
I do not know him, but from your quote your teacher sounds like an intellectual snob. Remember, in their day Mozart's Magic Flute and the Marriage of Figaro were "Show Tunes". Duke Ellington said "If it sounds good, it is good". Also, Shostakovich is finally getting the recogntion he deserves, but like all of them, not until 30 years after his death. Not very long ago he was a "Soviet Puppet Hack Composer". Back to classical "show tunes". Most "classical" music was composed not to be a high art; it was composed to make money or collect a pay check. Just like opera was really just the Theater of the day, I will predict that 100 years from now, movie composer John Williams will be considered a great composer. All of his music is very symphonic, and very listenable without the video. FINALLY A BOOK I HAVE IS "EVENINGS WITH THE ORCHESTRA"; a Norton companion for concertgoers; by D. Kern Holoman
On video I also have the complete set of Leonard Bernstein's lectures at Harvard University; and also the complete set of his television New York Philharmonic children's concerts. All very educational. You might find then at the library.

The other respondents are right. Your teacher may be a superb technician and theorist, but he(?) is a card-carrying snob. Stravinsky a "salon composer"? Good grief! Though he doesn't always fire my muse, Stravinsky was a composer of considerable rank and substance. Your teacher should shut up, teach you scales, harmony, theory, contrapuntal devices ( if you want to go that far ) and keep his opinions to himself. YOU be the judge of what you like, and screw "informed" opinion. Sorry, but that kind of stuff really torques me.

Someone else here wrote of a person who thought Mozart a lightweight. That almost defies a sensible reply! Most scholars I've read think him to be the greatest composer who ever lived. And he was no mean musician, either. He's certainly in my pantheon of composers along with Bruckner, Sibelius, Mahler, Schubert.

Maybe you should dump this teacher and find one who wants to teach, not pontificate.