Parallelling great chess players with great classical music composers


Prokofiev's comparison is a good one to start off, since I've come up with several good parallels. Nevertheless, the richness of art just doesn't allow a full parallel between the generally most popular periods in chess and classical music - that is, to say, between from the mid-19th century to Kasparov's retirement, and from the Renaissance to the "collapse" of traditional music (mid-20th century). Slight shifts don't really help either, but fairly freely interpreted chronological matchups can be very satisfying, in my opinion!

There have been many significant counterparts in both chess and classical music, as well as triads of important figures and even entire thought schools! But how to link them?

I think Sergei Prokofiev's comparison is as respectable (and probably as adequate) as anything gets, and I imagine you would agree, being that he was one of the greatest classical composers in history, a formidable chess player, and a contemporary of World Champions from Lasker to Botvinnik at that! He beat Capa in a simul, drew Lasker in another one, and he might've played Alekhine and Botvinnik (who held him and David Oistrakh high as amateur players) as well, but I'm not 100% sure...

Prokofiev compared Dr. Emmanuel Lasker to Johann Sebastian Bach, and Jose Raul Capablanca to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Later was Capa compared to Moz again by many, so the first comparison was maybe a bit surprising to me, since I was trying to put Bach in other parallels (searching a Handel counterpart to go with, and coupling Mozart unrelatedly, with Haydn and Beethoven), but then I realized how very deep, profound and invisibly ahead of their time both Bach and Lasker were! And that was Prokofiev's impression too!

Moreover, there are other subtle matchups, like the relative lengths of the players' reigns as World Champions / sizes of the composers' opuses (or career lengths, probably more accurate),

but surely the most striking thought after all these, you just cannot not notice in plain sight how incredibly reminiscent Alexander Alekhine's playing energy is of Ludwig van Beethoven's music! Really! Combinations and blows of fate all over! Smile

What about the other phenomenons, you must be asking yourselves by now? I've got some ideas, but would like to see and your interpretations of these mysterious universe connections! As for my ideas:

- Steinitz is most like Palestrina - a pioneer/chief exponent of a very exact, even rigid, thought/composition system;

- Marshall is known for his important and sound gambits, and his wild play, taking his style from the old masters, so perhaps he's like Lassus;

- Tarrasch is known for having played many beautiful classical combinations, and the opening variations carrying his name are always very rich and full of life and dynamism, just like Handel's music (especially oratorios Smile);

- Nimzowitsch is a genius pioneer of an entire superior ultra-influential system, just like Joseph Haydn, who almost single-handedly shaped the basics of the Classical period (it's an irony that Nimzo was actually a Hypermodernist, but there's much more to these guys Wink) by introducing all that's sonata, and also the whole concept of chamber music as we know it. All by himself!

As for the rest, there's a world of artists like Josquin des Prez, Anderssen, Morphy, Rubinstein, Euwe, Schubert and many, many more, just waiting for you to connect them all!


P.S. This topic was originally in the General Chess Discussion section, but I've moved it here now. Tell me if you think it's equally or more appropriate there.


Perhaps Nimzowitsch and the hypermoderns are more like atonal composers?  So, Nimzowitsch and Reti could be 2nd Viennese school, like Schoenberg or Berg.


Nezhmetdinov - Scriabin: Unorthodox, violent, punctuated by 'quiet moves'.


I like your ideas so far! Feel free to introduce larger-scale parallels!



Again, I very much like the revoutionary Fischer-Wagner comparison, as well as the tenacious Korchnoi-Brahms one! You know what, these are really good!!!

Hm... wouldn't that make Spassky - Bruckner, and Karpov - Mahler? It seems like a perfect fit to me! Bruckner was largely Wagner's school of megalomanic form thought and leit-motifs (even though he wrote symphonies and masses primarily), but a bit neglected, and Mahler was a master technician who was often obsessive even about the tiniest details!

And Kramnik would perfectly fit as Shostakovich in that regard, having a similar orchestration technique and being all neo-classical, grotesque and dark, and also having undergone computer influence on chess like Shostakovich has the harsh and brutal political treatment of the industrial age! Plus, the glasses. (Although Botvinnik's face crosses one's mind here too.) Laughing

Okay, this last comparison was unusually inspired and therefore totally worth it. Now, in addition, of all the great composers, Euwe resembles Schubert to me the most, with his short champion reign time/life span, and some of playing/musical similarities to his main predecessor (Alekhine/Beethoven). We haven't sorted Rudolf Spielmann yet, and I think we should, as he was called "the last romantic" very often.

Also, the early Romantic composers need counterparts, and so do Keres, Bronstein, Geller (and possibly other players from the Zurich Candidates 1953) and the Soviet champs. And how to link Tal (aka Paganini or Liszt) with his trainer Nezhmetdinov (aka Scriabin, supposedly, but I think there can be found a better comparison) and his modern "version" Shirov, and to include (oh, the irony!) the Russian Five, Tschaikovsky and other national schools (though it shouldn't be too hard to parallel some countries, but keep the English chess school in mind for its importance!), and of course Kasparov and other titanic modern players like Ivanchuk, Anand, Topalov and Carlsen (and whoever important I haven't included), that's beyond my thinking power at this exact moment. Fortunately, that's why you're here potentially! Laughing There are the impressionists, Rachmaninov, Gershwin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and a plethora of splendid figures waiting!



Hey, there's this part of an obviously great interview with Tal I just found:

"CL&R: We have compared chess players to composers.

Tal: So have I. I wrote that Botvinnik is like Bach-like a building: you cannot remove one note nor one stone, nor one move. Smyslov: Tchaikowsky . .

CL&R: ?! 

Tal: ... a career like a slow river, crescendo-decrescendo. Keres is like Chopin: lightness, a reflection of the blue sky. Petrosian: Liszt . . .

CL&R: ??!! 

Tal: . . . wonderful technique. Bronstein: Debussy. Larsen: Prokofiev-surrealists.

CL&R: And Fischer? 

Tal: A computer! 

CL&R: No, that's Botvinnik. 

Tal: Botvinnik became a computer after he lost the title."

Now if I could just turn these letters black. I've selected them all multiple times and tried the Font Colour option, but it wouldn't work. xD


Morphy - Handel?

Philidor - Philidor? Undecided

Dimitrije_Mandic wrote:

 Hey, there's this part of an obviously great interview with Tal I just found:

Nice! May I ask where you found this?


Great article