Actually, I think charting quirky likes and dislikes is an interesting way to find out about people. I've never been a fan of most kinds of "mixer" games, but we once hosted a church small group meeting at our house when we began informally going around the room to learn everyone's favorite movie/TV show/music. It turned out to be a great way to learn about people and to get all sorts of discussions going. It's always fun to mystify people by declaring that The Purple Rose of Cairo is the best movie of all time.
Anyway, I thought I'd see if I could get some Twitter discussion going by posting some of my plus/minus thoughts there, but they attracted zero interest. So, I might as well recycle this information here. A few explanatory notes. First, I believe this list says more about me than the composers listed. I continue to find Haydn less compelling than many respectable and insightful people, and I'm happy to admit that the failing is mine. I also would gladly admit that he's a very fine composer, and I really enjoy some of his works - the point of this system is to document the disconnect I feel vs. what I perceive to be his overall reputation.
Another way of saying this is that it would be fine if I encountered much less Haydn than I do. On the other hand, I'm not sure I could ever get too much of Poulenc or Scriabin, two admired composers who, nevertheless, don't have thrones as high up on Olympus as I think they should. Thus, they could get my highest + scores, coming in at +3 each. Notice that many of the standard "greats" get zeros; I adore Beethoven and find his music indispensable in my life, but that hardly makes me unique. Same for Mozart; there are times when I'd be tempted to give him a +1, but then I fall asleep listening to one of Sarastro's arias, and I figure his reputation is just about right.
I don't know if it's really possible to be a +1 for Bach either - there are probably some people who are even more fanatical than I am, but still, it's possible that he gets as many as four works on my all-time Top Ten, so +1 feels right. Note that these ratings don't necessarily mean I think a plus composer is better than one with a zero or a minus. I don't know that I'd say Schumann is better than Chopin, but everyone seems to adore Chopin, whereas Schumann always attracts a certain amount of criticism, even if his achievements are considerably more wide-ranging than Chopin's. I'd rate them as about equal on the overall Olympian scale, but Schumann's music probably tears me up more inside. (By the way, that's a blog post of its own. When I was in college, Brahms was definitely the most important composer to me, and Schumann struck me as somewhat bizarre - now, I still love Brahms, but Schumann hits deeper.)
So, here's a starter plus/minus scale. Notice the ever controversial Wagner comes in at a break-even zero, which might be the oddest score here. The truth is, probably most composers would float around the zero mark, so, to some degree, this is just a way to say that I really love Poulenc and Scriabin - and I'm a bit mystified by Haydn and Verdi.
Please don't hate me or think of less me. Hey, I've forgiven Terry Teachout for dissing Brahms' Requiem. We are who we are, but maybe, just maybe, Haydn will some day make it up to -4.
UPDATE (4/15): Added Bartók, Brahms, Britten, and Handel. Most of the big names not on the list (Copland, Debussy, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Messiaen, Monteverdi, Prokofiev, Ravel, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, Strauss, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, etc.) would probably fall right around zero; I think it's particularly difficult to calibrate general opinion for more recent composers, so although I might have strong opinions about some, I don't feel a clear plus/minus tension about them.
UPDATE (5/3): Bumped Brahms up to +1 after hearing Mia Chung play Brahms 2nd concerto last night. Unbelievably gripping, stunning, overpowering, affecting... (and there's the piano quinet, the C minor piano quartet, the F minor sonata, the "Handel" variations, the violin sonatas, the...what was I thinking giving Brahms a 0?)