One reason I like hanging out with mathematicians at work is to hear them "talk shop". There is so much in it that reminds me of how people talk about sports: there are the superstars, the almost-stars, the burnouts, the unfulfilled promises, the next big things, the rumored moves between universities, the awards and prizes won, the awards and prizes that should have been won but weren't, the eccentricities and hijinks at conferences and in classrooms...
What I find especially interesting in such talk is its underlaying mixture of emotions and attitudes. There is the awe of strikingly imaginative proofs and deep, novel concepts, of course, but also the general admiration for the craft involved in producing results of less-than-earth-shaking importance. The latter, I think, is colored by the gentle melancholy of recognizing that what lies above and beyond craft is simply unreachable to all but the very few, regardless of how much effort one invests in trying to reach that level.
This admiration for craft seems to exist only in the present. At the distance of two or more generations into the past all this teaming 'inner life' of the profession is lost to sight. All that remains visible are the superstars - the immortals whose names are forever attached to theorems and concepts of groundbreaking and lasting importance for the profession. The mere craftsmen are swallowed by the immense, blurry crowd of their equally non-stellar predecessors - much like in the image at the top of this post.
I can't resist seeing this as yet another similarity between the world of mathematics and the world of music. Behind the small constellation of superstar composers, there is the immense and blurry crowd of craftsmen whose output - despite its skill, refinement, technique, and artistic sincerity - is barely noticeable (if at all) through specialized books on music history, or through recordings issued by small labels trying to squeeze themselves into the marketplace dominated by countless releases of Beethoven symphonies and Chopin sonatas. Perhaps such a star system is justifiable in the training of our future composers (why analyze quartets by Ries and piano sonatas by Hummel when you have Beethoven's works in both genres). But this star system is doubly unfair to the general music lover: it obscures his access to genuinely enjoyable examples of high musical craft (e.g., Dussek piano sonatas or Erdmann symphonies), while forcing on him uninspired and routine music occasionally (or even regularly) produced by the big-name composers - e.g., Mozart's utterly dispensable 'Cassations' and early symphonies, the endlessly recycled music in many of Bach's cantatas, the frighteningly numerous and numbingly similar Vivaldi concertos, and more.
Of course, separating the immortals from the mere craftsmen among the living is a notoriously difficult and occasionally embarrassing task. (Some music writers in the early 19th century expressed doubts as to the longevity of Beethoven's music, but were absolutely certain that Hummel had already established his immortality.) So I will offer only a speculative bet that Wolfgang Rihm, despite his many honors and prestigious commissions, will eventually join the ranks of the craftsmen.