If You’ve Got the Time
All the debate currently raging about what a composer should be able to hear made me ponder a series of questions that seem equally contentious: How much time should a composer spend composing? How frequently should new works spring forth? Pundits periodically profess that some composers write too much music. Is such a claim valid? And if it is, how much is too much? Is it also possible to not write enough?
Back in 2005, Randy posited that composers labor too much over their works; he even described composing a 24-minute composition in 24 minutes. But what I’m wondering is something somewhat different. How frequently should composers be engaged in the process of composing? As in, should you be making time to compose every day? For how long each day? Is that time well spent even if, at the end of it, you haven’t actually composed anything?
How frequently do you need to create a new piece of music in order to be at peace with yourself when you describe yourself as a composer? After maintaining steady composing activity in the first half of the ’00s, I’ve had a creatively frustrating time in the last two years. In 2006, I started four different compositions and ultimately never finished any of them. This past year, rather than complete any of those, I started a few others that I also could not find time to complete. But with only six hours of 2007 left to go on December 31, I miraculously completed a short new piece for solo harpsichord that had been gnawing at me for months. It was extremely gratifying, but ultimately what difference would it have made if I didn’t finish the piece until January 2?
A different line of questioning, but one that’s ultimately related: Is there a minimum number of compositions you need to have created in order to be a composer? Could you count yourself as a composer if you’ve only created two compositions? Three? Are Edgard Varèse and Carl Ruggles worse composers than other 20th-century luminaries because each completed fewer than a dozen works? Do you stop being a composer if you stop composing, i.e. Jean Sibelius, Charles Ives, Captain Beefheart, etc.? And if you keep composing throughout your life, must your compositions continue to evolve? Bernard Holland seemed to imply in yet another provocative column published just before the end of 2007 that Chopin said all he was going to say as a composer, so posterity did not lose much from him not living longer to create more music. I personally would be thrilled if there were more than four Ballades.