Considering Kyle Gann’s recent run-in with the law—the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to be exact—for playing multi-movement works on his Postclassic Radio on Live 365, I’m beginning to wonder why composers created movements in the first place. Okay, back in the Middle Ages dance suites may have been all the rage, but now they’re just iTune anomalies demanding to be reckoned with one way or another. Eh, why bother? Besides, I’m relatively satisfied hearing just one movement from a Beethoven piano sonata. The experience doesn’t leave me with any feelings of incompleteness, and really, it’s not supposed to.
Fast-forward a couple hundred years, and we find composers are still writing multi-movement works. In addition, it seems both composers and listeners alike have evolved into hardliner completists, with zealous record collectors leading the charge of this, er, movement to experience everything in its absolute entirety. To my own detriment, I’ve never been one to toe the line. So here it is, confession time: I’ve never written a multi-movement work. Honestly, I really don’t understand the need.
I’m not against saying the same thing a few different ways in immediate succession, or discovering connections between juxtaposed materials, or whatever the function of different movements within the same piece of music might be. I just find it puzzling. Even more perplexing are those pieces out there with several movements marked attacca. So let me get this straight, there’s no interruption in the music, but an entirely new movement is necessary because… ?
Okay, I understand the need for high concept and design in new music, or whatever it’s called, but aren’t we being a little too fussy about certain things? Before you start that next movement, just take a tiny second to think about how complicated it’s going to be to catalog in your potential listener’s iPod. And there you have it, a thought that never even crossed Beethoven’s mind.