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Your school of thought about composing?


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So I've heard it said on this forum that composers should always try to aspire to the highest aesthetics - to always compose music to be as beautiful as possible.  That's one school of thought.

Another school of thought is that composer's should compose "the way a cow gives milk" (a quote attributed to Richard Strauss).  In other words - that composer's should write music to be as natural as possible - so much so that music embraces all it's good, bad and ugly parts.  (Reminds me of Mahler's famous quote - "A symphony should be like the world - it should contain everything".)

So which school of thought do you fall into and why?  Has your school of thought changed over time?  I personally fell into the first school in my youth as a composer but now I identify with the natural one.

Which composers do you believe fall into either of the two schools?  For example I think Beethoven falls into the natural school but Mozart definitely seems like hes in the first school.

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I think my school of thought is the second one - natural. It might be because I don't have much composing experience, but my hymn writing comes very natural. Almost by inspiration, and I write out the melodies and harmonies as I hear them. I don't look to impress with my music, I just try to make it be as natural and as true to the intended tune or melody as possible.

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Probably the second. I feel like music is as much about being interesting as it is about being beautiful. A justly intonated C major triad playing for a minute might sound beautiful and harmonious, but it definitely isn't interesting. But I guess I agree with bkho, I compose music that I would enjoy listening to.

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The thing is though I'm not really sure the OPs examples are two separate schools. Music that is beautiful is in line with what is natural to begin with.

I would say the two schools of thought are more so this one, and the idea that music has to "say" something or that what it allegedly "says" is of greater importance than aesthetics.

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw
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1 hour ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Music that is beautiful is in line with what is natural to begin with.

I was trying to bring attention to the idea that music can also be "ugly" when isolated parts of it are taken out of context (but of course can still be considered "beautiful" when it's put in its place).

1 hour ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

I would say the two schools of thought are more so this one, and the idea that music has to "say" something or that what it allegedly "says" is of greater importance than aesthetics.

But does all music really have something unique that it's meant to "say"?  Absolute music is often just a playfulness on it's own themes and isn't meant to have any meaning besides the playful sounds it creates.  Unless of course you mean that music should mean something besides itself ... ???

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3 hours ago, PeterthePapercomPoser said:

I was trying to bring attention to the idea that music can also be "ugly" when isolated parts of it are taken out of context (but of course can still be considered "beautiful" when it's put in its place).

 

 

Yes, exactly. Striving for maximum consonance is not always the best artistic goal. A C7b9 in third position might sound "ugly" in isolation, but in context, like resolving to an F6add9, it can be beautiful. A balance of dissonance and consonance is, in my opinion, important.

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7 hours ago, PeterthePapercomPoser said:

I was trying to bring attention to the idea that music can also be "ugly" when isolated parts of it are taken out of context (but of course can still be considered "beautiful" when it's put in its place).

Well of course. I don't think anyone denies that.

7 hours ago, PeterthePapercomPoser said:

But does all music really have something unique that it's meant to "say"?  Absolute music is often just a playfulness on it's own themes and isn't meant to have any meaning besides the playful sounds it creates.  Unless of course you mean that music should mean something besides itself ... ???

Here's a sample from one of my favorite albums of the last 10 years

I would not really describe this song as "beautiful" but I do think "epic', "haunting", "dark" and "menacing". 

However, it is also still good. The chorus melody is pretty catchy and soaring, the screamed parts aren't just unintelligible noise but as well carry a melody. The switching to half time in certain parts was tastefully done, the guitar solos are great and well-played with a slight neo-classical vibe, the build up into them is good, and the production is pretty good as far as metal usually goes and the way the solo leads back into the main riff was well done. It's a pretty smooth arrangement. The phrasing is solid, the structure, and the contrast of sections works nicely. It's absolutely a great aesthetic if you're going for dark and brutal whilst still sounding like actual music. 

I now would invite you to listen to Mayhem and tell me if you feel it is as good as the previous example as extreme music goes. 

 

I would say the mayhem example barely sounds even like music. The production is also completely atrocious. 

This is where I will say that I feel the two schools of thought are tradition and modern.

The former is the idea that music should be able to stand on its own as something great and inspiring. Regardless of genre or mood, there is a specific craft that applies just the same.

If one has a solid mastery of that craft, then they can almost always compose something which is enjoyable to listen to for MOST people. If the composer is a real aesthete, with a refined sense of detail and style and really knows how to play with expectations and such; that's what separates the "great" composers from the merely "good" composers. One cannot be great unless they were first good, though.

This is the school of thought that I belong to.

The second school of thought, the modern one, is about abstract conceptualism.

It is the idea that someone would listen to this piece

and say that it is "bad' because it "has nothing to say", allegedly.

The fact that it has very slick production, is performed well, has a catchy melody and rhythm and beautiful female voice, with winds that mimic birds as a neat touch, easy and fun to dance too, makes good use of medieval instruments, the entire album has a very vibrant and uplifting aesthetic and that it has over 70m plays on this video alone and basically embodies a lot of what humans find enjoyable about music in general — is all irrelevant because it is essentially mere "pop" music.

All of these are "subjective" things, all of these things that are actually musical, are unimportant compared to some sort of arbitrary social commentary the critic feels is important and can "allegedly" be conveyed through music.

It simply reduces music to literature. You could just write out what the music "says" and how this supposedly makes it good rather than subjecting people to noise. Put some social justice narrative on it for the ultimate highscore.

The fact that everyone down to your 90-year-old Grandma loves Enter Sandman and it's one of the few songs where the audience will actually sing the guitar riff back to you doesn't ACTUALLY mean Enter Sandman is a better piece than my piece which consists of nothing but an ambient drone on a didgeridoo for four and a half minutes because I've slapped some sort of message on it.

This school would say Enter Sandman is just "sh*tty pop music enjoyed by anti-intellectual rubes and working class rednecks" BUT if Metallica played Enter Sandman with Rob and Kirk, men of color, tuning their instruments completely different from James as a protest to "decolonize" heavy metal — what would sound like absolute garbage to every normal person on Earth would get standing ovations and orgasms around the auditorium full of University professors because "it's such a powerful message! THIS is the definitive version of Enter Sandman!" They would then proceed to brow beat anyone who thought that Enter Sandman sounded better when all of the instruments were in tune.

It's this sort of subversive philosophy which drives the likes of Schoenberg, who literally sought to subvert the long-standing tradition of scales because he felt it was essentially discrimination against the other pitches of the chromatic scale...it's actually incredible that he and his school were able to sell this idea as a thing that is actually possible to any number of people.

It is this sort of school which is talking about removing SHEET MUSIC from post-secondary music studies ffs.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/oxford-might-scrap-sheet-music-amid-pressure-address-white-hegemony-report

So yeah. I don't think a third school exists.

You're either making music because you want to make great music or because you want to destroy western traditions and artistic standards or else what are you even doing?

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I won't say the obvious here except I don't think it's as simple as this thing or that. Aesthetics seems to be a consensus issue; in music a mix of that and the culture in which one's perceptions of the quality of aesthetics grows. In "the west" it pays respect to an innate neurological attuning to the harmonic series through which a series of conventions and expectations have developed. It would be futile to claim for example that Amazonian music has no aesthetic - it grew as part of the culture. The developmental scope of western "art" music is largely thanks to the church.

So I can't belong to either of these schools unless I'm writing utility music - more the province for those who earn from it. The aesthetics to me are "does it sound right? Is it what I wanted it to be?" It's important to be self-critical. No matter what I think my music set out to say I can't guarantee a listener finds my music any particular thing. Fans of pop and the classical era will find it obscure, accustomed to the ultra-conservative formulae as they are; the metal-merchants will find it too sensual rather than visceral because I pay little respect to rhythm and sharp dynamic. The serial folk will find it ill-structured and banal.  

I have no wish to be a Palestrina or a Beethoven. It's all been done. So is there a point in them being a target aesthetic? Or should we pay lip-service to aesthetics but recognise we have our own moods, our preferences that allow us latitude to bend things a little. We can still use the chromatic scale. We can have tensions and resolutions; we can estimate how audiences might react and audiences can be quite forgiving if they know at least some names on the programme.

We compose because we have creative streaks that happen to focus on sound organisation.

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I just compose what comes to mind. Beethoven influence usually shows up subconsciously, but that's not saying that I necessarily want to be Beethoven 2.0, that's just saying that I've been exposed to Beethoven a lot more than other composers because he's my favorite composer.

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6 hours ago, Quinn said:

It would be futile to claim for example that Amazonian music has no aesthetic

I don't think anyone does claim that though.

6 hours ago, Quinn said:

No matter what I think my music set out to say I can't guarantee a listener finds my music any particular thing. Fans of pop and the classical era will find it obscure, accustomed to the ultra-conservative formulae as they are; the metal-merchants will find it too sensual rather than visceral because I pay little respect to rhythm and sharp dynamic.  

Well what you're describing is "taste" though.

That's really the thing about this wider conversation; we can't really go anywhere if people don't acknowledge that something can not be to their tastes but still excels at the craft and is still good despite that.

6 hours ago, Quinn said:

The developmental scope of western "art" music is largely thanks to the church.

Not really, the church actually hindered musical development for centuries.

 

 

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We'll have to agree to disagree on your last statement. What became the guidelines for counterpoint and eventually the "rules" underlying CPP through the homophonic interludes in counterpoint were down to the church being the big sponsors and funders of music. Peri and Monteverdi were the rebels who decided the Good Lord shouldn't have all this good music (and the technical affectations that came with it) and effectively invented opera. Of course, the elite came into it to, once it moved onto the stage.

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10 hours ago, Quinn said:

We'll have to agree to disagree on your last statement. What became the guidelines for counterpoint and eventually the "rules" underlying CPP through the homophonic interludes in counterpoint were down to the church being the big sponsors and funders of music. Peri and Monteverdi were the rebels who decided the Good Lord shouldn't have all this good music (and the technical affectations that came with it) and effectively invented opera. Of course, the elite came into it to, once it moved onto the stage.

The church didn't even allow instruments, just singing, for centuries as well as limited intervals (no tritones) because it was seen as something that peasants who danced were into and dancing is a "pagan" thing.

Also, there is reason to believe that counterpoint was also present in folk music of the time as well. We don't really know since they didn't have a system of notation back then, but I am willing to be many of the peasant musicians would have had an understanding closer to what we know today than much of the church did at the time, simply because they'd have had more possibilities and experimentation with instruments.

It was mostly-secular music theorists, some who weren't even particularly successful in their work as musicians, who wrote things like the Traité de l'harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels which were revolutionary texts in music that were adopted by literally everyone.

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