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The Discussion of Major and Minor Modes—Are we in danger of restricting our vision of what constitutes good music?—How many ways are there to compose?




I have been told that these thoughts might better be discussed on a brand new thread (rather than under the topic of “Major and Minor Modes interchangeability”). On that thread it was suggested that there are, in essence, two methods of composition. One method was to write a melody and add accompanying chords; the second was to conceive of specific chord progressions first, and then overlay the melodic content.


I would suggest that there are basically an almost infinite number of ways to write music, rather than two essential methods.  Most of the ways I am thinking of may or may not be facilitated by the traditional straightjacket thinking about chord progressions, or even the traditional notion of a melody accompanied by chords. 


Since we live in the 21st century now, we need not rely primarily on the techniques of the 19th or even 20th century.   The use of computers to compose and create music is mainstream now, and we can avail ourselves of the basic kinds of software that exist.  There is a nice book called “Music Theory for Computer Musicians,” which can help, and which also teaches the basic concepts of melody, harmony and rhythms, as well as the various modes, in relation to the techniques that are applicable to most standard composer software.  Even so, such books may be too closely tied to a traditional outlook, which is terribly out of date.   It might be very crucial for younger composers (or for all composers), who are involved in study, to be very careful in avoiding the taint that might come from too much immersion in stultifying exercises.  I cannot praise highly enough James L. McHard’s “The Future of Modern Music:  A Philosophical Exploration” which awoke me from what I would call my musico-metaphysical “dogmatic slumber.”


There are unlimited numbers of ways to begin composing which can free one from stultification.   If the goal is actually to create something new, and to rise above the tired and outmoded musical idioms of our age and Western civilization, then our desire to innovate and be original can know no bounds.   One can do, if one likes, the very opposite of what is commonly recommended.   A composer can (rather than simply composing a melody) take a huge block of sound that appears interesting (a large number of notes) and dump them into a series of tracks, the way a sculptor puts a quantity of clay on a table.   Then the musician can take certain notes out, discover latent rhythms and harmonies that already exist in within the mathematical constructs that make up all music.  This is by no means a random procedure, any more than the movements of the hands of the sculptor are random, though chance discoveries may occur which would be less likely with a traditional approach.   There is an interaction between the composer and the material, the mass of sound, which has a kind of life of its own.  And this is simply one idea, pioneered by composers like Xenakis, Penderecki, Stockhausen and Ligeti. 


One can do the exact opposite of what I outline above, and just explore the infinitesimal harmonics and overtone universe surrounding one single note, as Scelsi has done, following Tibetan and South Asian models.  Melodic content and harmony can evolve and develop from that exploration.  If you play the piano, or have a computer interface with a keyboard, you can improvise, not simply with the harmonies and the melodies and the chord structures, but with a pitch bend setting, that gives you unprecedented freedom from traditional tonal constraints.  All your improvisations can be recorded on your sound file, and even if out of 20 minutes of improvisation, you get one “beautiful” melodic – harmonic  event that last a few seconds, you may achieve more than you could in the performance of dozens of “exercises.”  You edit out and destroy what you don’t like, and keep the remainder.


Knowledge of the basics of chord progressions and traditional harmony are not without their use.  It helps to be able to create a variety of scales—not just Western, but also Indian, Japanese, Javanese, Chinese, African—in order to be able to juxtapose a variety of sound textures that can have original harmonic characteristics.  But above all, I would say the act of composition has priority in and of itself, above the study.   And the study is done, as a means to an end, not as an end in itself, as the acquisition of series of set procedures and lists of rules that keep one in a very, very small domain of sound possibilities.  As a general rule, one could posit a system whereby for every ten hours of actual compositional activity, there is one hour of study, and even that study is done with an eye to altering the rule, deliberately breaking the rule, to see if one can produce something that is original, in accordance with a contemporary theory of “sound-based composition.”


Even if one uses the traditional rules of chord progression as the basis of a composition, the software allows us a tremendous amount of freedom, with regard to systems of automation (which far from making a work sound mechanical, actually free the work up from boundedness and potential monotony).  In other words, the pitches can be bent on any instrument (call it portamento, if you like); tone glides can proceed as quickly and as slowly as one likes, within any individual melodic line, or as the broad harmony of a work—so that you have something much more dramatic and interesting than a standard modulation from major to minor, or from one key to another.   What I am discussing here is not, in any sense, “atonality” (a la Schoenberg, Webern or the young Boulez) but would better be termed an evolution of “polytonality.”  We can call it something more:  “multi-tonality” or “mega-tonality,” where the tonal quality of the work shifts into new and uncharted (and often delightful regions) which will always sound as new, or as familiar, as one likes—due to the extreme number of possibilities.


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I definitely agree that it's time to think of composition in new ways. People certainly are, and with great results. We should just continue innovating.


Hello Bob (Bob Porter),



Thanks again for your contribution.


You said, “One man wrote for one instrument some comparatively uncomplicated, beautiful music.”


I think the last thing we would want to say about Beethoven, generally, is that he wrote “uncomplicated music.”  By the standards of his time, most of what he wrote ( that made him famous ) was remarkably complex, melodically and harmonically.  Even by the standards set by Handel, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven expanded both the orchestral palate and tonal palate, even in his sonatas.  I think the example of Beethoven (in his greatest works, the Eroica, the Fifth Symphony, the Seventh and the Ninth, and the Late Quartets) indicates that he took the resources he was given and expanded their uses, and taxed them to the limits, within his own historical era.  Perhaps only Berlioz and Wagner succeeded in expanding the range still further, until others did so much later.  But I think you know this is true, historically.


So why do you think the one example of the Moonlight Sonata (the first movement of which is “popular,” but not necessarily exemplary) proves the opposite of what we may otherwise establish with relative ease?


 You say, ‘Your theory of "more is better" doesn't apply here.’


I did not say that more instruments or even more resources are always better.  Perhaps I did not succeed in getting that point across.  I tried to make this clear, but perhaps I didn’t give enough examples.


Likes must be compared with likes.  As the resources of the tonal universe expand, and as the number of instrumental resources increase, the chances for better music also increase.  As more tonal range and tonal flexibility is allowed, and as larger and larger ensembles, with more types of sound are allowed, the result will generally be that better music will be produced.  This is true, remember, provided that sufficient talent and creativity are employed in the production of the composition.


One can make comparisons with works in close historical proximity. So if we take not just the Moonlight Sonata, but the complete Sonatas of Beethoven, we see they are superior, for the most part, to Mozart and Haydn Sonatas, simply because of the sound resources they employ.  But really, it is best to compare likes with likes, to compare Beethoven with Beethoven. Waldenstein and the Hammerklavier are generally perceived to be superior to the Moonlight Sonata, perhaps because of that reason.  I don’t want to belabor the example of Beethoven, but I think you will agree that the monumental symphonies of Beethoven are more rewarding than the Moonlight Sonata, and other earlier works for one or two instruments. In fact, almost nothing is more fascinating than comparing Beethoven’s Third Symphony for full orchestra with that same work in the piano transcription written by Liszt.  The comparison really helps one understand just what a vast achievement the Symphonic Eroica was in musical history, especially in terms of the effects that this never-before-heard ensemble of instruments (with such complex interacting orchestral sounds) could have on the human ear and the spirit of man.


But putting Beethoven aside, don’t we see something similar in Tchaikovsky’s orchestral works, when we compare one of his greater symphonies (say, the Fifth) with his Serenade for Strings?  This is something which is delightful enough for many people, but which cannot really rival the strength and power of the full late symphonies.  So I urge a comparison of Tchaikovsky with Tchaikovsky. 


Shostakovich wrote a number of preludes and fugues for solo piano, many quartets and other chamber works, and however good they may be, they cannot compare with full strength of his Fourth Symphony, which employs some of the wildest tonal experimentation ever imagined, using one of the largest orchestras ever heard in music (on the same scale, and even larger, in terms of the employment of brass and woodwinds, than orchestras devised to play Gustav Mahler’s symphonies).  I think the Fourth still frightens people, as it did during the first rehearsals, before Stalin’s warnings forced the composer to bury it in a drawer for thirty years.  Compare Shostakovich with Shostakovich.


Now you would be right if you were to say a late Beethoven Quartet is superior to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, even though the latter employs more instrumentation.  But as I say, we must compare likes with likes.  Stockhausen’s Klavierstuck for piano were considered ground breaking when he wrote them, in terms of their tonal and rhythmic innovations; but can they really compare with works like Kontakte, Gesang der Junglinde, or Momente, which employ much vaster ranges of sound, either electronically or orchestrally, with or without voice, depending on the context. Compare Stockhausen with Stockhausen.



Things must be viewed in their historical and artistic context.  Of Beethoven, you said, “He used a worn out tonal system, an over-used instrument, and a simple motif.”  But we cannot forget that, given his total output, Beethoven enlarged the tonal system and the range of instrumentation, and his conceptions of harmony, as well as the means and extensiveness of developing melodies and motifs, far beyond that of any previous composer in the European tradition.  This was his primary achievement, and the major source of his fame.

Ondib said "Compare Shostakovich with Shostakovich."

I think this points us down a whole new path of inquiry, and I welcome other members to join in comparing Shostakovich with Shostakovich. We might similarly compare Vivaldi to Vivaldi, and the question comes to mind, would the results be similar? In other words, is Vivaldi more similar to himself than Shostakovich is to himself? These, I think, are important ruminations for those wishing to strike off in a career of making music, and probably lend invaluable and unforeseen insights into the black art of composition, and cogitation of the compositional process.

But I do wonder, have we arrived, or come closer, to an answer to the main question posed in this thread: How many ways, exactly, are there to compose music?

A fascinating discussion overall which I have been following with interest. Bob, I believe you make a very telling point below. The reason I consider Handel to be a truly great composer is that he has shown again and again what insightful and beautiful music can be produced by limited resources and very few notes: for example, listen carefully to the accompaniment and interjections to the voices in several sections of The Messiah...what he does with a single violin and 'cello almost inevitably brings tears to my eyes because of its sheer economy, simplicity and absolute beauty.
Bob Porter said:

Ondib said:

"If it were true, as I really believe you are suggesting, that the greatest composer can express the most beautiful musical ideas, even with very limited resources, or a few instruments, then I would take the discussion a bit further."

That's exactly what I am saying. The "Moonlight Sonata" comes to mind. One man wrote for one instrument some comparatively uncomplicated, beautiful music. Your theory of "more is better" doesn't apply here. Beethoven could have written this for any combination of instruments, but decided on piano. Would it have been better for orchestra? Unimportant because he made the choice. He used a worn out tonal system, an over-used instrument, and a simple motif. And made it work.

Ondib Olmnilnlolm said:


“Thanks, Ondib, for your lengthy exposition of social/cultural evolution.”


You are welcome.  I don’t think it was that lengthy, though, being well below the 40,000-character limit permitted by this site.  You said,


‘Reading through it I had some moments the funny feeling that I was reading a Marxist classic, like "The Communist Manifesto", or "The State and the Revolution", or "The origins of the Family, Private Property and the State", etc.’


Those are all Marxist, Marxian or Leninist works that you mention.  My own view tends to be a bit broader, and I embrace the social and philosophical evolutionary insights of Hegel, Kropotkin, Proudhon, Bergson, Teilhard de Chardin and others.  (I am sympathetic to Syriza in Greece, to Podemos in Spain, and the Aam Aadmi Common Man Party in India, if those references help clarify my general social and political views).


“I happen to believe in both natural and historical evolution, (I am amazed that you do, not been a dialectical materialist, as you declare), but how do you connect it with our topic?”


I do believe in natural and historical evolution, as well as political, social and economic evolution.  One can believe in natural and historical evolution without being a “dialectical materialist” in the strict Marxian sense.  The connection with the topic lies in understanding culture and the arts in relation to the evolving social, economic and political aspects of any society.  One can understand, through analogy, how evolution affects all endeavors of mankind (though I would not reduce art and culture to the status of a mere “superstructure” or an epiphenomenon, as some materialists do).

Thank you, Ondib, for defining your self philosophically, and for your "broader" spectrum of Hegelian dialectics. I take it then that you are dialectical (or try to be), but also not a materialist, only an idealist in the right wing of Hegel's philosophy, so it seems that further developments in this branch of philosophy by Feuerbach, Marx and Engels have passed you by.

Let me ask you one additional question:

Would you go as far as bishop Berkley and deny completely the existence of the outside world?

(Maybe he was right, who knows?)


One may need that (your definition), like a hole in the head, but I'm not that one, so I think we may have a few things in common after all, for example, on the "spiral " nature of the evolutionary process. It could hardly ever have been linear given the unpredictability of nature.

Thanks also for the invitation to elaborate on the extra musical reasons of the 20th century "flu" that affected music. On a practical basis I don’t really have the time for such a big digression at the moment… perhaps at some future point, at some future thread we may discuss that, here I think we should stick to your original questions, which seem answered already by some contributors, myself included.





Maybe you are right, and the problem (at least partly) lies in apects of the social system, rather than in the nature of the musical tools (the “system of tones”) at the disposal of the composer, though the two problems are intertwined:  is there something in the very nature of “music that goes too far” that threatens the social order?


On this last one you may be right:

Music is by its nature threatening absolutism, oligarchy and the idea of "god" and powers and rights proceeding from him.

Of course, I hesitate to question what you have said, Fredrick, given your excellent discussion about the example of Bach’s Chaconne as performed by Heifetz.   Also my high regard for your taste generally and your aesthetic judgment in matters musical also gives me pause.  Still, I hope you will not mind too much, if I disagree with some things you have said.  


[I note here parenthetically, just for your own interest, and apart from the conversation on this thread, there are some musical links that you might like that I have inadvertently ran across.  There are complete performances now available online of two operas by Prokofiev that were not easily found just a year ago.  These are “The Gambler,” and “The Fiery Angel,” a few versions of the latter.  I believe you like Prokofiev as much as I do, so I thought I would just point that out, in case you didn’t know.  You can find them on youtube, just using key word searches—unfortunately the Fiery Angel performances do not have subtitles in English: one is in Russian with no subtitles, and another is sung in French with Hungarian subtitles.  The Gambler does have subtitles in English, and Daniel Barenboim is the conductor.  ]


‘In my opinion, there is no correlation between "the number of instrumental resources" and the "chance for better music"’


No correlation at all?  Do you think Maher could create works of equal quality with the following resources:


1. Only a kazoo, and nothing else.

2.  A kazoo and a jew’s harp.

3. One trombone and nothing else.

4. An entire orchestra, like the one he used for his Symphony of a Thousand (No 8).


Or would you agree with me when I say:  he could probably not create a work just as good as any of his symphonies, with only 1, 2, or 3?


I don’t see how you could be serious in saying there is no correlation whatsoever.  On what basis can you say 4 is not the best option.


‘If "number of instrumental resources" means a larger performing ensemble and depending on the definition of the word "better" (i.e., better from the technical composition point of view or better from the ability of the music to impact listeners) it would be difficult to establish a relationship that said that the greater the number of musical forces, the "better" the composition.’


I think I just did.


By resources, I mean ALL resources:  the number and kind of sound producing devices and instruments, the range of such, and the allowable systems of tonality, of harmony, pantonality, polytonality, microtonality, etc.


So, if Bach were given simply (1) a triangle, and told compose a work for that, or (2) an extremely well designed violin, and told to compose for that, which would afford him the opportunity to compose better music?


Add to the discussion the issue of harmonic and tonal resources.  If Bach were told, you can only use the key of C major, and leave out the notes B, A, and F; and also told, don’t ever go outside the monophonic framework, no more than one line of music at a time (no polyphony at all), how well would he do?  Wouldn’t he do better if he had MORE harmonic resources, if he were allowed to use all the scales, and allowed to employ polyphony? 


I think you demonstrate the latter is the case with the example you give.  A violin has a wider range of variety of types of sounds it can produce, as compared with a triangle.  A diatonic system with polyphony has more variety and range of possibilities for the production of good music than the modified and limited “C major scale” I described above.


I wonder why this doesn’t seem obvious.


‘Again in my opinion, one of the most technically perfect and most powerfully moving compositions ever produced is a 20 minute piece for solo violin.’



Yes ONE OF THEM is.  But is that simply because Jascha Heifitz and Bach together can extract more tonal variety, overtones, and range of sound from a single violin than most orchestral performers and most orchestral composers.


We can listen to the Bach Chaconne performed by Heifetz and confirm the quite justifiable reasons for your enthusiaism.


‘No other instruments, just one violin. I refer to the Chaconne from Partita #2 BWV1004, About which Heifetz commented "I've been performing this piece for 50 years and I still can't get to the bottom of it."’


Of course we can say that, and perhaps even more about any great orchestral work.  I’m sure a truly great conductor and all the members of a first rate orchestra can say, “I’ve been playing Symphony X  (by Mahler, or Brahms, and Beethoven) and we can’t get to the bottom of it,” as well.


I would maintain that a great soloist on an orchestral string instrument (such as a violin or cello), playing solo, will not play music as interesting or as satisfying to the listener as the same soloist and an orchestra playing together, a work by a comparable composer. Example:  The Chaconne versus a Bach violin Concerto.


Unfortunately, the sound recording quality of Heifetz playing Bach’s violin Concerti online is rather poor.


Still, this recording other recording of the E major, and many more Bach violin Concerti illustrates the point, in my view:


One can at least get the idea, here, from this excellent recording, that a Violin Concerto by Bach is far more interesting and enjoyable EVEN THAN a magnificent chaconne by Bach, simply because the entire sound universe is more resonant and varied and pleasing.  


I would even agree, in theory, with the proposition that:


“ all of the partitas and sonatas for solo violin (BWV 1001-1006) are unimaginably superior in both technical skill and emotional impact to many of the justifiably neglected orchestral works composed through out the history of western music.”


But is that simply because Bach had superior skill and ability in the use of the resources available to him than most other (if not all other) composers in the different eras of musical history?


It may be the point you are making about Bach is irrelevant to the larger one, which is that more resources (more available instrumental, tonal, harmonic, timbre, dynamic and sound possibilities in total) will IN GENERAL—with composers possessed of similar talent and diligence—produce better results.


That is mainly what I am trying to suggest.


Though there is more to it than that.



Hello Socrates  (Socrates Arvanitakis),


Thanks for your last post.  We will perhaps go too far afield if we get very deeply into this issue of dialectics.  From the perspective of the author of the text, “Boulez, Music and Philosophy” the question of dialectical tensions within music itself-- and  the use of historical dialectics, as a means of analyzing the development of music—are important issues.  But I won’t go into that here, unless you insist.  I merely brought up the issue of social progress to use as an analogue for progress in the arts, and in music, in general.  If you are open to one, you may be open to the other.  But we can say a bit more about dialectics generally, if you wish.



“Thank you, Ondib, for defining your self philosophically, and for your "broader" spectrum of Hegelian dialectics.”


Yes, I think we need to look more broadly beyond the traditional division of Left and Right Hegelianism, though I would tend towards Left Hegelianism, without the complete denial of God that is still commonplace amongst some left Hegelians and Marxians.  Liberation Theology (Gustavo Gutierrez and Juan Segundo), Bergson, and Teilhard de Chardin have provided many insights on how this formulation can work, and in terms of praxis, Chavez and Evo Morales have provided given us some examples of “what is do be done,” which are fairly admirable.


“I take it then that you are dialectical (or try to be), but also not a materialist, only an idealist in the right wing of Hegel's philosophy, so it seems that further developments in this branch of philosophy by Feuerbach, Marx and Engels have passed you by.”


Passed me by?  Perhaps you are a bit judgmental without knowing all the facts.  These thinkers were far from perfect, and certain aspects of their thought can be “passed by.”  I am not any kind of “right wing Hegelian,” to be sure, nor am I an idealist, in a Kantian, Hegelian or another kind of metaphysical sense. I do think, however, that BOTH the idealist branch of dialectics, and the materialist branch, can be enriched and expanded upon, and each can compliment the other.


“ Let me ask you one additional question: Would you go as far as bishop Berkley and deny completely the existence of the outside world? (Maybe he was right, who knows?)”


No, I am not at all an “idealist” in that sense either, nor even in the Buddhist sense.  Material reality is certainly “real,” though other phases of existence can be said to be equally, or even more real, as affirmed by thinkers like Gödel, and many modern physicists.  But the subtle ways in which dialectical philosophy can be deployed and re-worked to address a variety of problems-- without being Hegelian dialectics, Marxian dialectics, or even Hegelio-Marxist dialectics—is something beyond the scope of a post on forum like this.    


 “ … I think we may have a few things in common after all, for example, on the "spiral " nature of the evolutionary process. It could hardly ever have been linear given the unpredictability of nature.”


Agreed.  I thought that was one of Trotsky’s most admirable admissions. 


‘Thanks also for the invitation to elaborate on the extra musical reasons of the 20th century "flu" that affected music. On a practical basis I don’t really have the time for such a big digression at the moment…’


That’s understandable. 



“ …  perhaps at some future point, at some future thread we may discuss that, here I think we should stick to your original questions, which seem answered already by some contributors, myself included.”


“On this last one you may be right:


“Music is by its nature threatening absolutism, oligarchy and the idea of ‘god’ and powers and rights proceeding from him.”


I am sure Luigi Nono and Iannis Xenakis, both good “Marxists,” in a sense, would also agree with that.  It’s good point to agree on.


Even so, I don’t think “God” can be threatened by music, if by “God” we mean the God of Liberators, propounded by Gustavo Gutierrez, Juan Segundo, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Tolstoy or others who hold God to be something more like a Supreme Anarch, or Anarcho-Syndicalist, than a King or Monarch.   If God were at least partly viewed as an Anarchist (not in the a Bakuninist sense, but more in a Proudhonesque or Kropotkinesque way, or better yet, Tolstoyan way) then that might solve a lot of problems for a great many leftists and progressives and revolutionaries.  Proudhon spoke of God in his philosophy favorably in certain passages.  Marx never did entirely purge even his “dialectical materialism” of the Hegelian Absolute, try as hard as he might.  But that’s another discussion.  


I am not looking for a strict (or even lax) “Marxian theory of music,” whether that would be one elaborated by Adorno or other members of the Frankfurt School.  Surrealists should have been interested in one, but I don’t know if they ever produced anything that could qualify.   Boulez’ interest in Mallarme (setting his surrealist poetry to music) may shed light on that question, but I am only beginning to look at that, so I am not sure if the result has profound implications for the philosophy of sound resources.   So far, I think Boulez’s use of sound turns out to be rather stark, in comparison to his contemporaries.  But I have decided to suspend judgment for a time.


Thank you Bob, Fredrick, Ondib, Socrates, and myself, for your thoughtful commentary on the topic of this thread.

Fredrick, you said:

"Socrates, before you came along, we set a limit on Charlotte's discourses to 9 billion words per submission. Personally, I only read the first 60 words."

Perhaps the question we must examine, given the 9 billion word limit, is if a definitive answer to the question posed is even feasible. If we assume momentarily, that the number of ways of composing music exceed 9 billion, then it would logically follow that if we designate each such method with even one, single word, we would not be able to enumerate such a list here.

Ondib said:

"I would suggest that there are basically an almost infinite number of ways to write music"

However, I would posit that mathematically speaking, the notion of "almost infinite" is without meaning. A value can be finite, or infinite, or even indeterminate. If the latter, then we can only state a bound which that value might not exceed, under known conditions, in essence, the rigorous definition of the limit.

If the number of ways of composing music are indeed finite, then to claim that they are "closer" to infinity is a mathematical fallacy, as infinity is not a magnitude of a scalar value, but a state of divergence; Undefined.

Again I would ask the contributors to this most edifying and stimulating discussion, have we drawn nearer to a definitive answer to Ondib's query? Exactly how many ways are there to compose music? And, would it be of use for us to populate a list of such methods?

Hello Ondib, thank you for your comprehensive and I think, profound response to the topics presently under examination.

Ondib said:

"Yes ONE OF THEM is.  But is that simply because Jascha Heifitz and Bach together can extract more tonal variety, overtones, and range of sound from a single violin than most orchestral performers and most orchestral composers."

I wonder if, by making such impetuous presumptions, we might inadvertently overlook some very important and wider  perspectives. How do we make determinations such as "simply Jascha Heifitz and Bach together can extract more tonal variety". Perhaps this observation is not as simple, nor absolutely true, as we might like to believe.

How can we, in an academically demonstrable way, come to the quick conclusion that such an assertion is true. Can it be demonstrated in a formal proof, that they can "extract more tonal variety", than Varese?.. or for that matter, a garbage truck? Perhaps such hypotheses are better left to the scientific community, where they can be tested in properly equipped laboratory environments capable of measuring such properties as "tonal variety".

I wonder, can you please demonstrate for us with certainty that Heifitz and Bach are capable of more "tonal variety" than these Tibetan monks?

"Why did Mahler and Wagner only write for huge orchestras?"


Because they knew that more sound resources would produce better music?


'Why would Brahms, for example, who had access to any European orchestra he wanted, waste his time composing chamber music, if a larger ensemble would "produce better results"?'


I will guess.  Because he couldn't always get access to a full symphony orchestra whenever he wanted. Also, it's easier to get a few musicians together in a small location than it is to get larger numbers together to play and rehearse in a large concert hall.


It's also easier to write out a score for a trio or a sextet than it is for an orchestra.  Orchestral performances cost more to arrange? There are many reasons.  The one usually given is that Brahms was afraid of the “shadow of Beethoven,” and was petrified at the thought of writing any symphony at all.  


So he wrote some excellent chamber music.  


That doesn't mean any single chamber work by Brahms is as great as his First Symphony.  I am glad he overcame his fear, and produced works using a larger array of sound resources. He is much greater, also, for having written all four symphonies and the two piano concerti.   They are all quite admirable works.  If only he had spent less time writing chamber works and more writing symphonies and concerti, he would be even more admired than he is now.


[Now perhaps you could go back and answer one or two of my questions].



P.S.  I don’t think a piano reduction of Brahms’ First Symphony would sound as impressive as you think it would (any more than Liszt’s piano transcription of Beethoven’s Third sounds at all significant in comparsion to a full orchestral performance).  Shall we listen to a performance of Handel’s Messiah for toy piano and kazoo?   I think I saw one online.


Thank you Ondib for your dogged commitment to seeking truth in this most invigorating thread.

Ondib said;

"But is that simply because Bach had superior skill and ability in the use of the resources available to him than most other (if not all other) composers in the different eras of musical history?"

It is an audacious statement, but I wonder if we are being a bit too audacious. Has there been a method, a set of parameters or criteria set out in this thread which I have overlooked for making such an assessment? Certainly to so dismissively assume such an assertion to be true, we must have a metric for "superior skill in the use of resources available".

Have the proper diplomatic channels been opened in the West by which we might admonish the Pacific aborigines for their failure to use the resources available to them as skillfully as Bach? Can we be quite certain that they haven't, and that the admonishing is a deserved one?

I'm beginning to sense a certain pro-Western bigotry bleeding through the dialog here, and I must ask, have you played music with any aborigines, or steeped yourself in their compositional methods before coming to, perhaps prematurely, these rash conclusions?

I would also like to see some citations, so long as we are comparing Bach's skills to "all other composers in history"; I wonder how we might be certain that we have auditioned the work of such an immense set of composers, especially those who have not written their work down, which, I might surmise, constitutes the vast majority of composers since the dawn of man. Have you made such an analytical comparison, for instance, between "Bach's skill at using available resources" to that of the corpus of Paleolithic composers on the African continent? Can we truly be certain that not a single one of them, in centuries upon centuries, exceeded Bach in this respect?

The Real Story;

One day, a long time ago, three men were standing around a table in the

middle of the town square debating, arguing and discussing just how many

beans were in the jar in front of them. One says, 'I have weighed the full jar,

and have determined there are exactly 4548 beans in the jar. The 2nd say's,

no no , for I have calculated the area of the jars interior and insist there can be

no more than 3650 beans in the jar. The third fellow then say's, why gentlemen 

you are both wrong , for you have not taken into account the difference in the

sizes of the beans, so I would say you are both over estimating the actual number.

I think there can be no more than 2900 beans in the jar.

A young boy then steps up to the table and say's ' I know how many beans are in

that jar.'  The 3 gentlemen look at him with astonishment and laugh.

O K , young man , please tell us how many beans are in this jar.

The boy, without hesitation say's,  ' All of them '.      RS
Fredrick zinos said:

Brenji. You ask a most profound and emetic-like question. The question DOES have an answer. The answer was worked out in 1842 by one Gotfried Von Shuffleboard (who oddly enough invented the game of Badminton) while stationed in Kaluha  during the war.

The answer to the question "how many ways are there to compose music", following the insights of Herr Shuffleboard is now known to be 3.141592653595 +/- ↨∞ .

Von Shuffleboard published this in his justifiably famous pamphlet "die Art und Weise , Musik zu komponieren mit vorgegebenen Mehrdeutigkeit mit Struddle." As you may know, the text was later set to music and was initially known in that context as "Gus and Dolls" later changed to  "Guys and Dolls" and in the 1960s changed once again to "a funny thing happened on the way to composers forum."

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