30 January 2010

String Me Up

Playing Beethoven sonatas is nice;
making money is nicer.
Neil Sedaka (on the NPR news quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me)

One harpist writes:

I truly love the connection water-harp!

Mvts 2 and 3 are very beautiful, 1 and 4 less strong (1 too monotonous,
4 not idiomatic for harp).

The composer probably should just be pleased to have any work of his praised as very beautiful. On the last point, another harpist responds:

Much of our repertoire is “unidiomatic,” which makes playing some of it less of a joy (to put it diplomatically), but of course doesn’t mean it's unworthy. Perhaps there was a message there—that the harpist can’t afford what seems like an unreasonable amount of time and effort to bring the piece forward even if there is a desire to be fair to the cause of playing new music. It’s all subjective, of course, but considering how much longer it takes to prepare harp repertoire than other instruments, it’s a valid concern for many harpists, particularly considering how poor business is these days, so severely taxing all resources of time and energy.

All this perfectly reasonable. Nor is it a concern new to me, as I have found by trying to ‘shop around’ my unaccompanied clarinet music. The fact that I actually play it myself (nor am I the world’s best clarinetist) seems to demonstrate that the music is idiomatic; but it wants practicing. And I do (thus far) seem the only clarinetist in the world willing to practice the music.

The apparent alternative—write music which is so readily idiomatic as to make no demands in terms of practicing time—is not far from some of my experience, either. Some few of my pieces written for specific occasions for church services, were designedly easy, for use by musically modest forces. One trouble there is: show the pieces to technically accomplished musicians, and they take no interest in it. Too easy.

Welcome to the cleft stick of damned if it’s too easy, damned if it requires musical application.

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