10 October 2010

Quotable composers

. . . music cannot be invented without a specific creative talent. This talent cannot be implanted in people, like good manners or smallpox bacilli, and composing cannot be taught the democratic way. If there is anything remaining in this world that is on the one side basically aristocratic and individualistic and on the other as brutal as the fights of animals, it is artistic creation. It is aristocratic, because it is the privilege of a very restricted number of people. If it could be democratized, it would lose its quality as an art, become reduced to a craft, and end as an industry.
— Paul Hindemith, from A Composer’s World

Bach wrote his St Matthew Passion for performance on one day of the year only — the day which in the Christian church was the culmination of the year, to which the year’s worship was leading. It is one of the unhappiest results of the march of science and commerce that this unique work, at the turn of a switch, is at the mercy of any loud roomful of cocktail drinkers — to be listened to or switched off at will, without ceremony or occasion.
— Benjamin Britten, from On Winning the First Aspen Award

I’ve drawn Britten’s remark out of context, and it’s not quite so music-reproduction-technophobe as may appear. He goes on to make the point that specificity of place, occasion and audience intensifies the power of a piece of music, though most of his examples — a Bach Cantata, Winterreise, Don Giovanni — have texts as drivers.

Music boasts no Henri Rousseau, no Grandma Moses. Naiveté doesn't work in music. To write any sort of a usable piece presumes a minimum kind of professionalism. Mussorgsky and Satie are the closest we have come in recent times to a primitive composer, and the mere mention of their names makes the idea rather absurd.
— Aaron Copland, from The Creative Mind and the Interpretive Mind

And the birthday boy:

It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean.
— Thelonious Sphere Monk (10 October, 1917 – 17 February, 1982)

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