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Daniel james live on twitch now with an important topic!

halfwalk

Member
When I made that comment I had in mind, for example, that Brahms studied Beethoven, who studied Mozart, who studied Haydn and they all studied Fux. Pop singers didn’t come to mind but I supposed they too, “study the greats.”
My point is... "the greats" is an arbitrary notion that will vary based on the perspective of the individual. What makes e.g. Mozart a "great?" Is it because people have studied his music for a really long time and regarded it as great? What if I can't stand Mozart, is he still one of "the greats" just because other people say so? And wouldn't that mean that he is only "great" because of popular consensus? Because then we start to get outside the territory of his music, and more into a weird dogmatic circular logic (i.e. "Mozart is great because we have studied him extensively" and then "We study Mozart because he's great" and then "What is greatness? Well, just look at Mozart")

So if I think Mozart isn't great, does that make me wrong? And thus, by not studying Mozart, do I not have potential for greatness?
 

Denkii

Active Member
My point is... "the greats" is an arbitrary notion that will vary based on the perspective of the individual. What makes e.g. Mozart a "great?" Is it because people have studied his music for a really long time and regarded it as great? What if I can't stand Mozart, is he still one of "the greats" just because other people say so? And wouldn't that mean that he is only "great" because of popular consensus? Because then we start to get outside the territory of his music, and more into a weird dogmatic circular logic (i.e. "Mozart is great because we have studied him extensively" and then "We study Mozart because he's great" and then "What is greatness? Well, just look at Mozart")

So if I think Mozart isn't great, does that make me wrong? And thus, by not studying Mozart, do I not have potential for greatness?
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purple

Member
My point is... "the greats" is an arbitrary notion that will vary based on the perspective of the individual. What makes e.g. Mozart a "great?" Is it because people have studied his music for a really long time and regarded it as great? What if I can't stand Mozart, is he still one of "the greats" just because other people say so? And wouldn't that mean that he is only "great" because of popular consensus? Because then we start to get outside the territory of his music, and more into a weird dogmatic circular logic (i.e. "Mozart is great because we have studied him extensively" and then "We study Mozart because he's great" and then "What is greatness? Well, just look at Mozart")

So if I think Mozart isn't great, does that make me wrong? And thus, by not studying Mozart, do I not have potential for greatness?
It has more to do with mastery of the craft than it does personal preference. While people do often argue about who are the "greatest" greats, it's not just "well I don't like that person's work, so they're not a great". I'm not personally a huge fan of Messiaen, for example, but his influence in music is unavoidable in the classical world, and if anybody asked me to name a list of great composers he'd probably be on it. Another example: I don't really like Christopher Nolan's style personally. Is the guy great at what he does? YES! If I were studying film, I would not want to skip over him because, again, I can still learn a lot from him and his extensive list of really well made and successful films. I think if you were an aspiring pop star, Taylor Swift might be one of your "greats" and the same goes for Kanye West and aspiring music producers. His influence on the music industry has been massive as well!
 
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muk

Senior Member
So if I think Mozart isn't great, does that make me wrong? And thus, by not studying Mozart, do I not have potential for greatness?
Well, it's absolutely clear that 'greatness' does not depend on any individuals opinion. It's a legacy that is shared in our culture. Who knows how exactly a composer ascends to 'greatness' in the collective mind of our society. I would argue that one important part is the influence that said composers music had on the music of his/her contempary and later composers. You may admire Georg Christoph Wagenseil's music above all else, or the music of the Stamitz family. You may thus personally hold the opinion that they were 'greater' composers than Mozart. Still the fact remains that Mozart's music has influenced almost all composers that came after him. And so did Haydn, Beethoven, and many others. In this way Mozart left deep and lasting traces in the history of music, while Wagenseil and the Stamitzes did not. In our culture, Mozart is thus much, much more important - and hence considered 'great' - than Wagenseil and the Stamitzes. Simply because his music influenced the course of music history in our culture, and theirs did only to an almost immeasurably small degree.

Thus, I would answer your questions:

So if I think Mozart isn't great, does that make me wrong?
Yes. Based on the influence he had on the history of our cultures music, absolutely you are wrong.

And thus, by not studying Mozart, do I not have potential for greatness?
No, that doesn't follow. By not studying Mozart you are missing out on an important part of music history. You are missing out on knowledge that could help you understand what our society receives as great and important music. Knowledge that you could - but not necessarily have to - use in your own music.
 

Denkii

Active Member
Well, it's absolutely clear that 'greatness' does not depend on any individuals opinion.
But in order to be influential for society, in this case the majority of the small society of composers that came after him had a positive opinion about him, thus becoming influential for following compositions leading to what became a status quo for "the" society.

Collective opinions can only be born in individuals.
 

Van

New Member
My point is... "the greats" is an arbitrary notion that will vary based on the perspective of the individual. What makes e.g. Mozart a "great?" Is it because people have studied his music for a really long time and regarded it as great? What if I can't stand Mozart, is he still one of "the greats" just because other people say so? And wouldn't that mean that he is only "great" because of popular consensus? Because then we start to get outside the territory of his music, and more into a weird dogmatic circular logic (i.e. "Mozart is great because we have studied him extensively" and then "We study Mozart because he's great" and then "What is greatness? Well, just look at Mozart")

So if I think Mozart isn't great, does that make me wrong? And thus, by not studying Mozart, do I not have potential for greatness?
Throughout history there are many contemporaries doing a ‘thing’ at the same time as any given ‘great’ artist. There were many sculptors in Michelangelo’s day and many architects in Brunelleschi’s just as there were many composers in des Prez’s. The great ones are not only masters of their craft, but having typically studied their predecessors and contemporaries, their work also does something new, usually pushing the boundaries and stands out and above the rest. You don’t have to like an artist to acknowledge their ‘greatness’ or contribution or even the mere fact that they changed history.

My original point is irrefutable: great composers studied great composers, (even if you don’t want to acknowledge that great composers exist because...‘who’s to say who’s great?’)

And yes, if you don’t consider Mozart one of the greats, you are in fact, to answer your question, wrong. You don’t have to like his music. But he is, without a doubt, one of the most talented and ingenious composers ever to have lived. This is not an objective thing. The statue of the David IS great. The dome of the cathedral in Florence IS great. Mozart’s music IS great. Whether or not one acknowledges those achievements doesn’t make them not so.

And to answer your question in regards to whether or not you can be great if you don’t study the greats—I don’t know. Guess I’d say, ‘the greats study the greats.’
 

purple

Member
Throughout history there are many contemporaries doing a ‘thing’ at the same time as any given ‘great’ artist. There were many sculptors in Michelangelo’s day and many architects in Brunelleschi’s just as there were many composers in des Prez’s. The great ones are not only masters of their craft, but having typically studied their predecessors and contemporaries, their work also does something new, usually pushing the boundaries and stands out and above the rest. You don’t have to like an artist to acknowledge their ‘greatness’ or contribution or even the mere fact that they changed history.

My original point is irrefutable: great composers studied great composers, (even if you don’t want to acknowledge that great composers exist because...‘who’s to say who’s great?’)

And yes, if you don’t consider Mozart one of the greats, you are in fact, to answer your question, wrong. You don’t have to like his music. But he is, without a doubt, one of the most talented and ingenious composers ever to have lived. This is not an objective thing. The statue of the David IS great. The dome of the cathedral in Florence IS great. Mozart’s music IS great. Whether or not one acknowledges those achievements doesn’t make them not so.

And to answer your question in regards to whether or not you can be great if you don’t study the greats—I don’t know. Guess I’d say, ‘the greats study the greats.’
You can be great without much studying of the greats but you will never be one of the greats.
 
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VinRice

... i am a robot ...
Is it really the composer who needs to have the knowledge or is it rather a social and work environmental expectation that they have to live up to?

I'm not saying theory doesn't serve a purpose. I just believe it's more on the prestige side than we are willing to admit.
This is just nonsense I'm afraid. There's no 'prestige' in learning theory. There's no peer pressure to learn theory. It's simply a collection of tools for the job. Much more importantly it's a collection of tools for analysing music because the learning never stops, nor should it. No client or casual listener gives a flying fart whether you have learnt theory or not, it's all a magic trick to them. But they'll know in an instant whether it sounds genuinely Baroque, Death Metal, 20th Century Modern, 80's Pop or whatever. They'll know in an instant whether it's 'good' or not. Now if somebody want to be an 'artist' who ploughs a unique furrow and never learns how they are doing what they do, have at it. Maybe they will be one of the 0.0001% of artists who anybody gives a shit about.
 

Denkii

Active Member
This is just nonsense I'm afraid. There's no 'prestige' in learning theory. There's no peer pressure to learn theory. It's simply a collection of tools for the job. Much more importantly it's a collection of tools for analysing music because the learning never stops, nor should it. No client or casual listener gives a flying fart whether you have learnt theory or not, it's all a magic trick to them. But they'll know in an instant whether it sounds genuinely Baroque, Death Metal, 20th Century Modern, 80's Pop or whatever. They'll know in an instant whether it's 'good' or not. Now if somebody want to be an 'artist' who ploughs a unique furrow and never learns how they are doing what they do, have at it. Maybe they will be one of the 0.0001% of artists who anybody gives a shit about.
It is a plausibility check for your work, yes. But not only will clients know in an instant whether it sounds good or not and/or whether it fits the desired mood, so will you - even without the theory. And if you don't, theory doesn't help much. That was my point basically. Also this whole "you need to know the rules in order to break them" is something I disagree with. Not knowing the rules hasn't stopped anyone from breaking them. It's simply the awareness that's nonexistent. Does it matter for the product? I don't think so.
Also if you think that the solemn reason as to why people who actively work in music learn theory is to apply it, I disagree yet again.
At least I can agree to disagree and don't call your opinion nonsense.

I also never said it's not helpful. Just not obligatory.
 

VinRice

... i am a robot ...
It is a plausibility check for your work, yes. But not only will clients know in an instant whether it sounds good or not and/or whether it fits the desired mood, so will you - even without the theory. And if you don't, theory doesn't help much. That was my point basically. Also this whole "you need to know the rules in order to break them" is something I disagree with. Not knowing the rules hasn't stopped anyone from breaking them. It's simply the awareness that's nonexistent. Does it matter for the product? I don't think so.
Also if you think that the solemn reason as to why people who actively work in music learn theory is to apply it, I disagree yet again.
At least I can agree to disagree and don't call your opinion nonsense.

I also never said it's not helpful. Just not obligatory.
It's not a question of disagreeing, you are simply incorrect.
 

mikeh-375

old school
Denkii,

Sorry my friend, as Vin says, you are flat out wrong about some aspects of theory (provisos do apply though). It is about the end product, just not in the way you might imagine. It's about the composer and their development and search for deeper personal understanding that translates into more potent work. Theory is applied at the composing stage for certain musics but don't discount it being applied to media too as many here will attest.
I'm not sure why in the context of composing, you wouldn't apply theory (actually it should be called technique), even at a subliminal level. You do not seem to understand what technique actually does for a composer so as a metaphor, you presumably gained technique to master a DAW, did doing so improve your work?..most likely.
Can you play a concerto without instrumental technique - no. Can you mix in a DAW without post-prod skills - no. Can you compose without technique - yes, but can you write to your utmost ability - probably not, because you wont have found out what you are capable of, which can only be done by deep learning and personal reflection from a position of knowledge and the experience one gains from prolonged practise and study....on the assumption that you want to excel in certain genres.
 
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Denkii

Active Member
Denkii,

Sorry my friend, as Vin says, you are flat out wrong about some aspects of theory (provisos do apply though). It is about the end product, just not in the way you might imagine. It's about the composer and their development and search for deeper personal understanding that translates into more potent work. Theory is applied at the composing stage for certain musics but don't discount it being applied to media too as many here will attest.
I'm not sure why in the context of composing, you wouldn't apply theory (actually it should be called technique), even at a subliminal level. You do not seem to understand what technique actually does for a composer so as a metaphor, you presumably gained technique to master a DAW, did doing so improve your work?..most likely.
Can you play a concerto without instrumental technique - no. Can you mix in a DAW without post-prod skills - no. Can you compose without technique - yes, but can you write to your utmost ability - probably not, because you wont have found out what you are capable of, which can only be done by deep learning and personal reflection from a position of knowledge and the experience one gains from prolonged practise and study....on the assumption that you want to excel in certain genres.
Mikeh I did not say that theory is not about the product, I said it doesn't matter for the product how you got there.

You guys can tell me I'm wrong all you want but it simply doesn't matter whether or not someone was able to analyse their score if the score is good.
I am not talking about skills you apply because you have a lot of practice. That can happen subconsciously without necessarily being actively applied knowledge about theory. But actively diving into e.g. analysis is not a prerequisite to sound great.
 

Leon Willett

Active Member
Well, it's absolutely clear that 'greatness' does not depend on any individuals opinion. It's a legacy that is shared in our culture. Who knows how exactly a composer ascends to 'greatness' in the collective mind of our society. I would argue that one important part is the influence that said composers music had on the music of his/her contempary and later composers. You may admire Georg Christoph Wagenseil's music above all else, or the music of the Stamitz family. You may thus personally hold the opinion that they were 'greater' composers than Mozart. Still the fact remains that Mozart's music has influenced almost all composers that came after him. And so did Haydn, Beethoven, and many others. In this way Mozart left deep and lasting traces in the history of music, while Wagenseil and the Stamitzes did not. In our culture, Mozart is thus much, much more important - and hence considered 'great' - than Wagenseil and the Stamitzes. Simply because his music influenced the course of music history in our culture, and theirs did only to an almost immeasurably small degree.

Thus, I would answer your questions:



Yes. Based on the influence he had on the history of our cultures music, absolutely you are wrong.



No, that doesn't follow. By not studying Mozart you are missing out on an important part of music history. You are missing out on knowledge that could help you understand what our society receives as great and important music. Knowledge that you could - but not necessarily have to - use in your own music.
Composing music with regard to what, as you put it, "society receives as great and important music" is composing out of fear. Fear of not being received. Fear of being ridiculed.

We must compose out of love. Love for how the music sounds. And then it will be received however it is received.

We cannot compose music with regard for what other people think.

This brings fear into every bar, every note. And it will be mediocre. It will be shadow of what it could be. Musical cowardice.

Ironically, Mozart would agree with this.

As an aside, you appeal to authority (the consensus of society) as a definition of musical greatness. This is poisonous to the thinking of a composer, who must follow his/her heart when it comes to their influences, and what they study. Studying hated music because its famous is poisonous for a composer's development. An act of "should" and fear, rather than an act of love. Study what you love.
 

mikeh-375

old school
Mikeh I did not say that theory is not about the product, I said it doesn't matter for the product how you got there.

You guys can tell me I'm wrong all you want but it simply doesn't matter whether or not someone was able to analyse their score if the score is good.
I am not talking about skills you apply because you have a lot of practice. That can happen subconsciously without necessarily being actively applied knowledge about theory. But actively diving into e.g. analysis is not a prerequisite to sound great.
Technique (not theory) doesn't matter for the product, true enough, but it matters on a deep subjective and personal level to the composer. If you want to be the best you can at orchestral music then you need to know what you are doing, you can't wing it at levels beyond a DAW and samples and even in that scenario, your work will be better if fully informed.
Likewise with composition because good, best practice composition is inextricably bound with good writing for the orchestra and not something you can wing or do subconsciously, knowledge, musicianship and hard training and practice with technique is required. (you can wing it with samples, but so can everybody else). The same applies to all aspects of composition, the more you know, the better informed and the more options you have at the creative stage.
I've often acknowledged that great music is written without technique, we have no truck there but the thing missed is that theory/technique is a sure bet road leading the way to you finding you as a composer. You might not get this, but it is true.
 
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mikeh-375

old school
..........who must follow his/her heart when it comes to their influences, and what they study. Studying hated music because its famous is poisonous for a composer's development. An act of "should" and fear, rather than an act of love. Study what you love.
This is a truism, but only once you have studied enough to be able to discard with confidence what doesn't resonate within and to do that requires familiarity. Learning technique will in this sense help you find yourself and your natural inclinations....that is why all composers should learn imv...for their own aesthetic sake. if you find a technique you feel able to work in (it will just feel right), master it, own it and let it inculcate your aesthetics.
 
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muk

Senior Member
Leon you completely misunderstood my post. Not in one single word I am writing how a composer should or should not write music. I was trying to answer the question why we consider some composers to be great.

If you wanted to deduce how you have to compose to become one of the great composers from my post - something I'd decidedly advice not to do - it would not be: compose in a way that the society likes your music. Another complete misunderstanding of what I wrote. It would be: compose in a way that your music influences other composers, which is something completely different.

Apart from these misunderstandings I disagree with your statement that you should only study the music you love. Bad advice in my opinion. Be open minded, study a lot of music. Study music you love, and music you don't love. It will help you to understand what you do and don't like in music, and that will be of great help for your own writing.

I, for example, do not particularly love Wagner's music. On an intellectual level I do acknowledge that the music is fantastic, some of the best that has been written. I just don't enjoy listening to it as much as I do to other music. Does that mean I should not have studied Wagner's music? Absolutely not! Because I learned a whole lot on all levels doing it (form, orchestration, melodic writing, dramaturgy, harmony etc.). And I learned that quieter, subtle music is closer to my heart than loud, large, overwhelming music - however well it may be written.
 

Leon Willett

Active Member
Leon you completely misunderstood my post. Not in one single word I am writing how a composer should or should not write music.
I see, my apologies!

compose in a way that your music influences other composers
But aren't we still worried about what other's think of it in that case? Why do I have to be an influence to others? Still not really writing from the heart. There is still a hidden attitude in there: "I want to deeply affect others with my writing" or "I want to be an influencer". How about just: "this is exactly what I want to write" :)

I disagree with your statement that you should only study the music you love. Bad advice in my opinion. Be open minded, study a lot of music. Study music you love, and music you don't love.
OK fair enough, valid point!

But we have to be careful: it is dangerously close to "I know you hate this music but you should study it anyway because it's famous", which is part of a common ecosytem of beliefs (common to many music teachers and institutions), which goes somewhat like this: "The music you like is invalid. Study what I tell you."

To be clear, I realise this isn't what you are saying!

But this position is held so commonly that we have to point it out, I think, as wrong and damaging to a student, and hope the student understands the fairly nuanced point: "your influences and everything you love are valid, but you should also study music you don't like so you know what not to do" -- or something along those lines :) (I believe this is your point)

Still not sure I agree though! Analysing music is exhausting, and, given the choice I think I would recommend people only look at stuff they love. The motivation to analyse deeply goes up so much!
 

Tanuj Tiku

Senior Member
While I think I understand where your are coming from when you talk about the necessity of theoretical knowledge when it comes to composers, I have to disagree with your last statement from experience.

Yes there are full time musicians who do this and really don't know what they are doing. All they know is it sounds good. Also there are a lot of them who produce their stuff on their own, including programming arrangements for demos before something becomes a final product.

Is it really the composer who needs to have the knowledge or is it rather a social and work environmental expectation that they have to live up to?

I'm not saying theory doesn't serve a purpose. I just believe it's more on the prestige side than we are willing to admit.
We can agree to disagree!

I think, this is going around in circles. In short, by this logic, a food scientist, with no training or understanding of music can suddenly become a working composer, making real income.

It makes no sense to me whatsoever.

And if you read my sentence again, it does say - 'Absolutely Nothing'. To compose something, you need to know chords, harmony, rhythm, bass, structure, form, scales - something! Even if you did not go to college, you can learn these things either by figuring out, being around other musicians or learning from YouTube videos etc.

This is also theoretical knowledge. I do not mean, you need to be able to read a complicated piano concerto or a full orchestral score on demand. But, you do need something. And anything you pick up - no matter what the medium - that is theoretical knowledge.

Every professional will know 'some' theory. The level at which they know it, will depend on their background and the nature of music they compose.

A lot of it is also practical which can paralyze you.

Example:

You are at a scoring session. There is a conductor and a session producer. You need to communicate to the conductor that a certain passage needs to have shorter staccato playing. If you do not know where on the page it is, how the hell are you even going to communicate that?

If you do follow (at least your own music, like I can do), then you do have some understanding of theory and you can be in the room without costing the production a fortune to play 16 bars of music.

None of this is required to compose electronic music for example and there you do not need these skills but to say - you need to know nothing - not even scales, key, intervals - nothing is absurd.
 
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