Daß es Funktioniert
Some time back, my composition class in Freiburg was visited by an East German composer of some renown. A wild-eyed student asked the composer what the most important thing was for him in his music. The composer thought and said, “Daß es funktioniert” = “that it works.”
This has always stayed with me: the notion that a composition is successful when it works. When it fulfills its promises, achieves its goals, remains true to itself and does what it has to do: nothing more, nothing less.
One of the toughest challenges composers face is the ability to regard their own work with the right amount of self-critique. Too little and weak phrases, passages – even entire pieces – will slip through the cracks. Too much and you’ll be paralysed by self-doubt.
To help you attain the kind of self-critique that will nudge you forward in your compositional evolution, I offer this pair of questions, courtesy of our East German friend: What, in your music, works, and what doesn’t work? You need to engage your entire being to answer these questions: head and heart. And you need courage: it’s painful to look critically at your artistic children.
Try this approach. Ease into an expectation-free state, then listen to your pieces as if they had been written by a friend or colleague. Do they work? If not, why not? How might you fix whatever it is that needs fixing?
Every accomplished artist is an accomplished self-critiquer and self-editor. I encourage you to develop these skills as much as you would any other musical technique.