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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.

Posted on December 15, 2011 at 11:04 am by rachmiel · Permalink

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  1. Written by M. Ives
    on December 17, 2011 at 11:01 am
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    Sage advice, Rachmiel. I often suggest to my college-age poetry students that they ought, in the interest of clarifying their images, to rewrite or revise as if they their audience were a supremely intelligent ten year old – that is, intelligent enough to process the “poetic argument” at work in the text, but lacking in the sort of “sophistication” that seduces adult readers into mistaking superfluous for necessary complexity.

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