Too many notes? Too much music?

July 23, 2007

My dear young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. …
[Emperor Joseph II; from “Amadeus”]

A question composers have to answer for themselves is “how much music shall I compose in my life?” Some of us feel compelled to crank it out on the level of a Bach, Telemann or Vivaldi. Others are happy with a Webernian trickle. In the world of so-called Classical music, I have to acknowledge that the world is NOT beating down our doors for our latest compositions. John Adams, who is probably the most popular living classical composer today, puts out an average of one piece a year and compared to Sting or Madonna, is not really very famous. Stravinsky and Schoenberg had similar outputs. Mahler and Webern had relatively small outputs, although one never thinks of Mahler and smallness in the same sentence.

Statistically, by writing as much music as you can, and having those pieces played in a wide variety of places, I’d imagine that one has a better chance of “becoming famous” (whatever that means). But I remember those lonely shelves filled with old Italian operas by composers I’ve never heard of, sitting untouched in the music library.

I think the answer is that we write as much music as we are inspired to or paid to write.

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