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Over-Composed or Under-Composed?

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Over-Composed or Under-Composed?

I take my title from a favorite quote from Taruskin:
The twelve-tone method was invented precisely to produce the sort of maximalized motivic consistency and saturated texture that analysts look for. Clearly Schoenberg was motivated by the ideal that Shawn invokes to tout his work. But that does not make it any more pertinent or available to the listener's experience. And promoting it into a primary musical value is the ultimate poietic fallacy, the one that led modern music into the cul-de-sac sac where absurdly overcomposed monstrosities by Elliott Carter or Milton Babbitt have been reverently praised by critics and turned into obligatory models for emulation by teachers of composition.
Richard Taruskin. The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays (Kindle Locations 4763-4766). Kindle Edition. My emphasis.
But if you can have "overcomposed monstrosities" can you have, what, "undercomposed dwarves"? My mind briefly contemplates a Schenkerian trying to do an analysis of Steve Reich's Drumming, part one...

For much of my life I was, at least from time to time, a composer, but one with no credentials and no training apart from the urge to compose. For the last ten years or so I have worked on the tools and craft of composition, slowly moving across the landscape from a purely intuitive process to one that has come to seek out form, proportion and process. I'm still not a member of what Taruskin calls the academically-trained composer's guild as I only very briefly took lessons in composition from a member of that guild. But I now work with a creative intuition informed by an intellectual grasp of form.

Or so one hopes!

In opposition to what Taruskin calls the "poietic fallacy," the belief that all that matters is how the composition was made, I do indeed seek to create something that the listener can enjoy--perhaps not in the most superficially pleasurable manner, which I associate with music that adheres to sentimental clichés, but in the most expressive manner I can find, at least.

Ultimately it comes back to the age-old dynamic of repetition versus variety. In a lot of Schoenberg's work, he manages the amazing feat of making music that is actually very tightly-written, sound almost random in its astonishing variety. I really think that the opposite is more suitable to my aesthetic needs: to make music that has a good amount of variety sound tightly written.

But without the excessive use of drones!

Nico Muhly: Drones in Large Cycles




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