The MusicSpoke project (follow us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram) has allowed me to reach out to composers around the country and talk shop. It turns out, it's one of my favorite things to do. A little while ago, I had the chance to have a Skype session with David Dies. Check out his website here. David is a wonderful composer whose name can be a sentence if you read it wrong. I'll get to his music in a moment. My conversation with David reminded me of how big our world has become.
David is an accomplished composer with international performances and a nice CD. I had never heard of him. Almost every day, I discover some new composer who has accomplished so much, and yet, I've never heard of them.
I was talking with my buddy, Jonah Sirota, during a Mondegreen rehearsal a few months ago. During the course of the rehearsal, we were exploring some pan-diatonic cluster, and I said something about Eric Whitacre. Jonah said, "Who?" Then I realized, Jonah plays in a professional string quartet. If you asked Jonah to name the top three young composers working right now, Eric Whitacre wouldn't even be on his radar. I don't know for sure, but I would guess that he would say something like Nico Muhly, Gabriela Lena Frank, and maybe Jefferson Friedman.
During the course of my conversation with David, we actually touched on this issue. We would all like to think that our music will be performed after we die, and maybe some of it will. For most of us though, it will be fairly quickly forgotten. That is why I think we need to go back behind the 19th century to a more Baroque approach.
It's not that musicians didn't have reputations and some degree of fame in the 18th century. It's just that a "famous composer" in the 19th century version had yet to be invented. So, composers wrote for their local town needs and occasionally for a Royal. At least in my reading, they fully expected most of their work to be packed up in a church, used occasionally by their successors and possibly their apprentices. For the most part, they believed it would largely be forgotten.
In a world obsessed with fame, I think this is the only approach to keeping your sanity. Write highly crafted music for the people around you. Expect that it will be forgotten when you die. This approach is incredibly freeing for composers - especially when you consider how fickly and trendy the music world is. Some people get to be well known, and I can't understand how their music is any better than others that I know. Some people aren't well known, but they write better. If you want to stay sane, you better go Baroque.
In a way, I think that's what David has done. He is writing finely crafted music, and I expect he will continue to do it for the rest of his life. Go check out his web page and listen to the wonderful and thoughtful sound worlds that he has created.
Here is an excellent example.