View Poll Results: Do Some Composers Sellout?

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  • Yes, some do

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Thread: Do Some Composers Sellout?

  1. #1
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    Default Do Some Composers Sellout?

    Sellout can be defined as "a betrayal of one's principles for reasons of expedience", in this case, artistic expediency. The question I ask here is whether do you think or have examples of composers selling out?

    It can be a difficult question but I think a necessary question that can help to better understand composers who do and those who do not. What motivated them in those circumstances at that point in time?

    I certainly do not think any less of composers who do, it is only their music that matters to me, not the principle or motivation.

    An example of a composer who I think did not sellout was Johann Sebastian Bach. Reasons are

    (1) He wrote music of extreme technical difficulty that appealed to connoisseurs
    (2) He wrote music to glorify his religion

    He did both (1) and (2) as a matter of principle, his artistic principle, and this therefore did not constitute as sellout.

    An example of a composer who I think did sellout was Jacques Offenbach. Reasons are

    (A) He wrote prolifically about one hundred operettas whereas he wrote only two complete operas
    (B) His composition technique was such that he only wrote the full score knowing that he was assured that the piece would be performed and drafting the score in loose notation
    (C) He was well known for parodying other composers' music

    That said, as per my first post, I do enjoy Offenbach's music. I state clearly that none of (A), (B) nor (C) diminish my enjoyment of his music in any way. In fact, it helps me to understand where Offenbach was coming from. That is why I ask this important question.
    Last edited by Krummhorn; Aug-31-2015 at 15:30. Reason: mpm

  2. #2
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    It's hard to know whether Offenbach sold out on any principles or whether he simply had none in the first place.

    I suspect he knew what he did best and, being a realist, just did it. He's always smiling, after all.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=offe...Ch2eewYw&dpr=1

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Beethoven was pretty much a sellout. In his early years he sucked up to nobility by writing music they liked. Later, he intentionally wrote best-seller after best-seller for publishers, and holding out for the big bucks in payment. He even roped his brother in for a while as his business manager, but he turned out too greedy even for Beethoven.

    Even at the end of his life, Beethoven's greed was unabated. His late quartets were big earners. As Cooper says, "He had, it is true, received 600 fl. from Schott's for the Ninth Symphony -- more than the 360 fl. now being offered for a quartet -- but in proportion to the work involved the rate was lower."

    Note that the 9th Symphony took two years to write (more or less), but that Beethoven could crank out one of those big fat quartets in six months. A no-brainer. 720 florins a year versus 300. And by that time Beethoven was selling "subscriptions" to his fanboys, which turned out to be quite lucrative.
    Last edited by KenOC; Aug-31-2015 at 07:10.


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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Beethoven was pretty much a sellout. In his early years he sucked up to nobility by writing music they liked. Later, he intentionally wrote best-seller after best-seller for publishers, and holding out for the big bucks in payment. He even roped his brother in for a while as his business manager, but he turned out too greedy even for Beethoven.

    Even at the end of his life, Beethoven's greed was unabated. His late quartets were big earners. As Cooper says, "He had, it is true, received 600 fl. from Schott's for the Ninth Symphony -- more than the 360 fl. now being offered for a quartet -- but in proportion to the work involved the rate was lower."

    Note that the 9th Symphony took two years to write (more or less), but that Beethoven could crank out one of those big fat quartets in six months. A no-brainer. 720 florins a year versus 300. And by that time Beethoven was selling "subscriptions" to his fanboys, which turned out to be quite lucrative.
    I see. Prosperity rather than posterity. Disappointing.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Well, I'm just having a spot of fun. But the facts are, largely, true.


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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    You're destroying my idol, Ken! The man who freed music! I can't stand it!

    I'm switching sides. I'm going to start listening to Merzbow.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGzrL8J0t-c

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    It's true that Beethoven was supposed to have said, "This is not music for you, but for a future generation." But he preferred his payment now.


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    I'm going to take a hardline approach and say no.

    Certainly if Offenbach fits your definition of "selling out". He found something commercially successful that he was good at? What's wrong with that?

    "Selling out" tends to be a label people attach to others, rather than one they give to themselves. And only ever when they switch from doing something we approve of to something we don't approve of. So it's a term too dependent on the attitudes of the person using it, rather than on the person being described.
    If you like Penderecki's earlier work but not his later, more conservative work, then you might say he sold out. But if you don't like his earlier work and you do like the later work, what then?

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  14. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArtMusic View Post
    Sellout can be defined as "a betrayal of one's principles for reasons of expedience", in this case, artistic expediency. The question I ask here is whether do you think or have examples of composers selling out?

    It can be a difficult question but I think a necessary question that can help to better understand composers who do and those who do not. What motivated them in those circumstances at that point in time?

    I certainly do not think any less of composers who do, it is only their music that matters to me, not the principle or motivation.
    I might think less of the composer, but not of his music.

    I'm not sure I understand 'artistic expediency'? I thought selling out was simply a commercial act, not an artistic one.

  15. #10
    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nereffid View Post
    I'm going to take a hardline approach and say no.

    Certainly if Offenbach fits your definition of "selling out". He found something commercially successful that he was good at? What's wrong with that?

    "Selling out" tends to be a label people attach to others, rather than one they give to themselves. And only ever when they switch from doing something we approve of to something we don't approve of. So it's a term too dependent on the attitudes of the person using it, rather than on the person being described.
    If you like Penderecki's earlier work but not his later, more conservative work, then you might say he sold out. But if you don't like his earlier work and you do like the later work, what then?
    Certainly a lot of composers have been "professionals," which simply means they wrote for a living and expected to be paid. They all had bills to pay! I'm not at all sure what "selling out" means, or how we can determine who did and who didn't.

    Even Bach wrote the kind of music expected by his paymasters. As did Beethoven, Shostakovich, and the rest.


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    I don't think 'selling out' means simply the acceptance of payment for work; it should imply taking favours or benefits from a person or organisation that represents something that is opposed to your principles.

    An example might be if Pete Seeger had taken payment from the world's leading builder of 'Little Boxes'!

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Wasn't that Malvina Reynolds? "...according to Christopher Hitchens, satirist Tom Lehrer described "Little Boxes" as "the most sanctimonious song ever written".


  20. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Wasn't that Malvina Reynolds? "...according to Christopher Hitchens, satirist Tom Lehrer described "Little Boxes" as "the most sanctimonious song ever written".
    The version I know was Seeger, deffo. Did Reynolds write it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    I don't think 'selling out' means simply the acceptance of payment for work; it should imply taking favours or benefits from a person or organisation that represents something that is opposed to your principles.

    ..
    I agree with your view here. Selling out to me does not simply mean payment for work - Johann Sebastian Bach complained there were not enough funerals in Leipzig (he got paid extra money for composing funeral cantatas). Whether Bach got paid extra or not, he wrote music of consistent technical quality and always explicitly or implicitly to glorify religion. Therefore, money didn't really imply selling out. It was the underlying principle. A difficult one but not inappropriate to ask.

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    It depends what one is 'selling out' from, and comes back to the eternal debate about the nature of 'art'. Did Korngold and Weill 'sell out' when they moved to the US? Their stage/film music are now firmly on the canon despite earlier scepticism by the narrow-minded. Are Bartok's much 'easier' WWII pieces a selling out to American tastes? Are they intrinsically inferior to his works of the 1920s/1930s for that reason?

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