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Remark by Art Rock: this thread was created to split off an interesting side discussion that originated in an Area51 thread, especially posts 3-6 in the current thread. Please focus on the thread title in the discussion.

I have had it. I refuse to believe living composers and not as good as dead ones.
 
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I have had it. I refuse to believe living composers and not as good as dead ones.
They're mostly better educated, but they're quite unlucky to be born so late, after so much developmental history. What's to be done today? There's so many pitfalls.
 
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They're mostly better educated, but they're quite unlucky to be born so late, after so much developmental history. What's to be done today? There's so many pitfalls.
I think the realities of life now are against composers. Unless you are wealthy enough to support you and yours, and also to put plenty of money into support of your career, even your chances of getting to the starting line are poor. I'm amazed that some people find it possible to be a composer, but they do.
 

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I think the realities of life now are against composers. Unless you are wealthy enough to support you and yours, and also to put plenty of money into support of your career, even your chances of getting to the starting line are poor. I'm amazed that some people find it possible to be a composer, but they do.
The realities of life have never been favorable to artists, except for those who could find patrons or employers among the aristocracy or in the church. If it's "classical" music we're speaking of, the difficulty now is less the realities of life than the realities of music itself and the composer's relationship with his audience, if he can find one. Most of those who would have been his public in past eras are now probably listening to music of quite another sort. Luchesi's point is well taken.
 

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I think the realities of life now are against composers. Unless you are wealthy enough to support you and yours, and also to put plenty of money into support of your career, even your chances of getting to the starting line are poor. I'm amazed that some people find it possible to be a composer, but they do.
I went into media in the 1980's, one of the few avenues in which a composer can make a sustained living outside of academia. Then the competition was stiff but one had to be at least a part way decent musician to even get a chance at playing the game. These days with DAWS, any kid in their bedroom has a shot at making a career for themselves in media by simply moving blocks of digital sound around on their computer screen and publishing their tracks online. The upside of this is that many more people get to express themselves. The downsides to this are that music has been cheapened creatively and financially because of the democratisation on creativity and how easy it is to seemingly achieve it musically. The sheer volume of (free) music on the internet that has resulted from aspiring DAW composers wanting validation and work, plus the lack of any real aesthetic discernment (but plenty of monetary discernment), on behalf of duplicitous producers in particular and directors who have grown up with the ubiquity of music online, has created a business model that rarely favours the composer.

So, even a career in media is now so unlikely to succeed and has so many deleterious practices stacked against it that one could consider it effectively a non-starter unless one is prepared to endure much hardship and stress, assuming the absence of sheer good fortune.

And yet, as you say Roger, some are still prepared to go for it and that conviction is the bare minimum qualification required to enter the ring.
 

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Many contemporary composers are Gen Y and Gen Z. They live in garrets or with their parents and make music with their mates on zoom. They maybe teach counterpoint and an instrument privately.

For those writing scores (why?) I guess there are competitions . . .
 

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I think the problem is that many of contemporary composers got lost doing soundtracks or experimentalism, in other words they are stuck. Composers today are paid to make 5 minutes long themes, or new age and world music, or they try to attract some academic interest doing experimental music. The situation of composers, like painters and all artists in general, has never been easy. So the problem is not their condition or salary, the problem is what people pay them for. Nobody pays them for symphonies, also what is the value of a symphony today? It's an outdated genre, let's face it. Yet there are not really new genres. I think if today's composers are not considered as good as past ones, it's because maybe they didn't really had a big chance to prove it (also, nobody really cares). How much can you prove with a 3 min piece for a spot? Music needs new directions without getting stuck in innovation for innovation's sake, in past times we had people like Beethoven showing the way to others, but today maybe there are not people who want to take that responsibility, so music is stuck in movie scores which can hardly prove the value of composers in my opinion.
 

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Nobody pays them for symphonies, also what is the value of a symphony today? It's an outdated genre, let's face it.
On the other hand, concertos are still quite popular I think, at least for established composers - possibly commissioned by famous soloists. But indeed, I have the feeling (maybe wrong) that contemporary composers may focus more on chamber and solo music, which would be easier to get performed.
 

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I, for one, am completely optimistic regarding contemporary classical music / art music (or any other name that you, the reader, are comfortable with!) while hasting to admit that the career of a composer is definitely not an easy one. But if I concentrate on the music itself, oh my god - I keep hearing so many interesting, ravishingly beautiful, imaginative and powerful new scores literally all the time, I really can't see why today's music wouldn't stand up with the music of the past! Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinions which are as valid as mine. I'm definitely looking forward to the post-pandemic era and experiencing the thrill of premiere performances again.

All that being said, I'm very sympathetic to the problems composers are facing - lack of funding, lack of audience interests, lack of opportunities and all that; these are all very real issues. But I think I might be helping at least a tiny bit by buying concert tickets and recordings, listening to the music, speaking about it etc. :)
 

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On the other hand, concertos are still quite popular I think, at least for established composers - possibly commissioned by famous soloists. But indeed, I have the feeling (maybe wrong) that contemporary composers may focus more on chamber and solo music, which would be easier to get performed.
You are right, I hadn't considered that. Yet we're talking about established composers mostly, which also rely on famous soloist to get public. Chamber works sadly get less attention, as chamber music is seen by many as "background music". Since I am discovering chamber music myself in these days after years passed overlooking it, I cannot say if today's composers are as good as past ones in that genre. Also, of course, the difficulty to get the music performed is a huge problem. But there are a lot of possibilities with technology. As I am approaching a little of composition myself, I discovered softwares, samplers to be more precise, which can allow to produce orchestral music with a good PC and a midi keyboard! The sound libraries get more realistic every year, now there are super realistic ones like this, it's really like having an orchestra in your computer: https://www.spitfireaudio.com/shop/a-z/spitfire-symphony-orchestra/ but as you can see the problem is the high price and the technologic competence required, but that would totally solve the problem of performance. Of course, real instruments are always better but technology give composers more opportunities.
 

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You are right, I hadn't considered that. Yet we're talking about established composers mostly, which also rely on famous soloist to get public. Chamber works sadly get less attention, as chamber music is seen by many as "background music". Since I am discovering chamber music myself in these days after years passed overlooking it, I cannot say if today's composers are as good as past ones in that genre. Also, of course, the difficulty to get the music performed is a huge problem. But there are a lot of possibilities with technology. As I am approaching a little of composition myself, I discovered softwares, samplers to be more precise, which can allow to produce orchestral music with a good PC and a midi keyboard! The sound libraries get more realistic every year, now there are super realistic ones like this, it's really like having an orchestra in your computer: https://www.spitfireaudio.com/shop/a-z/spitfire-symphony-orchestra/ but as you can see the problem is the high price and the technologic competence required, but that would totally solve the problem of performance. Of course, real instruments are always better but technology give composers more opportunities.
Technology within a DAW could well be the future along with self-publishing online for the more serious composer. I have pretty much all of the sample sets and they are indeed getting better. However they are restrictive, their articulations in particular are geared to their market of media composers and are in fact the dominant influence in that genre because they dictate the type of music (via restricted articulations, dynamics and techniques etc.) that can be convincingly written.
It'll be a while yet before a concert/art music composer will be able to fully realise any orchestral based work to the best of their technique and imagination but it will probably be possible in the not too distant future. You are right of course in that composers who wish to utilise samples in a DAW have yet another daunting learning curve on top of everything else, in order to become any good at it....
 

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I have been interviewing contemporary composers since 2014, so I have first hand knowledge of what they are doing, what they think about their career potential; and how well they are doing. I have interviewed more than 70 composers so far, from those in their 20s and 30s to one in his 80s, and those working in a more traditional style to those whose work is experimental. Some have become well known since (certainly not because of) my interview, but most have become more successful since the time of my interview even if still not "well-known."

My interviews ask the same six questions to all of them and their answers ranged from very long and expansive to relatively short and matter-of-fact. Most somewhere in the middle.

I'll just add a couple of thoughts to this thread:

1. These composers, without exception, have a purpose for writing music. Sometimes it is political, more often it is to express their own unique ideas about musical aesthetics. They consider themselves classical music composers pursuing the same profession as the composers of the core repertory. None of them expressed any idea of destroying any tradition or frustration with any tradition, however, many cited influences from popular culture as well as canonical composers.

2. They support themselves with their music in one form or another. Often they have founded or co-founded a performance ensemble and promoted their work and that of their colleagues, and often work individually as performers or vocalists. Usually they have advanced degrees and are professors in universities. Many of them have received commissions and are beginning to make a dent.

Bottom-line: these composers are (to use Joseph Campbell's phrase) "following their bliss." Their artistic integrity is intact and one of the strongest motivating factors for their work. In my interaction with them I sensed that they were brimming with optimism about their careers.

PM me if you would like the link to profiles.
 

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I can imagine that there are loads of less famous musicians out there that play instruments for which there is not a wealth of solo music available (even 'established' instruments like horn or clarinet, but also e.g. marimba, accordion, etc) - do they approach composers to increase their repertoire and get a win-win situation?
 

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So the problem is not their condition or salary, the problem is what people pay them for. Nobody pays them for symphonies, also what is the value of a symphony today? It's an outdated genre, let's face it. Yet there are not really new genres.
Is this a symphony? (I don't know what a symphony is in fact -- but I noticed that it's played by something called a "symphony orchestra")

 

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Is this a symphony?
It sounds like a hodgepodge of some kind. The problem for a lot of contemporary composers in my view is self-inflicted. They write for their own satisfaction and according to their own standards, and so they end up being pretty much their only audience. As much as I love him, I blame Beethoven. Beethoven had the genius to pull that off. Not many others have, certainly not in the modern era.
 
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