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Bring back the court composer

With no new symphonies to speak of, what's to be done?

The most popular symphony of the last 40 years. It's giant.
The most popular symphony of the last 40 years. It's giant.
Video:

Anton Bruckner - Sinfonia N° 4

Video:

P. I. Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (Fedoseyev)

Why not bring back the court composer? Way back when, aristocrats used to have their own orchestras and composers who wrote music for those orchestras. Why not bring that model back?

What if the San Diego Symphony hired a composition student fresh out of grad school for five years? The composer would write one 45 minute-long symphony, one concerto, a chamber piece, and an overture each year. There would be one large-scale work for orchestra and chorus required by the conclusion of the five years.

At the end of five years the composer would have been forced to write more symphonies than Brahms and more concertos than Tchaikovsky. There would be no waiting for inspiration. The inspiration would be a job and the chance to develop one’s compositional voice.

I’ve often thought of this. How does a composer find their voice these days? When we look at the lives of the great composers we can see them progress from their time as a student until they find their own way.

With Beethoven, his first two symphonies were similar to those of Haydn, his teacher. With his third symphony, Beethoven started to find his own way and we all know what happened by the time he reached his fifth symphony.

How about Tchaikovsky? We don’t pay much attention to his symphonies until we get to his fourth. How about Bruckner? It’s his fourth symphony that starts his cannon. Shostakovich? Fifth. Mozart? 25th.

Mahler is an exception since all his symphonies remain in the standard repertoire. Sibelius is also an exception but his first symphonic endeavor is often called “Tchaikovsky's Seventh.” Brahms has all of his symphonies in the standard repertoire but he waited until he was more than 40 years old to write his first, and what was that one called? “Beethoven’s Tenth.”

I’m thinking about this in relation to the complete lack of new symphonies being written.

We’ll talk about compensation packages next time.

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The most popular symphony of the last 40 years. It's giant.
The most popular symphony of the last 40 years. It's giant.
Video:

Anton Bruckner - Sinfonia N° 4

Video:

P. I. Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (Fedoseyev)

Why not bring back the court composer? Way back when, aristocrats used to have their own orchestras and composers who wrote music for those orchestras. Why not bring that model back?

What if the San Diego Symphony hired a composition student fresh out of grad school for five years? The composer would write one 45 minute-long symphony, one concerto, a chamber piece, and an overture each year. There would be one large-scale work for orchestra and chorus required by the conclusion of the five years.

At the end of five years the composer would have been forced to write more symphonies than Brahms and more concertos than Tchaikovsky. There would be no waiting for inspiration. The inspiration would be a job and the chance to develop one’s compositional voice.

I’ve often thought of this. How does a composer find their voice these days? When we look at the lives of the great composers we can see them progress from their time as a student until they find their own way.

With Beethoven, his first two symphonies were similar to those of Haydn, his teacher. With his third symphony, Beethoven started to find his own way and we all know what happened by the time he reached his fifth symphony.

How about Tchaikovsky? We don’t pay much attention to his symphonies until we get to his fourth. How about Bruckner? It’s his fourth symphony that starts his cannon. Shostakovich? Fifth. Mozart? 25th.

Mahler is an exception since all his symphonies remain in the standard repertoire. Sibelius is also an exception but his first symphonic endeavor is often called “Tchaikovsky's Seventh.” Brahms has all of his symphonies in the standard repertoire but he waited until he was more than 40 years old to write his first, and what was that one called? “Beethoven’s Tenth.”

I’m thinking about this in relation to the complete lack of new symphonies being written.

We’ll talk about compensation packages next time.

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