Derivative is the greatest insult in the book when it comes to modern composers. No one wants to be declared as “derivative” of anything. I am, of course, speaking of the artistic derivative not the financial or mathematical.
Derivative: adjective. Imitative of the work of another person, and usually disapproved of for that reason.
Yes, well and good. No one wants to be a cheap copy but let’s take a look at who some of the derivative composers are. They are, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Wagner, Schoenberg, and on and on and on.
There's a lot of Haydn and Mozart in Beethoven's First
Every single great composer, artist, author, or philosopher started out as derivative of somebody. Mozart was derivative of Christian Bach. Beethoven was derivative of Haydn as was Schubert. Bellini and Donizetti were derivative of Rossini and Verdi was derivative of Bellini and Donizetti. Wagner was derivative of Carl Maria von Weber. Schoenberg was derivative of Wagner.
The derivative doesn’t always last and sometimes composers become derivative of themselves but it appears to be a natural part of becoming a great artist. I get the feeling that many current composers try to avoid any hint of being derivative and in the process they don’t write from their truth. They are trying to contrive something which is non-derivative instead of truthful to who they are themselves.
I loved the opera Great Scott because I felt as though the composer, Jake Heggie, wasn’t worried about being declared as derivative. What I felt was that he wrote music based on truth and beauty. It was as though the music was a reflection of himself — that he was composing music from the truth of his personality.
I’ve heard other new musical compositions which feel as though the composer is trying to channel someone else. Perhaps they are trying to get a conceptual message across to the bourgeois audience. The inevitable result is an audience response based on “I like when music challenges me” instead of “I loved it and can’t wait to hear it again. Is there a recording?”
Allow me to break down the, “I like when they challenge me” comment. That comment really means, “I spent some money on this concert and some time and I don’t want to feel like a fool, so I’ll say I like being challenged even though the challenge here was to appreciate, understand, or like something which I don’t but I feel as though I’m obligated to not hate it.”
I’m not interested in the next innovative composer. I’m looking for the next composer who has the courage to go through the derivative phase instead of chickening out and writing something which is, ultimately, derivative of every other composer who has tried for innovation above truth and beauty.