We reveal ten truths that those who tread the career path of a composer will know all too well.
Where would music be without composers? Well… nowhere really! From Bach to Beethoven, Mozart to Mahler, Chopin to Stravinsky, we owe countless works of heartbreaking beauty and jaw dropping innovation to those genius writers of music.
But the life of a composer isn’t all grand premieres and legions of adoring fans. We reveal ten truths that those who tread the career path of a composer will know all too well.
Missing deadlines is inevitable
It’s a well-known fact that Mozart was still writing the overture to Don Giovanni on the morning the opera premiered, and this proud tradition of delivering a score at the 11th-hour is one honoured to this day by composers around the globe. To paraphrase the words of legendary British author Douglas Adams, composers “love deadlines! They love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
You have to contend with some stupid questions
These include “What instruments do you write for?” Which is a bit like asking a painter what colours they use: all of them! “What composers do you sound like?” is another classic. You’re basically being asked how much you plagarise… but perhaps it’s just hitting a nerve! After all, Stravinsky said, “A good composer borrows; a great composer steals.”
Very, very, very, VERY few composers are rich
It’s fair to say that being a composer is not a particularly lucrative profession. If given a time machine, perhaps some composers might travel back to tell their younger selves to learn stock brokering, IT or Mandarin instead, but let’s face it, being a composer is a calling. A very, very underpaid calling.
It’s impossible to please everyone
It’s more or less a thankless task trying to write music that will appeal to all tastes. No matter where a composer’s music falls on the spectrum it will either be too harmonious and traditional for some or too avant garde and discordant for others. One man’s squeaky-gate is another man’s symphony!
Extracting parts is torture
The 21st century has mercifully seen the rise of scoring programs that slightly improve this issue, but extracting all the parts from a score ahead of a performance is a cross between a lobotomy and ground-hog day. Truly the worst part of being a composer!
You’re your own worst critic
It’s a battle that every creative person in the history of the world has struggled with: what if I’m just plain crap!? No matter how experienced or self-assured a composer is, that nagging internal voice will always throw a spanner in the works at some point. But neolithic cave painters probably had similar “what if that’s a really bad drawing of a mammoth” thoughts too. C’est la vie!
The composer’s natural enemy is the instrumentalist
It might sound strange, but all composers have to lock horns with weary and reluctant instrumentalists now and then, outraged by the crazy antics involved in realising a new piece. I mean, it’s not remotely unreasonable to ask the cellist to bow the face of the person sitting next to them while they play a kazoo… is it?
A computer crashing can be the worst thing in the world
All composers will have experienced this most crushing of blows at least once in their careers. It’s 3am. The deadline you missed two weeks ago has now become a last minute scramble to get the piece finished and typeset, but you’re making headway… when suddenly the computer crashes and the horrifying realisation comes over you: the last time you saved your work was three hours ago. A single tear rolls down your cheek.
There is no better feeling than a good premiere
After hundreds of hours of work, persistent crippling self doubt, what seemed like days of mind-numbing typesetting, hard-fought rehearsal battles and the crippling nervous anticipation, there is simply no experience more affirming than hearing a piece of your music brought into the world through live performance… unless it’s a total car crash! Back to the drawing board composers!