“Composed Music” — Replies and Clarifications
Craig Havighurst
1610

Excellent point about including Ellington, Zappa, etc. But by the same token, I would argue that we would also have to exclude some types of what we consider classical music because they lack the compositional merit of well composed music from Bach’s Fugues to Zappa’s “Shut Up and Play Your Guitar.” For example, some opera music can be incredibly repetitive and harmonically/melodically uninteresting. I just saw Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and, while it is certainly a brilliant opera with moments of complexity and sublime melodies, many of the recitative sections could be simplified to

(I) “Sing! Recit. Sing!” (V) “Recit. Sing! sing!” (V) “Recit. Recit. Sing!” (I) “Recit, sing sing sing!”

I found such sections to be a bit uninspired. They were clearly composed to appeal to a large audience. Popular musicians such as Elliot Smith or Kurt Cobain wrote much more interesting music without physically notating the music.

Additionally, you have defined “composed music” in two mutually exclusive ways: first as music that is notated and then as music that requires the listener to “compose themselves.” Well I do appreciate the double meaning you have found in the term, I will argue that there is plenty of written music that requires only a shallow understanding to appreciate (simply sections in opera and some simple English Aires would be good examples) while there is plenty of electronic music and improvised jazz that was not notated that requires strict attention to appreciate.

My final example is from the movie Amadeus. There is a scene where Salieri greets Mozart by playing a march he worked very hard on. It is a half way decent piece of music with adequate melodic development, but there is a voice leading error which Mozart is quick to point out. Our hero Mozart then proceeds to improvise a beautiful, inspired credenza over the improved chord changes of Salieri’s piece. This is obviously a work of fiction, but it illustrates the point that notated music can be a bit shallow while improvised music can be very well composed.

Again, I appreciate that you have brought attention to this issue. But if the goal is to help a wider audience appreciate art music of all types I think we need to do two things: first bring music education back to the schools and, second, educate classical musicians of the merits of improvised and popular music.

I am not against a new term for “Classical Music,” classical is a problematic word. But I don’t think “Composed” is right either.

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