Composers Think Differently

Composers Joan Tower and George Tsontakis were in my office today, discussing composition with a student. George, the student’s teacher, said, “We’ve been talking about the problem of how fast you can add contrasting new ideas to a piece without losing the listener and making the piece disunified.” Joan replied, “Oh, that’s a problem everyone faces.” I said, “Adding new ideas? That had never occurred to me.”


  1. Samuel Vriezen says

    I’ve always wanted to see a piece in which the idea was to add ideas all the time until everybody goes crazy. However, in the end, even Ferneyhough sounds like a totally consistent, almost a one-idea composer.
    The truth is of course that any piece sets up a clear “idea space” right in bar two!

  2. Noah Creshevsky says

    Who said music has to be unified? Contemporary life is more often characterized by sensory overload than by continuity. It’s also possible to create a kind of unity by assembling a steady stream of discontinuous fragments. A pattern of quick changes makes its own unity. Recordings reduce the need for repetition and other worn-out methods for developing motivic and thematic materials. If a piece seems chaotic at first, play it again, and perhaps one more time. Even the most scattered composition becomes less scattered as the listener comes to know the piece. More important than unity is the ability to create music that is attractive enough to invite repeated listenings. Repetitious and highly unified pieces can seem unbearably repetitious and overunified as we hear these pieces again and again. The idea of making a great deal from very little needs radical reassessment.
    KG replies: Who said music has to be unified? Not me. Just expressing how I do it.