At some point in my younger days, I got it in my head that a musical composition, like a chain, was only as strong as its weakest link. That meant that the final stage of the compositional process was a meticulous search for those weak links, to remove them or strengthen them, making the entire composition as sturdy as could be.
More recently, I considered whether a musical composition might only be as strong as its best ideas, weak links be damned. No one uses a piece of music to hold together a building or a bridge, after all, so is the chain metaphor possibly misapplied?
These are timeless considerations, no doubt, but perhaps they have fresh meaning today, when our attention is more fragmented and focused listening is given less and less cultural value. Who is listening closely enough to notice how well everything in a composition works? More to the point, why should anyone listen closely if the best ideas aren’t all that great?
Ultimately, there is no question in my mind that a musical composition can both catch the attention and reward it with the right mix of worthwhile ideas and precise craftsmanship.
Meanwhile, the chain metaphor is ingrained in my being, and the painstaking concern with eradicating every bit of rust is an unavoidable stage of producing every new work. And I’m happy for that, because the effort involved would be tough to maintain if it weren’t deep-seated.