I think the really amazing thing about studying music history for me has been the way it has shown the similarities between the masters, and myself and other artists I work with daily. While most musicologists focus on musical forms, genres, and theoretical tendencies, what interests me is how I am like Mozart, or Bach, or Miles.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not compare myself to them technically or musically. They would all laugh at my MIDI accomplishments and “producer” title. Bach would shake his head, Miles would turn his back, and Mozart would just giggle I imagine.
But comparing how they lived and worked, how they loved and dealt with daily life, that is where we can see who we are. Because we, as current artisans, are just reflections of those before us. They dealt with fame, work, and love (or the lack of them) just as we must.
So whom do you resemble? Let’s use a short list here and see if you fit in one of these three types:
1. Maybe you’re Bach.
Johann Sebastian Bach was the equivalent of today’s modern church music director. If you have a steady music gig at a church or school, then you and Bach have lived similar lives.
Bach served as “Cantor” or music leader of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany from 1723 until his death in 1750. He was also musical director at the principal churches in town.
As you may know, his output was voluminous, but you would expect him to have written a lot when he had to have music ready for the week’s services for 27 years! Plus he had similar jobs back to 1708. Dude had a resume!
You may work on a lot of songs too every week, getting things ready for Sunday services or for classes. It may seem overwhelming, and it may seem somewhat under-appreciated.
But so was Bach. Although he was highly respected in Europe as an organist during his lifetime, he really didn’t become infamous as “Bach, the composer that defines the Baroque period we all know and love” until a revival of his music in the 19th century.
So take heart, Bach-ites. Maybe somewhere in 2123 is when your genius will be discovered and revered for all time.
(In the meantime, enjoy some Bach and get back to your planning…)
2. Maybe you’re Mozart.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was simply the Michael Jordan of music history. I mean yes, you have Bach, and Beethoven, and many that are masters without doubt. But Mozart was the natural. The prodigy that would never be denied even as a child or on his deathbed. His works are varied, and original, and striking.
But despite the unique and powerful works, his financial life and personal life were kinda iffy. Like many musicians, especially the really crazy gifted ones, he put way more emphasis on creating than he did a steady gig. Especially since that meant having to “be” what princes or other possible benefactors wanted from him. He taught piano to rich ladies, and wrote operas and other things on demand for folks, but truly just wanted to write songs to his own liking, not what others wanted.
You may fall into this kind of thinking sometimes. I know I do. My whole creative life has been about doing things my way. I skipped piano lessons, scoffed at a music degree, and never really embraced traditional music gigs or jobs. Instead I built a music business I could totally do my way.
But at what cost!
This kind of attitude, a decision that you want to live as a creative musician doing art your way has it downsides. And one downside is that money can slow to a trickle fast. It did for Mozart. He liked to live with his wife in a big fancy house with servants and buy pianos, but the truth was he went into debt doing it and was still trying to get out of debt at the time of his death.
Being like Mozart is a two-sided coin. You have a talent for music, but yet demand music fit into life the way you feel it should rather than more traditional means.
(Hide your bills, and enjoy some Mozart, and then write something amazing whether it sells or not…)
3. Maybe you’re Schoenberg.
Arnold Schoenberg probably isn’t as known to you, but he is a very important figure in the history of music, not that you’d probably care for his music. Well, maybe you’d feel comfortable with his early music, which just echoed and continued the tradition of Wagner and Brahms.
But Schoenberg developed the “twelve-tone” technique, which kind of put western music on its ear. The random sounding music can kind of sound a little like a horror movie score on acid. It purposely went away from the harmonics and tonality of the previous two centuries. A whole way of thinking (the Second Viennese School) with other composers following Schoenberg’s evolution came next, and the 20th century started out with a crash. At least that’s kind of what it sounded like.
How could this relate to you? I hear folks all the time declaring how music, or any genre, is stale and the same old, same old. So, they break away from what everyone else is doing, and try something radically different, often breaking the established rules of musical taste of the time. At first people may not like it, but sometimes new music has to cause a revolt before it becomes famous. (See Disco.)
Some of his early concerts of the new atonal stuff actually caused fights in the audience. Schoenberg himself tried to physically escort troublemakers out of the concert hall.
Now hopefully you won’t have to do this, but you may come up against criticism or haters when you are trying to do something different.
(Tune them out and listen to some Schoenberg. Or send it to them for torture…)
WHY THIS MATTERS:
Each of us can read the history of the lives of composer and find traits that reflect us today. That’s the beauty, and real value of studying music history. We learn from the masters, who were just real, frail, vulnerable people, like you.
Have a great week!
Eric Copeland is a producer, composer, and paid artist nurturer. Whether he’s right or not, he firmly believes the knowledge of music history can help musicians and artsy types in the present. Be part of the fun by joining the Blog, Twitter, Facebook, or…Telegram.