December 27, 2006

Unfinished.

I'm sorting through all my CDs, making five piles in preparation for loading them into the computer so I can fill up a new iPod, and we got to talking about the ages at which certain composers and musicians died. We feel sad if anyone dies before they get old (even if they're ones who played along to the lyrics "I hope I die before I get old"). But this question is about us, what we feel we have lost. List 10 composers and musicians who, by dying when then did, deprived you of the most things that you wish you had now.

Sidenote from the dining table that is covered with stacks of CDs that jiggle as we type incessantly: Talking about this post, I asked whether "composers and musicians" is redundant (and whether any of my commenters would tell me that it is redundant, whether it is or not). John took the position that composers are not musicians. Chris said some people say singers are musicians. John said, "Singers are musicians. Musicians use an instrument." I'm all: "The brain is an instrument." Chaos ensues.

73 comments:

Anonymous said...

A composer is to a musician as a writer is to an actor. (Not director because a director is more along the lines of a conductor or a band's lead member.)

Palladian said...

Most of the greatest composers were great musicians. Bach was a great keyboardist and improviser, Purcell was the organist of both Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal, Beethoven was a world-class pianist, the young Brahms was a bar-room pianist.

As for composers and musicians dying too young, the only one that comes to mind is the Canadian pianist and musician Glenn Gould, who died just after his 50th birthday in 1982, at a time when he was considering retiring from making piano recordings and becoming a conductor. His last recording is in fact him conducting a small orchestra in a performance of Wagner's Siegfried-Idyll that is a bittersweet glimpse at the interesting interpretations of the orchestral repertoire that would have come if Gould hadn't have passed on. It's the only death of a musician that really pains me.

Of course, thoughts of Gould remind me of a famous little interview he did with his friend Bruno Monsaingeon:

Bruno Monsaingeon: Did you really say all these unheard of things about Mozart that are attributed to you? Do you really despise his music? Do you think that he's a "mediocre" composer and that he "died too late rather than too soon"?

Glenn Gould: Well, for the daily news these quotations might suffice, Bruno, but they might here deserve a slightly more in-depth treatment. Everything that I "despise" in the Mozart repertoire dates from his later years - compositions like The Magic Flute, the G minor Symphony ... Let me even add that there is a lot of music from the early years to which I really feel compelled, so actually it would be more appropriate for me to speak about Mozart as a composer who developed towards mediocrity. In fact, it is superfluous to say that my remark "he died too late" is a loveless reaction to his early demise, it was merely in response to such speculations as "just imagine what he would have composed if he'd lived to seventy."

BM: Well, for all of us who love Mozart and who think of his late compositions as the most superb musical experiences, it is inevitable to formulate such speculations. Probably useless, but inevitable.

GG: But of course, I myself speculate in the same way about Pergolesi. But the following is certainly reasonable: Had Mozart lived to seventy, he would have died one year before Beethoven and two years before Schubert and in that case, I suspect that Mozart - if one imagines a curve representing the last three hundred Koechel numbers - would have ended as some kind of mixture between Weber and Spohr.

Smilin' Jack said...

John took the position that composers are not musicians. Chris said some people say singers are musicians. John said, "Singers are musicians. Musicians use an instrument." I'm all: "The brain is an instrument." Chaos ensues.

The chaos will get worse. Consider Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor creates all his music himself in a studio using sythesizers. When he goes on tour he hires musicians to imitate the synthesizers. And he releases the source files for many of his songs so fans can remix their own versions. Who is the composer and/or musician here?

Anonymous said...

Palladian: How nice to see you here!

A Menken Moment said...

Anybody who has listened deeply to Pergolesi's Stabat Mater wishes he would have lived longer, as with Purcell and his Fantasias for viols, although they are more in the Renaissance style than most of his Baroque-ish works. Bach was 65 when he died, not all that young, but he died right in the midst of writing Die Kunst der Fuge, which if there were one piece of music I could transmit to an extraterrestrial to represent the summa of all human art, would be my choice. Interesting comment about Mozart. If he had lived longer, would he have become a brooding Beethoven? Genius though he was, so much of his music is obviously child-like (if you like it) or childish (if you don't), until you hear that somewhat minatory g-minor symphony. Of course a 30 something who may intuit he will soon die feels differently than an 85-year-old like Heinrich Schuetz writing his Schwannengesang.

Pogo said...

Re: "List 10 composers and musicians who, by dying when the[y] did,"

I am not sure I understand the question. It's too difficult to speculate what might have been.

Buddy Holly comes to mind. He was really just getting started. Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division committed suicide early on; it would have been good to hear his voice undepressed. Nick Drake died too young as well. Hendrix and Joplin are no-brainers. Jim Croce was also departed too soon.

But I'm not sure I was deprived of anything by their deaths; such a guess on songs unheard is beyond my ken. Like trying to explain the most beautiful song never written. It was what it was, and for their lives, however brief, I am grateful.

Kirk Parker said...

A musician is a performer (though even I am guilty at times of the offensive-to-vocalists formulation "singers and musicians" rather than the more-correct "singers and instrumentalists".) Composing is a completely different skill from performint. But of course Palladian is right, people are often both.

Anonymous said...

I much miss Jerry Garcia.

I also miss John Lennon-- and his death is made all the worse for the unnatural way in which he was taken from us (dang, I'm glad I'm not a fan of rap-- that seems to be the norm anymore). There was a Beatles reunion back in the 1990's when it was in vogue for old bands to hold reunion concerts, but using recordings of Lennon just wasn't the same.

Keep in mind that people live longer these days too. So Mozart's death in his mid 30's, while young by our standards, was really not so far out of line in those days.

Paddy O. said...

I think of a musician as one who understands music and can participate with it. I think this leads me to think of composers as the quintessential musicians, while leaving aside some of those who merely can play an instrument. Making music does not a musician make, methinks.

Understanding music, using its laws and rules and systems to creatively produce is the sign of musician.

When I read this I thought of physics. Just because we all participate in the laws of physics, slavishly following the laws of gravity for instance, does not make us physicists. A physicist is a scientist who understands the laws of physics so as to delve more deeply and mine those depths.

Anonymous said...

You're a musician if you have a song in your heart and dare to sing it. (yeah, I'm a liberal-- can't you tell :)

It's like anything else-- take writing for example. All of us commenting on here are writers, because we are writing when we comment. People (as some of us) who run our own blogs are maybe a bit more prolific writers, but not necessarily better writers. People who are more interesting to read tend to attract an audience. Some of them have manuscripts published and become professional writers. But because there are millions of people who hang on every word that J.K. Rowling puts in print, does not make me less of a writer.

And so it is with musicians. I won't ever sing at any level above the choir at church, and I may only be able to play chopsticks on the piano, but don't tell me I'm not a musician. I will readily agree that I'm not a great musician, but I am a musician.

And if I write something on a blog and others quote it, then I am a writer. So by that definition, a composer is a musician (in fact to compose music requires an understanding of music, so it seems very likely that all composers had to have had some formal music training somewhere along the way-- I would not be a writer no matter what I thought, if I had never learned the alphabet and how to write by reading what others have written.

Sanjay said...

So, I recognize that it's wrong to post, "hey, just go read this."

But the answer to whether composers and musicians are different was I think beautifully and definitively explored and answered by Brad Mehldau in the liner notes to his "House on Hill" album, if you can find them. I'm reluctant to excerpt them from memory here but I think they really changed how I think about the relationship between composers and performers in all genres.

Ann Althouse said...

I should say that John made the point that composers may also be musicians but that they are not musicians solely by virtue of being composers.

The composer that caused me to raise the question in the first paragraph was Schubert, who was 31 when he died.

The point Glenn Gould made about Mozart suggests a separate question: Who would have a better reputation if they'd died earlier? Also, and this may apply to Buddy Holly: Whose reputation was improved by dying early?

Re Glenn Gould: It's funny, we were talking about Glenn Gould, whose work I was putting in pile #1. John was saying he didn't like him.

One of my favorite movies is "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould."

Anonymous said...

I think of Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn when thinking of something along those lines,

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:


We all can imagine that even better songs were to come from Sam Cooke, or Kurt Cobain, or Brian Jones.

The what might have been trumps the what is. That's the nature of imagination.

Dying young (or youngish) prevents an artist from sliding into self-parody and allows them to forever be remembered at their golden best.

But just the same, I think it's better to be Paul McCartney or Ringo and still touring than to be John Lennon.

I'll stay out of the composers and musicians discussion.

Anonymous said...

A personal list, of course:

1. Anton Bruckner. His 9th is in my opinion the only symphony to take on and surpass Beethoven's 9th on its own terms (I realize many disagree, but compare them movement by movement). The fact that it's missing a last movement is truly sad.

2. Gustav Mahler. Not least because we wouldn't have a bevy of second-rate performing versions of a 10th in which the Adagio Mahler wrote sticks out to remind us that the rest is not Mahler.

3. Sergei Prokofiev. Imagine what he could have done without the Stalin regime breathing down his neck.

4. William Furtwangler. If he'd lived a bit longer to record in stereo, the classical music record scene would be far richer.

There's doubtless more, but these are mine.

Sanjay said...

Aha! And the great Mr. M. puts the essay I was thinking about --- about composers versus musicians --- here.

John said...

To me, musicians are artists whose medium happens to be, well, music. I would therefore definitely count composers as musicians solely by virtue of their artistic endeavors. The neat thing about music is that the artistic creative process does not stop with the composer, but also includes conductor, performer, and even the scholar.

reader_iam said...

Both singers and instrumentalists are musicians.

Being able to play an instrument, however, does not make one a musician, anymore than being able to form letters on paper or type makes one a writer.

I'd have to hear more of John's position to comment; I've heard arguments on both sides.

Should we get started on professional musicians versus amateurs (please, please, please, please, please don't take me seriously: if I die and reincarnate 10 times, I still won't be ready for that one again).

Signed,

Daughter of professional musician mom and professional musician/music prof dad; sister of musician and music director; wife of part-time musician; and veteran of many musical-definition wars, now retired.

; )

Sanjay said...

I should say that in that Mehldau writing he administers a gentle slap to Gould for the very attitude palladian mentioned above. Of course I love Gould --- but it's a superior piano player hammering him, here.

Anonymous said...

There's no reason to believe that artists who died before their time would have continued their trajectory upwards. The artists who can, late in their career, continue to break new ground like they did in their youth, are the exception.

As the warnings sign say about mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of the future.

tjl said...

"Anton Bruckner. His 9th is in my opinion the only symphony to take on and surpass Beethoven's 9th on its own terms."

Yes, it's sublime. There's a story that Bruckner dedicated his 5th symphony to Emperor Franz Josef, who rewarded him with an apartment in the Belvedere Palace. Bruckner, remembering this, dedicated his last symphony to God.

Mr. Forward said...

"Otis Redding and six others, including four of the six members of Redding's backup band, The Bar-Kays, were killed when the plane on which they were travelling crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin on December 10, 1967"
Wikipedia

"Drummer Mickey Jones has related a meeting between Redding and Bob Dylan in which Dylan played his new song "Just Like a Woman" for Redding. According to Jones, Redding was very impressed and told Dylan that he would record the song as soon as he could. However, Redding was killed before he could accomplish this."
Wikipedia

Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).

Rick Lee said...

I was rather startled to read your post/question just now. I'm sitting here watching/listening to a new concert DVD that I got for Christmas... an all-star tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan. (died young in a helicopter crash)

Anonymous said...

Jimi Hendrix, he was just getting started.

Bud Powell, it would have maybe helped if they had meds for his mental illness, maybe not.

Lowel George, great playing and composing!

Jerry Garcia, but he was a bit burned out at the end.

Stevie Ray Vaughn, that boy could play some blues!

Charlie Parker, I think he was the most amazing improviser of his time.

Paul McCartney, mmmm, scratch that. If he lived he would probably just be the victim of some gold digger.

Trey

Palladian said...

"And if I write something on a blog and others quote it, then I am a writer."

That's not writing, it's typing.

Dawn Braun said...

It is possible to be both a musician and a composer...but musicians are not composers per se, so I am in agreement with Kirk Parker.

Modern names of composers that come to mind...?

Billy Joel (both in Rock and Classical composition)

Neal Morse (prog)

The two above are both definite composers, but I'd like to add Roger Waters and Sting (not sure that they actually apply to that category)

I'm at work, and that's the two names I could come up with already.

Love to see more discussion on modern artisits.

Dawn Braun
Oshkosh, WI

Henry said...

Charlie Parker.

"The 34-year-old Parker was so haggard that the coroner mistakenly estimated Parker's age to be between 50 and 60."

With Parker, the tragedy wasn't so much that he died young, but that he never really lived.

Palladian said...

"Of course I love Gould --- but it's a superior piano player hammering him, here."

LOL. I hope you're joking. If you think our political discussions can get venal and ugly, keep up that ridiculous talk.

Anonymous said...

Ann said:

Whose reputation was improved by dying early?

Good point. Think about James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. In the thought they are all young and vibrant. But if they'd lived, they'd all be quite old now, and probably not remembered as they are.

Trey:

McCartney? He's still alive. And he's 64. And his 'trophy wife' Heather Mills (though I refuse to call her a golddigger, though many have) obviously doesn't need him and isn't feeding him this year.

Sanjay said...

Gould vs. Mehldau? A tough call, but I stand by it! But I'll throw out the olive branch of ranking both men below Evans.... But certainly I think Mehldau's rapping what Gould (or "a mencken moment") fails to grasp about post-baroque composition, is dead on.

Interestingly the website turns out to have a (somewhat less) interesting essay on the "Gould vs. Mehldau" type discussion here. I love "Greg Brady or Greg Osby?"

Anonymous said...

I was really bummed when Stevie Ray Vaughn died. He was one I thought would really just get better and better over time. Still one of the greats, IMO. I saw an MTV special once that had Joe Satriani (for those not in the know, a guitar god of the late '80s and early '90s) and SRV doing solos. The difference was incredible. We would be talking during Satriani's performance but silent and really in awe at what SRV could do with that guitar.

Cobain, eh, I think he had maybe peaked.

SteveS said...

Jeff Buckley. He drowned in the Wolf River in Tennessee at the age of 30. His few albums contain some fantastic work, and the dashed promise suggested by his short life's output is heartbreaking. His own songwriting was lovely, and his version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is unsurpassed. (There's a fun topic: favorite versions of Leonard Cohen songs by other artists.)

Susan said...

I'd have liked more Gershwin. He died at 38.

Doug Sundseth said...

Karen Carpenter (eating disorder) and Jim Reeves (plane crash). Two of the most amazing voices ever; the world is poorer for their absence.

When I want to just sit down and listen to music, there's a pretty good chance that I'll put in a CD by one of them.

Anonymous said...

Much as I disagree with the disagreeable Glenn Gould about Mozart's later works, I have to admit that Mozart had the good grace to die in the right decade. It's very easy to imagine him keeping up with the times and turning into a sort of Weber with a difference. Someone once imagined that if he had lived long enough, Mozart's last opera might have been Der Letzter der Mohikanner, complete with an ice skating scene and a shooting contest.

Three composers I would like to have had longer lives:

Felix Mendelssohn, who died suddenly at the height of his powers, and at a time when music was moving away from the early Romantic drivel of his youth. He was an wonderful musician and performer who was just beginning to mature, and someone who indeed had a lost future.

Then there's George Gershwin. Susan mentioned him above, dying at 38. His brother Ira lived about forever. One wonders how American musical theater would have developed had George survived. A true lost genius.

Finally, a not-so-young (50) composer who might have had even more of an impact on 20th century classical (I hate to use that term) music had he lived another decade or so, Alban Berg. His Violin Concerto is one of the most astonishing and moving pieces in all of music. And his operas are amazing. It would have been fantastic had he lived long enough to really complete Lulu. His work up to this point in his life only promised greater things, but he was denied his maturity. An insect bite in the pre-antibiotic world of 1935 did him in.

To change the subject to the other end of the curve, there have been composers who produced great work in their old age. Haydn's last symphonies and his Creation are certainly in that category, as is Verdi's Falstaff, an amazing thing for someone in his 80's.

But the the standout in this category is Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), who did some of his best work, such as the Sinfonietta, The Cunning Little Vixen, and From the House of the Dead, in his 60's and 70's. For someone born in the time of Brahms and Wagner to write such fresh, original music as an old man in the 20th century is truly inspiring. Boomers take note.

GPE said...

I was glad to see Stevie Ray Vaughan mentioned, but was surprised there has, as yet, been no mention of Robert Johnson.

(Looks like I just fixed that.)

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Laura Nyro
Janis Joplin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FlUAxqQkmc&mode=related&search= get past the crummy recording in the beginning. No one could sing with the passion of Janis. It still brings chills.
Otis Redding
Bobby Darrin
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Buddy Holly
Sam Cooke http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ePVCk8HxPA

The singer IS the instrument.

Smilin' Jack said...

Two more beautiful voices silenced before they reached more than a local audience: Washington DC's Eva Cassidy (1963-1996) and Hawaii's Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (1959-1997).

Greg Hlatky said...

"Anton Bruckner. His 9th is in my opinion the only symphony to take on and surpass Beethoven's 9th on its own terms (I realize many disagree, but compare them movement by movement). The fact that it's missing a last movement is truly sad."

The last movement of the Bruckner 9th isn't missing, it's that we lack the entire structure in Bruckner's hand. It's very possible that he did "complete" the movement (with Bruckner, "complete" is a relative term) but that some of the pages were lost when he died (his body had scarcely cooled when souvenir hunters ransacked his apartment). The closest reconstruction of the final movement was done by Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs and was recorded on the Naxos label.

Simon said...

To add to other people's lists: Kevin Gilbert. His Toy Matinee album is superb.

Arguably, although no one ended up in the ground, Tears for Fears' breakup after The Seeds of Love similarly deprived the world of the music one might have expected them to go on to make (their subsequent reunification notwithstanding).

Can a musician be a composer (or vice versa)? Sure, just as a Judge can be a law professor. But a person is not the one ex officio of being the other. I suppose it also depends on how narrowly one chooses to use the term "composer" - is a songwriter a composer, or is "composer" reserved for something more grand? If you think the latter, what about the stuff that sits in between - is Mike Oldfield a composer?

Anonymous said...

Smilin' Jack: About Eva Cassidy, yes, yes, yes! What a beautiful singer. What a shame.

Joe Dees said...

Jim Morrison. Frank Zappa. Harry Chapin.

Bruce Kratofil said...

Patsy Cline

Anonymous said...

I distinctly recall being shaken by the sudden violent death of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott a little over two years ago. While it may seem rediciulous to be shaken by the death of someone I never personally knew or even met, his music has been a part of my life for so many years that in a very small way, it almost felt as though the memories associated with his music (concerts, friends, bad break-ups) as well as the possibility of new memories, died as well. While not necessarily popular among many of the intelligentsia, Dimebag Darrell was a true gutiar genius and hard-rock pioneer. I had followed him and his former band Pantera since the late 1980's as a high school student. FWIW.

Impacted Wisdom Truth said...

Aside from John Lennon, I can only think of one more of recent vintage:

Isaac Guillory

Isaac was a guitar player extraordinaire.

Anonymous said...

Simon: A "composer" is someone who creates original music and is able to pass it on, whether in the rarefied world of Schoenberg's circle in the Vienna of 1912, or in a garage band in Madison, Wisconsin in 1998. Most great composers of the past were also practicing musicians who regularly performed their own works, just like modern musicians in all the varieties of popular music today.

Is a jazz musician a composer, even though he/she riffs on someone else's tune? What about someone who samples? Is a really good DJ a composer? What about Josquin writing a mass movement on the cantus prius factus of a Gregorian chant melody?

My answer is a big "yes" to all of the above and more. As long as you are creating something original, you are a composer.

Not all originality is composition, though. You can do a really great job covering someone else's song, but you are not a composer. Once you do something transformational with the material, then you're a composer. This does get into a tricky area, but it's always good to err on the side of generosity to musical invention.

If you haven't guessed, I have a degree in composition, something I'm glad I did, but which is not guaranteed to make the car payment.

sonicfrog said...

Isn't it more sad when an artist dies before he or she ever gets the recognition they deserved. Mozart is one example. There was a guy by the name of Kevin Gilbert. He was the co-songwriter in a band called Toy Matinee, but gained the most success of his career as one of the members of Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club. He was also her boyfriend at the time. He and other musicians had already written most of the TNMC songs before KG brought Sheryl into the fold. Sheryl left the band right before the album was released. She and KG split after she went on David Lettermans show and said the song "Leaving Las Vegas" was autobiographical. The song was written by fellow TNMC'er David Baerwald (one half of the 80's group "David n David") before he knew her, and before she joined the project. Gilbert was a brilliant musician who could have had a great career had he not offed himself at the age of 29.

Wow, I sound bitter, and I didn't even know the guy. I hear he was a jerk to work with, but his two industry ignored solo albums, Thud, and Shaming of the True and works of pure tortured brilliance AFAIMC.

sonicfrog said...

Damn You Simon!!!!

Once again, you beat me to the punch. Cut it out man! You're making me look bad!!

Has anyone mentioned Toto's Jeff Porcaro, who died at 37. He was incredibly inventive, and had the sharpest meter of any drummer in the business.

sonicfrog said...

Hank "Your Cheatin' Heart" Williams.

Dying young may have helped Buddy Holly. I understand his last album wasn't selling that well before his death. I could be wrong though.

Oh, tehre's Elliot Smith. Of coarse, if you've listened to his stuff, you probably knew he wouldn't last. It was very depressing material.

Simon said...

beandip said...
"I distinctly recall being shaken by the sudden violent death of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott a little over two years ago. While it may seem ridiciulous to be shaken by the death of someone I never personally knew or even met..."

I don't think that's ridiculous at all. It stands to reason that someone who has deeply affected you in life will deeply affect you when they die, even if you never met them.


Sonicfrog - Got to be quick on the draw at Althouse, y'know. ;) Apropos:

"Has anyone mentioned Toto's Jeff Porcaro, who died at 37. He was incredibly inventive, and had the sharpest meter of any drummer in the business."

Great call! You beat me to that punch. I realize in typing this that it isn't his best work by a long shot (but I'm a bassist not a drummer): the groove that he and Mike laid down in Don't Chain My Heart is just unstoppable.


Theo - with one eye towards the discussion of A Whiter Shade of Pale the other day, your drawing a line between composition and originality begs the question of where the line is drawn. If one can still compose even while explicitly taking fragments of someone else's work -- in the form of sampling, for example -- what is the essential element of a piece of music, the use of which immediately makes it creative but not compositional? Is I'll Be Missing You, for example, composition, or is it merely a creative recycling of certain elements of Every Breath You Take? If form a jazz trio and I play a walking bassline through the chords from A Whiter Shade of Pale while the horn player improvises around the vocal melody, is that still a cover version of A Whiter Shade of Pale, even though it would be practically unrecognizable, and doesn't include the words or the element which its previously-acreddited composer tried to deny was integral to the song, viz., the organ part?

I'm not arguing, I'm just putting the thought out there for discussion.

Speaking of music, I also suddenly realize -- too late -- that I do have an idea for what I could have sent Ann for Christmas. LOL.

Simon said...

Re Jeff Porcaro - it's worth double-dipping to mention his playing in Desert Theme, come to think of it. Just great feel and note choice.

Didn't much like the movie, but the soundtrack was great.

Sanjay said...

Theo Boehm asserts that a jazz improviser is, in fact, a composer. Well, sure, I think most people would agree that he's at least doing something improvisational, as is a classical performer during a cadenza. But I think a more complicated question (and my own answer on it is informed by that Mehldau writing but I can imagine other answers) is: is a jazz composer, a composer? Since after all he's at best just providing a skeleton, and not necessarily a very deleoped or original skeleton at that.

dave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sonicfrog said...

I nominate dave for best worst attempt to highjack a great post with a tumultuous and inane burst of filth and drivel.

Alpha Liberal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Warren Zevon was coming up on 60 when he died, but he obviously had a lot more great music in him.

The real loss in recent years (if 1979 is recent) is Lowell George, who could have reinvented rock and roll. Rumor has it he was going to form a supergroup with Ry Cooder and ohn Sebastian. That would have been something. But just listen to the harmonies in almost any Little Feat song. He was truly a musical genius.

Also am I the only one who thinks 19th century music would have been very diffferent if Schubert had not died young?

Anonymous said...

Warren Zevon was coming up on 60 when he died, but he obviously had a lot more great music in him.

The real loss in recent years (if 1979 is recent) is Lowell George, who could have reinvented rock and roll. Rumor has it he was going to form a supergroup with Ry Cooder and ohn Sebastian. That would have been something. But just listen to the harmonies in almost any Little Feat song. He was truly a musical genius.

Also am I the only one who thinks 19th century music would have been very diffferent if Schubert had not died young?

Anonymous said...

I wonder about Jim Morrison. Do you think he would have aged well or gracefully? Or productively?

It is very difficult for me to picture or imagine Jim post death.

Frank Zappa recorded SO MUCH MUSIC. I have a decent collection, over 30 albums and cds, and it is likely shy of 50% of his recorded works. And I wonder if his move from guitar to synclavier happened when he knew that he was ill. Once he had the synclavier, he did not need a band, and could write like mad.

And sorry for the bad joke Eli, I know Paul is still alive. I am old enough that at one time I worried that he had died.

Best Paul joke:
Question. When did Paul write "Silly Love Songs?"

Answer. Ever since 1963.

Trey

Kev said...

Theo Boehm: "s a jazz musician a composer, even though he/she riffs on someone else's tune?"

Sanjay: "Theo Boehm asserts that a jazz improviser is, in fact, a composer. Well, sure, I think most people would agree that he's at least doing something improvisational, as is a classical performer during a cadenza. But I think a more complicated question...is: is a jazz composer, a composer? "

I think the answer to both questions is "yes." I teach a class in improvisation at my college, and one of the first things we tell the students is that improv is defined as "spontaneous composition." What we're really teaching people in that class are the principles of composition--knowing the chords, their functions and how they relate to each other--so that they can come up with new musical material in real time. To me, that's definitely composition.

(I'm certainly not saying that everything the improvisor comes up with will be completely original--everyone has a certain "bag of tricks" that is relied upon in a pinch--but the chances of someone playing an exact replica of a previously-played solo are slim, at least since the "Swing Era.")

And writing a jazz tune is definitely composition, even if it's only a "head" (the main tune). By establishing a certain melody, harmonic rhythm, groove, etc., the composer is giving a specific set of instructions to the soloist(s), who, while coming up with original material, are likely to at least stay somewhat faithful to the composer's intentions (though some tunes are certainly adapted in unusual ways by others, which makes arrangement into an even bigger subset of composition than it already is).

Sanjay, thanks for the Mehldau link. I own a few of his CD's, but not that one yet.

Kev said...

Theo--I knew you were a big music aficionado, but I wasn't aware that you had a comp degree until now. Do you feel that getting that music degree gave you a leg up on others in terms of success in the business world? I've heard this on many occasions before, and I even posted about it a while back.

Also, I think it's cool that someone with such a musical surname ended up studying it; are you any relation to the Boehm system clarinet, or is that in fact a clever online pseudonym (since he was a "Theo" as well)?

In regards to the "died too young" part of this thread, count me in as one who would have liked to see what Charlie Parker would have done if he'd lived past 34.

Anonymous said...

Kev: Good comments. I'm about to post a much longer, link-filled squib with my thoughts.

Geez! My screen name is a pseudonym. I don't want my cover blown just yet ;-) I'm in the musical instrument business. Specifically, I manage a department in one of the Boston area flute makers. And, no, musical training has been totally useless for business, in my experience. Grump.

Anonymous said...

Before I reply to Simon and Sanjay, I'd just like to say I agree with Sonicfrog and Simon about Jeff Porcaro of Toto. Those hard-bitten LA studio musicians really got it done, Porcaro first and foremost. It's a long story, but I was lucky enough to play with a guy who had played bass with Porcaro, and thought he was the tightest, best drummer in the business. Sad story, especially if cocaine really had anything to do with it.

Anyway, back to Musikwissenschaft. (Like that term? A good translation would be "words without song.")

My point about jazz improvisation, or sampling, or just plain using pre-existing material, was more a musical and perhaps historical one than something that might help draw a line in the A Whiter Shade of Pale case. Copyright law and permissions craziness are things that have driven my wife to distraction in her work. A patent and copyright lawyer I know is developing a set of facial tics, talks to himself, and occasionally bursts out laughing for no obvious reason. Do I really want to go there? Do I want to know more? No, I'm happy thinking about music qua music. Let other people fight over money.

So, from a musical perspective, riffs on pre-existing material are nothing new. Some of the earliest specifically instrumental musical notation from the 15th century are collecctions of hot choruses on pop gems of the day. Where would music in 1475 be without l'homme armé for a bass?

Fast forward through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, and it seems anyone who could find middle C on a harpsichord and hold a quill was writing variations on la Folia. Composers from Corelli to Rachmaninoff 200 years later all pursued that little ditty.

Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi, and, yes, J.S. Bach, among numerous others, wrote variations, grounds, passacaglias, chaconnes, etc. based on all sorts of pre-existing material. Everybody stole from everybody else and themselves. Yet we almost always credit these famous musicians as being the "composer" of said variations, grounds, passacaglias, etc. Was J.S. Bach the composer of the Goldberg Variations? What an absurd question, you might say, of course. He seems to have written the tune as well as the variations, but if the tune wasn't his, would he be any less the composer? One of the staples of Bach and most good organists before and since has been improvising on chorale tunes in church. Bach was noted to be able to hold forth for 45 minutes on any good Lutheran chorale. Was it Luther (assuming he wrote the tune, which he often did) or Bach who should get the credit? Bach would have said it was God, but that's another story.

The old European traditions of musical borrowing and reworking and improvising on others' material is precisely analogous to what developed in jazz. Jazz musicians re-invented a centuries-old improvisatory practice and gave it a new and uniquely African-American shape and language. The question of whether Charlie Parker was the "composer" of his take on Don Raye's Star Eyes is, to me, about as much of a question as whether Chopin was the composer of Variations on Là ci darem la mano for piano and orchestra. Don Raye and Mozart may have each written the originals, but what others did with them is distinctly composition, not mere arrangement.

If you still have questions about who is composing, listen to the music. That itself will almost always answer the question.

Now, there are those who may wish to pose all sorts of lawyerly questions about who deserves what for their part in a piece of music or a recorded performance and fight over money. That's fine. You have your words. I'll listen to the song.

sonicfrog said...

Walter Carlos, synth genius, born 1939 - died 1967. ;-)

hdhouse said...

Mendelssohn
Mozart
Puccini
Gerhswin
Schubert
Lennon
Tuckwell
Gliere
Moondog
Fredie Grofe

Brent said...

Wadayamean "composers are not musicians"? Composers may or may not be performers. Composers are certainly musicians.

The obligatory Dictionary reference:
(wait - let me use that most hated of all term paper phrases first)

Webster defines musician as "one skilled in music ; especially : a composer, conductor, or professional performer of music.

Anonymous said...

Bob Marley
John Coltrane
Charlie Parker
John Lennon

Anonymous said...

This is probably a little far afield in the choices I make (not composers per se) but I think music in my lifetime has been deprived by the too early deaths of Cobain, Moon and Bonham. Their deaths effectively ended the new music of some of the most influential bands of the last 30 years.

Anonymous said...

This is probably a little far afield in the choices I make (not composers per se) but I think music in my lifetime has been deprived by the too early deaths of Cobain, Moon and Bonham. Their deaths effectively ended the new music of some of the most influential bands of the last 30 years.

ncghost said...

Some just fly in, say what they will and leave. Living too long or short is a moot argument. Had Arthur Lee died after making "Forever Changes",would that have made him more iconic, as his legacy would not have been diluted by subsequent uninspired albums? We should gratefully accept what we get from who gives it. At least we have the ability to document music. Brilliant composers (and to suggest composers are not musicians is an uneducated assumption) such as William Lawes wrote reams of music that we will never hear, simply because it's lost to time. It's romantic to speculate on such matters, but there is more than enough music in the world to keep us sated for several lifetimes.

sonicfrog said...

Walter Carlos, synth genius, born 1939 - died 1967. ;-)

Kev said...

Theo--sorry, didn't mean to even partially blow your cover; I just thought it would've been cool if you really did have such a musician-ish name and were actually in the field. (When I was in undergrad school, there was a keyboardist in my theory class whose name was Octavia Brandenburg, which I thought was pretty much the greatest musician name ever.)

Brent pretty much nailed it in terms of a succinct answer to the "composer = musician" question, as far as I'm concerned.

Kev said...

sonicfrog--LOL. While it's true that Walter Carlos ceased to exist, in a way, when he became Wendy, it's not like it affected his career all that much; she still got plenty of film-score gigs after the announcement.(Anyone else remember Tron--cool video game, really mediocre movie?)

What blew my mind--because I'd never known this until I read the article you linked--was that she somehow kept the transgenderment secret for ten years before finally making the announcement.

A Menken Moment said...

Ah, L'Homme Armee, not only a popular, but a frankly military tune, set sublimely to the mass cycle by no less than Guillaume Dufay, Josquin Des Prez, Pierre de la Rue, and the other giants of the early and middle Rennaisance over a span of 150 years. It is though "Stars and Stripes Forever" had been set to symphonies by Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein. Certainly it not a case of stealing, but of exalting, of using one musical gem to promote the whole art.

And Buxtehude! the Chacone and Fugue in c minor, the foster fater of Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in g minor, two more examples of music fit to be dedicated to the angels in eternity.

Anonymous said...

Menken: You know, people have complained about the decline in the quality of commenters here. I disagree. In fact, we've become more recherché. In how many other blogs will you find two people who know a hit tune from 500 years ago? Althouse may be in 2066, but at least part of us is in 1466.

As far as Buxtehude is concerned, he deserves to be much better known than he is. He may have been Bach's musical godfather, but he also wrote a large amount of beautiful, fairly easy and accessible music. My favorites are his suites and his many sets of variations for harpsichord. I play a couple of his suites and his Variations on a Theme by Lully (easy), and am working on his Variations on More Palatino (much harder). If you play piano or have a harpsichord (or even a Yamaha Clavinova), you owe it to yourself to give Buxtehude a try. His harmonizations are sonorous and unusual, his voice-leading and inner parts are interesting, and his music is just so damn satisfying to play that you can get addicted. It's also generally easier than Bach, so it's great preparation for things such as the English Suites.

Have we gotten off topic or what?