Is a Composer an Artist or an Artisan?

Nico Muhly

Is a Composer an Artist or an Artisan?

A recent piece in the New Yorker about the composer Nico Muhly challenges the idea of composers as artists, producing work for its artistic merit alone in which ‘each symphony represents a wholly philosophical vision’.

‘Since the mid-nineteenth century,’ writes William Robin, ‘the chief historical model for composers has been one in which an artist, cut off from society, issues revolutionary works at staggered intervals… in which each symphony represents a wholly new philosophical vision.’ Robin calls this the ‘Beethoven Paradigm’.

Muhly is prolific; in the last six years alone he has produced over seventy pieces. ‘[Muhly’s output] runs counter to the Beethoven Paradigm and instead embraces an earlier model: the era of Bach and Vivaldi,’ writes Robin, ‘in which composers were considered not truth-seekers but employees, writing a continuous stream of functional music for church services and royal occasions.’

‘That Baroque archetype of composer as artisan has its detractors… but its return is welcome,’ continues Robin. ‘The post-Romantic ethos of permanent revolution isn’t well suited to our century, where even avant-garde artists must also become entrepreneurs. And injecting a faster pace into today’s ponderous, tradition-minded classical world isn’t a bad thing.’

Read the full article here.

Published on 22 October 2013

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