Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

The Composer is Always Right

This weekend, we begin what I consider to be a great adventure: the serialization of my book The Composer is Always Right. (I will be forgiven for calling this a “great adventure”; given the current state of my life, I must take what adventure I can where I find it.)

I am making the first two installments – the Introduction (on Patreon today) and Prologue (to be posted tomorrow) – available to all Patreon subscribers, regardless of tier. Starting next Sunday, September 5, the remaining installments (over two years’ worth!) will appear on Sundays and will be available to Principals, Family, and Deity tier patrons.

The book was initially written in 2007-2008, and I am revising it substantially here in 2021 for this serialization. Commissioned by Oxford University Press, the book was never published. (I told the sorry story of the book’s commission and my subsequent withdrawal of the finished manuscript from Oxford University Press in a post on Patreon on June 17, 2021.)

The dual premises of the book are as follows.

One. The Composer is Always Right explores the ongoing growth of the vocabulary of Western literate (notated) music from around the year 800 C.E. to the present day.

Explanation. Art cannot be considered progressively “linear” (we are not artistically “better off” today than we were 100, 200, or even 300 years ago). Nevertheless, the language/vocabulary/syntax/grammar of Western music is cumulative. In terms of the musical vocabulary available to composers today, we are indeed “better off” in that we have all of world music history from which to draw our inspiration. In another 100 years, composers will have yet another century’s worth of musical syntax available to them. So this book is about exploring the ever-growing syntax of literate music.

Two. The art of musical composition (as well as that person we call a “composer”) could not have come into existence without music notation.

Explanation. The art of musical composition is based on the ability of someone (a composer) to not just write down a musical idea, but to “compose” it: rewrite it, revisit it, revise and extend it and then transmit that music in hard copy. Without a universally understood method of music notation, none of this is possible. An attempt to create a universal method of music notation began around the year 800 C.E. It took another 800 years for music notation to evolve into what we recognize today. We will explore this evolution, which went hand-in-hand with the ever growing, ever-developing syntax of Western literate music.

Okay: providing you haven’t been put off by this wordy preamble I would invite you to dig in on Patreon!

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