A Compromising Composer?

A couple of weeks ago I was hanging around at work when I happened to get into a brief conversation with one of the players. He was rehearsing for BCMG‘s concert that evening and was playing in Gérard Grisey’s Quatre Chants pour franchir le seuilI asked him how things were going and he said something along these lines (I paraphrase) – I know it’s a very important piece, but it is an effort for me to practice it. It’s difficult to play, and doesn’t sound nice. Nevertheless, he implied that he was glad to be performing the piece.

Now if you have heard the Grisey, you can well imagine that the sole player practising in their own time, would have trouble motivating themselves to repeatedly practice what could possibly sound pretty horrendous. However, as an ensemble, the piece sounds fantastic.

The thing is, I know that this particular player had in fact practised and is dedicated enough to the music to put the effort in to perform things correctly because he sees the vision and can consider the bigger picture of the whole piece. But what happens if you have performers who aren’t that dedicated? The Grisey performance could have been a disaster. (It wasn’t – it was fantastic!)

So: should composers consider what performers want to play? Should composers think about what the performer will have to go through to practice the piece? What if the performer doesn’t see the bigger picture of the whole ensemble performance? Should the composer write music assuming that all players will be dedicated enough?

Should the composer just push through with his overall vision for the piece without considering the needs of the individual performer?

Does the composer need to compromise on his music in order to get the best out of the performers?

Grisey certainly didn’t… but should he have?

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