Who cares if you listen? Me.

The musical landscape has changed dramatically over the past half century. In 1958, Milton Babbitt’s article known as “Who cares if you listen?” appeared. Among other things, he questioned the need for composition with an audience in mind.  With the possibility of technologically-assisted performance at very low cost, Babbitt reasoned that an audience might not be necessary in the future.

That future is here.  With the technologies available, it now seems common that composers make music without any regard for the audience. The modern art music scene is especially trending in this direction.

Maybe the problem is inherent in 21st century creativity. We constantly strive to be unique, to travel some previously undiscovered musical course.  Perhaps, some think, the universe’s pleasing combinations of notes have all been taken, and to be truly artistic, we need to use only the permutations which the old masters left alone.

Maybe it can be simply attributed to ego. The composer is simply so smart that the masses will never comprehend his work.  This elitism is common among theoreticians who also compose.

I hope that in the future, I will be seen as a composer who dabbled in music theory, rather than a theoretician who just happened to compose.  Natural composers allow their music to be governed by sound; they let their ears take the lead.  Theoreticians are often more concerned with process and procedure than product and purpose.

Please understand, I do not advocate a return to strict tonality or a stop to innovation.  I simply suggest that music must be written for a listener, even if that listener is only in the composer’s imagination while the piece is being written.  Music written exclusively for the composer’s pleasure is contrary to the nature of music.

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Nathan Howe is a Colorado composer, performer, and teacher. If you enjoy the free music available on this website, please share it with friends, commission a composition, or make a donation. Thank you!

2 thoughts on “Who cares if you listen? Me.”

    1. “Modern” is not always bad, but much of what passes for modern music is simply irrelevant to the audience. The “greats” of the past were always writing for someone. Now many composers tend to write for noone, which is exactly who is interested in the resulting music.

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