Where often is heard…

I have to admit, before I started actively doing this composition thing, I was pretty naive about the whole endeavor. This is gonna sound pretty stupid and potentially a bit arrogant, but I figured that since you never heard much about new music or new operas, not many were being written, or at least not many good ones were being written. I thought I could just waltz in, write some stuff that was pretty good, and it would just get picked up and performed, simply by virtue of being pretty good.

Now I realize that all sorts of people are writing pretty good works, in many cases amazing works, and you just don’t hear about them because… well… because you just don’t. Turns out that just writing good work isn’t enough, not nearly enough.

In today’s New York Times there’s an article about an opera completed in 1978 that the composer had worked on for three years. And when he finished it, guess what happened?


The company that had commissioned it went under and the piece went back into his desk or bookshelf or attic, or wherever you put stuff that you’ve slaved over for three years. Probably filed under “D” for “Disappointment, Crushing”. It didn’t see the light of day for another 12 years when the composer decided to self fund a recording of the second act  in 2000.

Then something amazing happened.  It won the Pulitzer Prize.  The fricking Pulitzer Prize. And then guess what happened…

Ummmm…. Nothing?

For another ten years, absolutely nothing. Even with a Pulitzer in his back pocket, he still couldn’t get any opera companies to put it up.  Back in the file it went, this time under “P” for “Produced, WhothehelldoIneedtosleepwithinordertogetthisthing”

Finally, this season, Santa Fe Opera is going to do a full production.  Not to get all Debbie Downer, but that’s thirty two years and one major prize after it was composed.

I guess it’s a success story. The kind that makes you wonder if maybe you’d rather try succeeding at something else…


Apr 2010

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  1. 1

    Thanks Brian.

    Just as I was ready to abandon my pursuit of attempting (and failing) to sell out writing for TV and return to new opera/music theatre writing, composing and performing, I get this reminder of the reason why I stopped trying to make new work.

    Maybe I’ll just give give massages a dollar a minute on the Venice Boardwalk and become one of the crazies there. Or I’ll hole up in some desert cave like Harry Partch and build my own instruments to play for myself as I completely retreat for society.

    Way to start a Monday morning.



  2. Todd Schurk #

    You may think it “corny” Brian,but I think Sousa was right about recorded (canned)music sir. With recorded music so readily available and mass produced,music performance in home (the piano in the parlor)became a thing of the past. And I think folks just got less serious about what they wanted to hear,play, or go listen to. Real listening to music that might make your brain work a bit was replaced by mindless 3 chord repetitiveness. I don’t know,but it just seems most people don’t have the time or inclination to dig any deeper than what pop culture bombards them with. Not everybody mind you,but more and more all the time.Having almost no music in schools certainly doesn’t help.But listening habits sure have changed in the last 100+ years more than any other time. And that pretty much coincides with the birth of the gramophone. It’s hard enough to get people in the seats for established opera or symphonic works,let alone new ones. They would rather spend $ on an Ipad or Guitar Hero. Sad,really sad.

  3. Brian Rosen #

    Yay! Crushing dreams! EXACTLY what I set out to do when I started a blog.

    Todd…I’m not quite as bearish on the effects of recording technology on musical expression. There’s music being made out of those channels that is remarkably sophisticated. They don’t use the same harmonic language of a Mozart or Brahms, but I adore the soundscapes of the Books or Radiohead, or the insane glitch rhythms of the Venetian Snares or Aphex Twin.

    Or to paraphrase a line from one of our favorite shows:

    “Rubbish! Artistic snobbory! Idioteque is a perfectly magical tune. Anyone should be proud to have written it!”

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