Been reading the manuscript of Jonathan Kramer’s Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening. Kramer brings up the familiar postmodern notion of questioning the possibility of communication from composer to listener, and it got me thinking. In recent years, I believe I have been hearing more young composers tell of focusing on their communications with performers.
This focus takes two variants: physical and creative.
First the physical: Some works are designed to feel a certain way to the performer. They may call for a particularly idiomatic technique, or one that a particular performer has mastered. Or the opposite: they may present a challenge to the performers to expand their comfort zones. Or they might just establish a pacing or ambience that the composer believes the performer will enjoy.
Others give creative leeway to the performer, inviting input into the shape and direction of the music. One of my students recently said to me that he was trying to create improvisatory worlds that would be gratifying for the performers to inhabit.
What the listener experiences in these scenarios isn’t disregarded, but it sometimes becomes secondary to the experience of the performer. It’s as if composers, having lost the ability to communicate with listeners, have shifted their attention to the part of the process they can have a more direct impact on.
Of course, nothing has really changed – composers communicate with listeners as much as they ever have. The difference is one of attitude – a postmodern attitude, as it turns out.