Improvising our existence: the unpredictable life of a modern composer

Max RichterWed 1st October 2014

Today's fragmented musical culture presents an opportunity to follow your own creative impulses

There is no single working model of how to be a composer today. Music culture, in common with the rest of our culture, has become fragmented so that we can't really define a single way of participating within it - we have to improvise our existence. This situation is disturbing in one sense - the 20th (or maybe 19th) century template we took for granted of how a composer works can very rarely sustain a career today, but this is also liberating in the sense that, since there is no career path, we are free to follow our enthusiasms. So, paradoxically, the atomisation of the audience, and the disappearance of record sales leads us back to our individual connection to the material itself - it is the only thing we have, after all!

Working processes have developed to include a variety of different means, including in my case the use of various bits of technology which complement the pencil, paper and piano which still form the fundamental part of my writing tool kit. The computer is certainly indispensable when working collaboratively with other media. If I am working on a ballet or a film, say, the machine allows me to make an object that can communicate an outline of an idea more directly to a non-musician than any amount of chat. I also use the synthesisers and computer as sound sources in themselves, as can be heard in my recent Vivaldi Recomposed project, for instance. I see this as a natural continuation of the search for new tone colours which has accompanied the compositional process throughout the entire history of music. Currently the focus of this impulse is in the realm of the computer; in former times it drove the development of the orchestra or the piano.

Coming back to the original question about the working model for composers today - this is a question that we can only answer on an individual level, by navigating our own path - a path whose direction is necessarily impossible to predict.

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Max Richter

Max Richter makes his Royal Albert Hall debut on Saturday October 4 bringing to life The Four Seasons Recomposed, his ground-breaking re-imagining of Vivaldi’s masterpiece, with violinist Daniel Hope – the album is out now on Deutsche Grammophon. 'Berlin by Overnight' by Max Richter and Daniel Hope, is out now on digital and vinyl.

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