I just read a blog where the writer says that the great pieces that he knows have been written by composers when they were in dire straights. (I’d quote him, but he clearly states we aren’t allowed to do so.) You can visit his site and the page I saw here. (Is one allowed to say “You can’t quote me”? What are the laws about this? And in my saying he says that I’m not allowed to quote him am I quoting him? Uh-oh.)

This reminds me of some folks in poetry who think only the suicidal can write good poetry. But what do you think? Must one live in AngstLand™ in order to write great music?

I understand what he’s saying … it does seem that a lot of composers were a mess, poor, depressed, insane … but is it a requirement?

And does it mean that a happy composer should just give it up?

What about performers? Some think one has to have experienced the depths of despair to play expressively. I was a pretty darn “angsty” oboist when I was younger. Not because I thought I had to be; I was just darn depressed. Now I’m a fairly content oboist. Do I play better? Worse? Or, because I really did suffer in misery for a time, am I more qualified to play the AngstMusic™?

Just wasting time here … because I can.


  1. I tend to think that if a composer needs to be channelling angst in order to write, then they aren’t a very good composer.
    Music articulates much more than an emotional state, and music that does not aim beyond this superficial subject matter is (in my opinion) insulting to both performers AND audiences.

    One need only glance across the thousands of masterpieces written when the composer was NOT in dire straights. The writer’s assertion to the contrary betrays a frighteningly narrow range of musical listening.

    I suspect, however, that the blogwriter is not fully understanding his own point. I think that what he is reacting to is a lack of external stimuli, rather than a lack of angst.

  2. Patricia Mitchell

    Good thoughts, Robert … and now that you write it I think, yes, the writer really wasn’t understanding his own point!

    Good point. 🙂

    I really used to think misery was where I needed to be to play works that were full of angst. Not so! I think, in fact, I probably play better when I’m NOT in misery.

    Well, most of the time.

    As to composing, though, I confess to having absolutely no experience, other than my silly improvisations. (I improvise only with students, while checking reeds, or when i’m doing sound checks in the pit while playing musical theater.)

    And thanks for writing. I appreciate hearing from you!