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#3109500 04/23/21 07:54 AM
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When I'm trying to learn a difficult piece, I wonder how the composer was able to write piano music that most people can't even play without years of training and practice, ie. Chopin's Ballade No. 4.

How do they do it? How do the beautiful melodies and harmonies come to these creative geniuses? Are they "tuned" into a specific channel from which they "download" the music, like Mozart?

I heard one musical prodigy(don't recall the name) say that musical melodies, etc., are always going through her head. I, mere mortal that I am, would simply call that an "earworm".

Inspired muses among us, give us a glimpse into this musical mystery.

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Originally Posted by sheana
When I'm trying to learn a difficult piece, I wonder how the composer was able to write piano music that most people can't even play without years of training and practice, ie. Chopin's Ballade No. 4.

How do they do it? How do the beautiful melodies and harmonies come to these creative geniuses? Are they "tuned" into a specific channel from which they "download" the music, like Mozart?

I heard one musical prodigy(don't recall the name) say that musical melodies, etc., are always going through her head. I, mere mortal that I am, would simply call that an "earworm".

Inspired muses among us, give us a glimpse into this musical mystery.


You are referencing Alma Deutscher



"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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The other side of this is, maybe they were just so so, and the standard operators of fame, luck, proximity to the aristocracy, ease of discovery of earlier musical syntax played a larger part in etching them into this territory of mysticism.

The guy who discovers a new element would get alot more recognition, whereas people around him and later scientists who did equally difficult and prolific work on the subject may not receive nearly as much attention.

I'm personally not convinced that the music by the classical greats were significant better than that written by the other diligent artists of the same time periods.

It's like shakespeare and the theatre, he's basically just rambling alot of the time, and wrote a bunch of sex stuff. Then the audience takes over and the echo chamber effect arbitrarily brings one artist ahead of the rest.

We also have to be very careful of art critics and historians because they're parasitic in nature, by echoing that the subjects of their writing are gods, they elevate their own work by leeching on that fame which may just be sets of random events.

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They do it through very hard work. Mozart complained in a letter about people thinking that writting music was easy to him, while reality was he had to make a lot of effort and study.

Also there's a quote from Bach where he says that anyone who worked so hard as him could achieve the same things he did.

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Originally Posted by EinLudov
I'm personally not convinced the music by the classical greats were significant better than the other diligent artists of the same time periods.
Are you sure?

Just compare Mozart v Salieri......ooops, still thinking about that movie smirk .

OK, compare Mozart v Clementi (who did do battle once for the benefit of Joseph II: Mozart, of course, played Twinkle, Twinkle: great composer-pianists like him don't need to show off with Islamey wink ):

Mozart's Great G minor:


Clementi's Great G major:


Which one is memorable - inspired?

Let's check out their piano music:



"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Ubu #3109541 04/23/21 09:06 AM
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Ubu, everything I ever heard or read about Mozart said his composing was almost like taking dictation. Perhaps this is a very romanticized version of the truth. He had to have worked very hard, but I disagree that anyone can achieve his level through hard work. Their has to be some innate talent there. I'm not saying that I am correct in my opinion. Recent research has found that we are capable of much more than we think, and our limits may be in proportion to the beliefs instilled in us from an early age.

I'd much prefer if what you say is the truth.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
OK, compare Mozart v Clementi
I haven't got time to compare the symphonies (and how could anything compare to Mozart's #40?), but I love, love, love the F-sharp minor sonata by Clementi. I think it's an amazingly modern composition for the time, much more a 'romantic' piece than most of its contemporaries. The second movement is almost Chopin-like. Having said that, I don't think Horowitz plays the first movement con espressione at all. I would like it a bit slower and, well, with more expression.

But I also love love love Mozart's A-minor sonata. So there's that.

For me, most great composers were larger than life. I can't begin to understand how Mozart was able to write all that he wrote in his short life. 27 piano concertos, 8 or 10 opera's, 40+ symphonies, sonatas, chamber music ... I mean, How?? I have a manuscript copy of the Rondo 511, and there's literally not one correction in the writing. I truly believe he composed in his head and only had to write it down. Which is how Brahms did it as well, by the way. He went for a walk, came back, and wrote down a new piece.

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Originally Posted by Ostinato
Originally Posted by bennevis
OK, compare Mozart v Clementi
I haven't got time to compare the symphonies (and how could anything compare to Mozart's #40?), but I love, love, love the F-sharp minor sonata by Clementi. I think it's an amazingly modern composition for the time, much more a 'romantic' piece than most of its contemporaries. The second movement is almost Chopin-like. Having said that, I don't think Horowitz plays the first movement con espressione at all. I would like it a bit slower and, well, with more expression.

But I also love love love Mozart's A-minor sonata. So there's that.

For me, most great composers were larger than life. I can't begin to understand how Mozart was able to write all that he wrote in his short life. 27 piano concertos, 8 or 10 opera's, 40+ symphonies, sonatas, chamber music ... I mean, How?? I have a manuscript copy of the Rondo 511, and there's literally not one correction in the writing. I truly believe he composed in his head and only had to write it down. Which is how Brahms did it as well, by the way. He went for a walk, came back, and wrote down a new piece.
It's also very possible Mozart played it all on the piano first, made sure the notes were to his liking and then wrote it down. This is how I write...Actually, I don't write anything down, I just record a performance on piano lol.

On the flip side, I've heard Leonard Bernstein talk about looking over Beethoven manuscripts and he said there was an insane amount of corrections and things crossed out. This was him talking about symphony 7 mvmt 2. It seems so simple and easy and every note just makes sense, but apparently Beethoven had a heck of a time getting there.

As for the OP, I agree with the above posters that said it's hard work. I believe I heard somewhere Gershwin was at the piano 12 hours a day? Not sure if that's a myth, but I would imagine he split his time between practicing, studying and composing throughout those 12 hours. I recall hearing Erik Satie made it part of his daily routine that he studied scores for about an hour or two. Even if you just treat composing like you would a normal work day, you're putting in 40 hrs/week, and that is bound to yield a lot of results. You ask how it's possible to think up such difficult works? When you spend so much time day in and day out year after year first of all *learning* difficult works eventually they become absorbed and internalized. You don't have to think about "which chord will i play next?" they just come out of your fingers. How do you think jazz musicians get so good at improvising?

And as you go on your writing journey your bag of tricks becomes deeper and deeper, so the stuff you're able to pull on the fly becomes more nuanced and interesting. I wrote a piece about a month ago in F minor, just noodling around, and I instantly knew (from studying so much music) that the middle part of the melody could hint at tonicizing Db (by way of V/VI), that I could have a B section in F major if I wanted, and maybe a C section in Bb major, and maybe it could be a waltz, too. Without even playing a single note, I had ideas for the direction of the piece just based on my past experience. This will all grow and get more nuanced.

I do truly believe it's hard work. I remember a kid telling me in 8th grade he knew a guy who learned all of Crazy Train by ear! I said "That's not possible! No way he did that!" and now here I am, and learning music by ear is how I do it 50% of the time, and I'm pretty good at picking out chord progressions as well. Not great, but still a level of skill I didn't think possible for me to achieve.

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Originally Posted by sheana
When I'm trying to learn a difficult piece, I wonder how the composer was able to write piano music that most people can't even play without years of training and practice, ie. Chopin's Ballade No. 4.

How do they do it? How do the beautiful melodies and harmonies come to these creative geniuses?

As for your questions:

I do believe everyone may be overlooking a most obvious source, i.e., the creator, God -- and, I say this meaning that different people have various "gifts" and "talents" since this is the very reason that one individual can excel at being a genius scientist -- Albert Einstein, for example -- and, other genius talent and extraordinary gifts can be found in the composers. The level of the talent and/or gift can vary from person to person although the greatest composers have this natural ability to the highest degree and one can then add "hard work" to the rest of it.

Genius can certainly be said of composers like Chopin who wrote the 4th Ballade -- and, it happens to be one of the greatest compositions ever penned. Such a piece must be a gift from God or is somehow innately part of Chopin's unique talent and genius. Thought I would share my own recording of this amazing work:

https://fidbak.audio/grandbb71/player/31c8d859b116/e4731f5625ac

As I am merely an advanced amateur pianist and there are certainly better performances to be heard (at professional technical level) although this piece resonates deeply with my own soul (being of Polish descent like Chopin) and there is no other work for me that evokes this extremely wide gamut of emotion in just a few minutes. My performance offers a very slow tempo in which I attempt to bring out the dark brooding sadness and sorrow that is unique to the opening F-minor theme.

The true gift of genius (in music composition) is given to very few.

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Yes, but how did God do it ? ;-)

To the OP: I have wondered about this myself. The first time I played the moonlight sonata 1st movement I was so swept away I couldn't understand how someone can come up with something so relatively simple and so genius at the same time. It can only be a combination of talent, stubbornness and very hard work.

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Start at a very young age like before 5 and practice 10h/day...


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Originally Posted by ErfurtBob
Yes, but how did God do it ? ;-)

To the OP: I have wondered about this myself. The first time I played the moonlight sonata 1st movement I was so swept away I couldn't understand how someone can come up with something so relatively simple and so genius at the same time. It can only be a combination of talent, stubbornness and very hard work.


I think talent, stubbornness and very hard work are certainly necessary, but they are not sufficient. Genius is required too.

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Usually you have to be quite ugly as well.

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Practice for the sake of learning pieces can get you up the ladder but...

you notice many performers don't just play great compositions by other people, they are able to improvise on the spot...

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Originally Posted by KlinkKlonk
Usually you have to be quite ugly as well.

LOL! True though.

It comes in different ways and directly from different levels. Always putting in time. Always some talent. Always has to do with a good mindset. Experience. Approach. Ability to still mind and focus or go into the zone. But different levels of spirit, mental, emotional, imagination.

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Originally Posted by sheana
Ubu, everything I ever heard or read about Mozart said his composing was almost like taking dictation. Perhaps this is a very romanticized version of the truth.

Most likely it is. I've read accounts of him that say he was able to recite and have copied down most of the score for Don Giovanni from memory. I think that's part of how it gets confused in the subsequent re-tellings. We know from history that Mozart had a fantastic, probably eidetic memory. It is possible that he was simply able to remember with exacting detail things he had done or composed already, even if he had not himself written them down before, while he struggled with the more complex pieces. Once the dam was broken, he could simply write it all out at once to the amazement of those around him, who could then assume that the process for him must be simple.

I don't know this for a fact, of course (I have never met Mozart - he won't take my calls for some reason), but it seems likely given that he told more than one person, including Constanze near the end of his life, how he struggled sometimes in composing.

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Speaking of Mozart vs. Clementi:
Here's Clementi's Sonata in B flat major. op.24/2. He composed it in the 1780s, and Mozart heard it before composing the Magic Flute.

In Germany there's a saying: Besser gut geklaut als schlecht erfunden (better well stolen than badly invented). Apparently Mozart was aware of this. wink


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It is a combination of natural talent and being given the opportunity to study music, theory, composition, and performance.

Handel once said that Telemann could sit at a desk and write out an orginal 8-part motet of high musical quality as one would write a letter. There are two implications of this-- there are great composers who were able to just write down complex music that came to them in their head, and Handel worked harder than Telemann on his compositions. Telemann was probably the most prolific composer of all time.

I've read that when Mozart was a baby or toddler and was set down in front of a piano, instead of the usual random banging on the keys, he would pick out fifths, octaves, and possibly other consonant intervals, having figured them out through trial-and-error. And his father Leopold was a minor composer who provided musical education for Wolfgang.


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In Mozart's own words (translated of course):

Originally Posted by Mozart
"People make a mistake who think that my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over."

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This talent myth is just a myth, to 99% at least. What you need is passion. Some people just love to do certain things, so they do it a lot. They don't spare themselves any effort to improve. After a while, when their diligence starts to pay off, others say "ooh, what a talent, I could NEVER do that myself!"

That is, unfortunately, to belittle all this hard work. You think that if you "have the gift", you just stroll to the piano, open the lid, and then play the most wonderful things with little or no effort. But often that is not true. You use this talent thing to explain why YOU cannot do what So-so-star can do, "he has talent, I have not".

There is, however, some physical "talent" you really have to be born with - a ballet dancer, for instance, simply has to have a certain body - slender, flat-chested, agile ancles, 180 degree turnout from the hips and so on. But if you happen to look like Dolly Parton or like Warwick Davies, you cannot become a ballet dancer no matter what. And the same goes for athletes, basket ball players and so on, they need a certain body type.

But pianists? They don't need anything extreme. A normal body type and normal musicality is enough. The rest is, as we say, mostly transpiration. And, again, passion. Without passion, you will not be able to work as hard as you need (or you will hate it in long terms). The professional pianists I know, work so incredibly hard, much harder than most people understand.

When I was a child, I dreamed of becoming a novelist. That was my big goal for so many years. I read and read and I wrote and I wrote. Long stories, short stories, silly stories, truly bad stories, copycat stories. When I got older I studies books about writing techniques. I also started an ambitious novel project. At first it was a sad copy of "Lord of the Rings" but during the years it evolved to something else. I worked with that novel for nearly 20 years until I decided it was good enough, then I sent it to a published and it got accepted on the spot and the novel got published and I got good reviews. Yay! I also made a lot of friends in the writing communities on the Internet and they all flattered me. They said I was hugely talented. Every time I rolled my eyes and thought "if they only knew how much I have worked with this, then they would not call me talented!" Little did I know by then that both Michelangelo and Mozart said similar things. Not that I am at their level, but I sure understand what they meant! The opening chapter in my novel must be one of the most revised pieces of text in literature history - at least that is how I felt. Sometimes I thought I must be the WORST writer in history, because all this work seemed insane ...

Sadly, this happened 20 years ago and where am I today? Well, not at the Nobel Prize. I became a mother and the issues with my children made me postphone my writing career. I still tell myself that I WILL start writing again, it is just on hold ... but truth is also that I have lost my passion for writing, my life is so full of other things. I used to stay up half the night, every night, just to write! I counted wealth in "writing opportunities". My dream vacation consisted of a good computer and oceans of undisturbed writing time ...

So, do I have an exceptional writing talent? No, I don't think so. I have developed this ability through diligent work, because it was fun. It was my biggest pleasure, something I did rather than watching TV or hanging out with friends. When I got the question "what would you do if you won big at the lotery?", what did you think my answer was???

Alma Deutscher said that she has lots of melodies in her head. If that is being a genius, then I am a writing genius. I am good at what you call improvised story-telling. Give me a starting point - a photo, a sentence, a bunch of words, and within a few minutes I start to write, and I always surprise myself because I never saw that plot come in beforehand. But genius? Not at all. I just look in my inventory, the one I have in my brain. I constantly collect ideas there, I have learned to look for them wherever I go. Movies, gossip, news, casual conversations on the bus, everything is useful. So I supposed that is how composers work too. Not with words or plots, but with harmonies and small snippets of melodies.

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