Being a Classical Composer in the 21st Century

Classical Music (a term that usually designates the musical production of the historical period extending from the early eighteenth to mid-twentieth century) is undoubtedly one of the greatest cultural treasures of our civilization. From Vivaldi or Bach’s baroque to Rachmaninov or Richard Strauss’ post-romanticism, through the “Viennese” classicism of Haydn and Mozart, the incipient romanticism of Beethoven or Schubert and the full romanticism of Chopin, Schumann and Brahms, the tonal language, wherein all these authors were expressed, has taken, throughout the ages, different styles, without changing its essence. And although for more than a hundred years, the avant-garde has been proposing many alternative languages (both in music and other arts), the classical tonal system has never lost its preeminence in popular taste.

Concert organizers tirelessly schedule major works of the repertoire, record labels endlessly publish new versions of blockbuster pieces, and conservatories around the world still teach tonal language fundamentals to new generations of musicians… while they are convinced that the practice of this system lacks real meaning today.

It exists in our society a kind of tacit agreement under which the classical language is considered “exhausted”. It is widely believed that Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, “said it all” in this area, and we, the current musicians, cannot add anything else. So, classical music becomes a closed field, and its language is officially declared a “dead language”.

But tonal language is alive. We can understand it. And if we can understand it, we can speak in it. Languages cannot be “exhausted”. Languages are only a vehicle, a container. You can exhaust the content but not the container. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and others filled classical syntax with their own and unique content. We can keep doing the same thing with our own content which will always be different and personal.

The truth is that none of the alternative systems that have been proposed over the last century has managed to be universally imposed, as it did at the time, solely based on merit, the tonal system we now call classical. Only a universal system, shared and understood by all, can transmit, within a given culture, universal feelings. If classical language is still able to produce new beauty, why should we deprive ourselves of it, in a world like ours, which is so lacking of this quality?

It is not to “imitate” or “look back”. It is simply taking advantage of a highly developed syntactic structure, decanted through the centuries, whose effectiveness in conveying feelings and emotions is well-established, and whose link with public awareness has never reached break, despite repeated attempts to divert it toward innovative proposals… not always consistent.

I cannot compare myself with Mozart, of course. But to compose your own music it’s not necessary to be Mozart, in the same way that to write a simple book of poems it’s not necessary to be Garcilaso de la Vega. Each one up to his level. This is not a competition. The important thing is to do things honestly, sincerely believing in what you do and always trying to do your best.