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Letter to the Editor

Peter Billam replies to Basil Ramsey

I would like to thank Basil Ramsey for mentioning my web page in his article 'Two Camps' of March 15th.

My thesis was that Internet Commerce now allows the writers of music to sell scores directly to the readers, with the profound consequence that 'Composers will prosper if they can write music that is a pleasure to read, and that rewards repeated readings'. I have in mind the work of my favourite composers, such as Bach and Schubert, which is indeed a lasting pleasure to read, and is never far from the top of my piano.

Basil Ramsey replies that composers are divided into two camps; 'Composers whose every note is carefully placed with an eye to effect and accessibility in the market place are a different breed to the minority whose music stems from an inner compulsion without hint of compromise', or in other words those that 'offer the comfort of music planned to the last note as "showstoppers", or uncompromising essays in a style forged from their own dictates'.

That may be, but I wonder which camp Bach lies in, for example, or Schubert. Certainly both have written showstoppers, such as the B-minor flute badinerie, or the opening of the Unfinished Symphony; both write from an inner compulsion, in styles forged from their own dictates; both are able to compromise, such as in the Brandenburg Concerti or the Dances for Piano; and both also to write deeply personal works such as the Art of Fugue, or the Sonata Op 78.

Indeed Bach and Schubert seem to move so freely between the 'Two Camps', that it's very hard to know which 'Camp' to fit them in. For me, as I sit at my piano, the important fact about Bach and Schubert is that they both wrote 'music that is a pleasure to read, and that rewards repeated readings'. Certainly I love to play the Art of Fugue, and the B-minor badinerie, and the Sonata Op 78, and even the Dances for Piano !

Basil Ramsey says 'Maybe the biggest challenge for today's composer is publicity - not the simple distribution of copies for review, or even samples to appropriate performers.' But I think this view, the view of music as an exercise in social climbing, in 'grasping high profiles', has been shown to be bankrupt by the events of the last fifty years. Perhaps Basil Ramsey's theory of the 'Two Camps' is based on composers he has known personally, rather than composers whose work he enjoys playing ? The biggest challenge is in fact in publication and distribution, and this is where the Internet must now be used, not in 'campaigns', but in real E-Commerces that reconnect the writers of the music to the readers.

As I note in the press release, 'When the church was paying composers, they wrote liturgical counterpoint. When the aristocracy was paying, they wrote divertimenti and dance suites. For music publishers, they wrote songs, piano duets and string quartets. For the touring virtuosi, they wrote showpieces, and so on.' So the major stylistic eras have been determined by who was paying the composers. The way composers have been paid for the last fifty years, mostly by employment in Universities, or by commissions from performers who have been given grants, had never been tried before, and it has not given good results. Meanwhile, novelists have been paid according to the pleasure they give the reader, and this has resulted in one of the great creative eras in the history of the novel.

I hope that readers will feel free to check out some further writings on this and related subjects at and , as well as my own Internet Commerce at . I would be pleased to help set up similar Internet Commerces for other composers who are able to write music that is a pleasure to read, and that rewards repeated readings.

My thanks to Keith Bramich for inviting me to respond in this way.

Regards, Peter Billam

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