[Smt-talk] Theorists and composers

Marcel de Velde marcel at justintonation.com
Fri Jul 6 05:26:37 PDT 2012

Hello Dimitar,

> I agree with Schoenberg that [pure] theorists are masters of nothing, that some of them know this very well within themselves, and for that reason they feel intimidated among musicians with genuine experience.

> One big misunderstanding, in my view, is the false assumption harbored by many theorists, that music theory is science. Fortunately, it is not, and to their disappointment I must say that theory is of no value if it is based on speculations alone.

> The more a theorist is lacking practical knowledge in fundamental disciplines, the more he/she is  interested in"abstract" theories. But they cannot hide the lack of knowledge. They do not make a big scholar. Without practical knowledge, you are a speculator. Period.

Those are some strong statements I must disagree with.

A large part of music / music theory IS science.
Even though we are talking about how our brain interprets certain parts 
of music, this does not mean there are no scientific approaches to this 
and rules to be found.
To say music theory does not have science in it is similar to saying for 
instance that psychology isn't science.

Where do you think western music would be without Pythagoras for instance?
It is the basis for our notation and our tuning (even though there are 
theoretical disagreements about tuning it is still the result of his 
Western music could not be like it is today without the groundwork built 
by pure theorists, there could be no Beethoven, Mozart, etc.

I also take personal offense (well not really offended ;-) but I do feel 
the need to defend my "field").
I am such a "pure" music theorist. I have done pure research in music 
theory for the past 6 years. I have not written a single full 
composition in this period.
One of my goals (which I have recently mostly reached btw) is to create 
the theory/understanding necessary to harmonize arabic / maqam melodies.
There is to my knowledge currently nobody in the world who can harmonize 
maqams without losing the unique expressions of a maqam's microtones.
This is a theory problem. A problem that apparently needs to be solved 
with a deep theoretical / scientific understanding of pitch relations, 
as thousands of years of attempts by musicians have not been able to 
produce the solution / insights needed.
Once found it will be able to be taught and enable future composers to 
create new music. A direct practical result of pure music theory.

I'm not saying that music theory as it stands today does not have 
limitations for actual practical music making. Of course it does.
But this is a result of too little knowledge. I hope more people become 
pure music theorists and try to solve these limitations.
We live in the 21st century, I think it's about time music theory gets 
to a point where for instance a computer program can auto compose in 
almost infinite styles to a level of past masters.

Kind regards,

Marcel de Velde
marcel at justintonation.com
Zwolle, Netherlands

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