Sunday, July 30, 2006

Unless you're a genius...

Unless you’re a genius...

This was the narrative when I was a teenager. Unless you’re a genius, it won’t be easy.

Pray that you aren’t a genius.

JS Bach.

JS Bach was one of the greatest musical composers who ever lived. His mastery could not be overstated. And yet, Bach was the very last choice among all the applicants for the post of Cantor at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche. He was chosen only after such a luminary as Johann Christoph Graupner could not be had. Some critics even went so far as to call him nothing more than an organ grinder. After his death, his wife died in poverty. A third of his cantatas, legend has it, were sold as fish-wrap. Meanwhile, the genteel mediocrity of younger composers like Johann Adolph Hasse were met with wide approval and stunning popularity.

Mozart.

Mozart was possibly one of the most consistently underemployed composers of the 18th century. Despite entertaining the Aristocracy as a child, that same Aristocracy flatly turned their backs on him when he was later in need of employment. Marie Antoinette, of beheading fame, personally sunk one of Mozart’s opportunities for employment calling him (and his father) little more than common beggars. Little good being a genius did Mozart... He died in debt and impoverished at the age of 36. Meanwhile, Salieri, the very poster child of mediocrity, lived to a successful old age. Salieri’s pupils included Beethoven and Schubert.

Beethoven.

Beethoven’s music was “blamed” on his deafness. Meanwhile, Ignaz Pleyel, a tunefully mediocre composer had become one of the most famous composers in Europe. Pleyel’s music is the only music of a classical composer who, contemporaneously, was played in America. He outlived Beethoven and died a rich man. Beethoven died in poverty.

Schubert

Schubert achieved some very limited success in his songs (none of the great publishing houses ever rewarded him with more than a pittance) , while the rest of his output was met with a kind of benign pity. Schubert, already a very shy man, frequently shelved his compositions with the slightest disapproval. He was never able to find employment and was forced to rely on friends and acquaintances. He died at the age of 31.

Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s initial reception was a hostile one. Robert Greene, an older contemporary & dramatist, considered Shakespeare to be an “upstart crowe”, an over ambitious actor (an insult) and a plagiarist. Greene later apologized, it seems. Although Shakespeare did well, he was not substantially more successful than some of his peers – like Thomas Heywood. In his own day he was considered, by many, to be a lesser dramatist than his friend and contemporary Ben Jonson. After the Restoration, it was Jonson’s plays which were to shape English drama, not Shakespeare’s. Beaumont and Fletcher’s collaborations were also considered to be superior to Shakespeare. If not for the effort of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, who published the first folio shortly after his death, many of Shakespeare’s works might have been lost (like Cardenio) or at least badly garbled (many Restoration dramatists ruthlessly altered and adapted his plays). The recognition of Shakespeare’s genius, like Bach’s, came nearly a century after his death.

Keats

His first book, containing poetry no worse than most of his contemporaries, was critically savaged. It was later said that Keats' early death was hastened by the even nastier reception of his last (and great) poems. Although his death was not caused by the critique, the fact that the legend exists says something for the level of antipathy aimed at the poet. He died at the age of 25.

Robert Frost

Our last example has a happy ending. The start of Frost’s career was anything but auspicious. In fact, the first half of Frost’s life was spent in complete obscurity. He was forty years old before his first poems were recognized, and not in his own country. It was after he had moved to England that his first book was published (with the help of Ezra Pound). Prior to his year in England editors, who would later compete to publish his poetry, soundly rejected him. In fact, some editors would later choose to publish the very same poems they had earlier rejected (much to Frost’s satisfaction). Frost’s greatest asset was a long life. If you are going to be a genius, and successful, live a long life.


Among the composers, only Bach was moderately good at self-promotion. Shakespeare was an astute man, knowing (perhaps more so than any other artist who has ever lived) that discretion is the better part of valor. If history is to be the judge, it teaches one that success in any given art (or any livelihood really) is not so much a matter of talent but of self promotion. Even the most mediocre, if he or she knows how to ingratiate his or herself to the tune of the times, will be more apt to live a long and successful life.

If you want to be successful, let your genius be self-promotion.

If you want to be a great artist, rest assured that you will be loved once you’re dead.

Best of all, be blessed with both talents.

36 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

Wasn't Beethoven chastised at one point for not showing proper deference to the aristocracy of kings and emperors? And didn't he respond to this admonishment by saying in effect, "kings are a dime a dozen but there is only one Beethoven."

How cool it must be to know you're good enough to say that!

12:25 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

I've heard multiple classic music conisseurs say that Schubert was their all-time fave.

Interesting stuff.

10:28 PM  
Blogger thepoetryman said...

It is amazing that we are the deaf and the blind in this...or maybe not so amazing...

10:12 AM  
Blogger 願望 said...

辛苦了!祝你愈來愈好!........................................

11:10 PM  
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9:36 AM  
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4:38 AM  
Blogger 彥宏 said...

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7:12 AM  
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4:44 AM  
Blogger HaroldM22 said...

you look nice in that color!............................................................

12:38 PM  
Blogger 廖淑凡 said...

好的開始,就是成功的一半。 ............................................................

1:19 AM  
Blogger ShilaLong嘉雯 said...

you have a good taste!............................................................

8:10 AM  
Blogger VinnieAuxie23254 said...

you have a good taste!............................................................

12:49 AM  
Blogger 溫淑芬 said...

生活總是起起伏伏,心情要保持快樂才好哦!!.................................................................

7:37 PM  
Blogger 林奕廷 said...

不只BLOG內容很棒留言也很精采 XDDDD

8:28 PM  
Blogger 吳婷婷 said...

It takes all kinds to make a world.............................................................

5:20 AM  
Blogger 珮君 said...

nice to know you, and glad to find such a good artical!..................................................................

11:49 AM  
Blogger 吳婷婷 said...

留言支持你~希望能看到更好的作品 ..................................................................

2:30 PM  
Blogger 佩璇佩璇 said...

HELLO~幫你推個文^^..................................................................

6:39 AM  
Blogger 冠宇 said...

新手上路哦~請大家多支持^_^..................................................................

6:41 AM  
Blogger 張雅筑張雅筑 said...

Riches serve a wise man but command a fool.............................................................

10:12 PM  
Blogger 林彥以林彥以 said...

人生像一杯茶,若一飲而盡,會提早見到杯底..................................................

11:50 AM  
Blogger 洪瑋婷洪瑋婷 said...

first catch your hare, then cook him. ..................................................

5:48 AM  
Blogger 陳宛伶陳宛伶 said...

認同您堅持和認真的態度,加油!支持你............................................................

2:27 AM  
Blogger 李亦陳宏堯茵 said...

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5:02 AM  
Blogger 麗王王珠 said...

Pen and ink is wits plough...................................................................

7:55 AM  
Blogger 凱v胡倫 said...

好的開始並不代表會成功,壞的開始並不代表是失敗..................................................

3:23 AM  
Blogger 凱許倫 said...

來給你加油打氣!!!保重!!!............................................................

11:01 PM  
Blogger 偉曹琬 said...

Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today.......................................................................

6:37 AM  
Blogger 童建李宜昌智 said...

好文不寂寞~支持!!!!@@a 搞錯了,這不是論壇推文 XDDD............................................................

7:36 PM  
Blogger 蕾蕾 said...

來塊巧克力吧~~心情會好哦~~...............................................................

9:46 PM  
Blogger 璇陳陳陳竹 said...

一定要保持最佳狀況呦,祝您開心..................................................................

1:20 AM  

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