This article discusses the artistic practice of composing and centres on cooperative networks in which composers depend on the motivation, participation and knowledge of various professionals involved in the composition process. Taking Howard S. Becker’s theory of “art worlds” into account, I will concentrate on the dynamic cooperation between composers and musicians, in order to illustrate the extent to which musicians form an important group of professionals during the composition process through their musical expertise.
My argument is based on five case studies of Austrian art music composers documenting composition processes from the beginning of a given work up until the final rehearsal before the first public performance. The documentation included composition diaries, interviews and participant observation of rehearsals. Further, I draw on fifteen additional interviews with composers on their emotional, technical, organisational, and artistic challenges during their creative work.*1 *(1)
Collective action and cooperative networks – Howard S. Becker’s “art worlds”
Theoretical approaches to art offer many ways to investigate an artwork. Looking at a musical composition, for example, one can focus on composers as individuals working alone or on analysing scores in order to understand the inner logic of the “work itself”. Since the 1960s, however, theories from philosophy, literature and sociology have constantly expanded perspectives on art by questioning the role of institutions, the practices of recipients or how aesthetic values are constituted, and hence have focused on the social organization of art (cf. Danto 1964; (*6) Warning 1975; (*11) van Maanen 2009 (*10)). American sociologist Howard S. Becker, for example, challenged the notion of a composition as a “work itself” by asking:
“What constitutes the ‘work itself’ in the case of a musical composition? Is it the score as prepared by the composer and, perhaps, vouched for by scholars as being the authentic real work as the composer intended it? Or is it the work as created in performance by players or singers? And if the latter, is some particular performance the work itself? Or is every performance to be taken separately as a work in itself?” (Becker 2006: 22) (*2)
Becker argues that art should be seen “as collective action” (Becker 1974) (*1) which includes its production, distribution, advertising, reception and evaluation. Concentrating on the process of making art, he suggests “a genetic approach” (Becker 2006: 25) (*2) which questions the interactions of all participants and looks closely at how they participate. Similar to sociologist Herbert Blumer’s concept of “joint action” (Blumer 1986: 16–20), (*4) Becker foregrounds temporal and social dimensions of art to gain “an understanding of the complexity of the cooperative networks through which art happens” (Becker 2008: 1, (*3) emphasis added; cf. Zembylas 2006: 26 (*13)).