Songwriting and Composing

Why is songwriting referred to as a ‘craft’ and yet the composing of a sonata, a string quartet, a symphony or even a lied is called an ‘art’? There seems to be some implication that the former is simply a skill but that the latter has more to do with creativity and expression. But surely the greatest songs, the songs that capture the thoughts and emotions that are shared by millions of people, show as much artistry as, for example, any lied by Schubert. A song that’s written from a songwriter’s heart, and not one that’s written simply to make money, expresses not only his/her deepest emotions but also reaches out to listeners across the generations. My favourite song is Burt Bacharach’s ‘Say a Little Prayer’; I never get sick of it and I find it difficult to believe that there’s anyone who doesn’t like it. This song was written in 1967 but remains as vibrant and touching as it ever was.

8 thoughts on “Songwriting and Composing

  1. I also have favourite song that is a work of art. It is by Tom Waits and is called ” Christmas card from a Hooker in Minneapolis “. The sleazy bluesy piano accompaniment is a beautifully precise vehicle for the calculated sentimentality of the hooker’s attempt at beguiling her ex lover. The song, humorously, disguises the bleak and hopeless desperation of her life. There is more genuine art here than the self important, self indulgent symphonies of Mahler.

  2. i must say a thing to the comment from duncan for mahler. i ask him to please listen to der abshied from das lied von der erde. here is the most beautiful song for love and death. it is the last words repeats of -ewig- that means -forever- and must for sure break the haert of duncan.

  3. Duncan and Ludwig, I think we must all stop making too many sweeping generalisations. Some Mahler is palatable, and I’m sure the Tom Wait song is superb, Duncan (I don’t know it but I’ll look it up on YouTube). I think my point was that some ‘popsongs’ deserve to be called ‘works of art’ and there’s some ‘classical’ music that doesn’t deserve to be called ‘art’.

  4. No, Elaine. I think the lyrics of this song would not be moving if they stood simply as a piece of poetry or prose. These are definitely lyrics – that is, they work with the music to make their point. The simple, bluesy music is part of the gesture of the song.

  5. To Philmus; That was exactly my point.
    To Ludwig; I’ve listened to Der Abshied and yes it broke my heart. However it is 30 mins long and could have had the same result 20 mins earlier.

  6. Duncan, I think that was a rather insensitive remark you made towards Ludwig. However, I did find it funny. Actually, I want to make a riposte to my own post, having spent a week playing through a thick book full of love songs on the piano at my mother’s nursing home. The reason why songwriting is regarded (in the main) as a craft rather than as an art is because songs are so formulaic. Not just in the structure, but also in the chord sequences and the shape of the melodies, and the change of note values at the chorus, etc. One can learn how to do all these things and produce a reasonable song. Composing ‘serious’ music is not about following formulae.

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