But Schoenberg is a fascinating figure, one of the few important composers who wrote things worth reading. His books on music contain many passages that are really worth thinking about. From the first page of his Fundamentals of Music Composition:
Without organization music would be an amorphous mass, as unintelligible as an essay without punctuation, or as disconnected as a conversation which leaps purposelessly from one subject to another.This thought leads you to some other ones. It makes you want to ask yourself, when you hear a piece of music, "how is it organized?" A lot of pop music these days is organized around a melodic 'hook' and a synthesized drum track. There may be artifacts of the older pop form which includes a verse, chorus and "middle eight" (a contrasting passage that may or may not be eight measures long). But pop more and more seems to be flattening out the musical content as more and more attention is devoted to the video: fashion, jewelry, sex and "attitude".
The surface of a piece of music is quite important, of course. This includes the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic content. But the next level down is the phrase structure. Music phrases are organized in two basic ways: as periods or as sentences. The musical sentence and how it differs from the period was the discovery of Arnold Schoenberg, by the way. I talked about that in this post. I will talk about the musical sentence in a future post.
But there are higher, or perhaps I should say deeper, levels of musical organization such as the binary dance forms or ternary forms. These terms just refer to how many sections the piece has. Another very important kind of musical organization is the sonata or sonata allegro form which is used in many pieces in both the Classical and Romantic periods. It is also called "first movement form" because it is typically used in the first movements of symphonies, sonatas and string quartets.
How music is organized is the primary problem that a composer has to deal with. Sure, an idea comes to you: a phrase perhaps, or a motif, or perhaps just a rhythm. Maybe you stumble across a harmonic idea. But now, what do you do with it? Does this phrase/melody/motif sound like it is part of a piano piece? A percussion solo? A symphony? What are the possibilities? What is the character of the idea? Beethoven would struggle for months or years with a musical idea until he could find what it should be doing or where. I think that is probably an indicator of the intensity of musical focus he could bear on an idea.
Myself, I'm getting a bit better at it, but still, if I hammer away at a piece for a few weeks or a month, I think I have accomplished something!
A fine composer of my acquaintance, when I asked him how he wrote his music, said, "I just write down the notes that sound good." Which, as short answers go, is as good as any.
Here is a piece that is organized in ways that no-one has yet figured out in much detail. I gave it a try in this post. Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 11: