Recently I was involved in a fascinating exchange with a composer. I was working with a student on a piece that contained some frankly unplayable measures in the current form. Now, it’s one thing to nut out difficult writing: I’m preparing the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion and I have found it extremely thorny! My preparation has involved an intricate process of working through the whole score back and forth with both Edna Golandsky and John Bloomfield over early morning Skype lessons. I have learned so much, and enjoyed the challenge of gradually transforming this massive piece into something that feels playable…and fun to play! But now that I have less practice time with a young child, I also have less patience to try to solve passages that will never be pianistic, no matter how good the choreography. So I prompted my student to email the composer to clarify some questions we had. We initially contacted the publishing company, who passed on our email. Within hours, the composer replied.
“Just between you and me, I have always felt it was a clumsy piece to play, and I’m surprised anyone has taken it up AND played it. One young fellow won a piano competition in Portugal with it. Wonders never cease!…. I do recognize the awkwardness, which I think mostly stems from the fact that I should have perhaps notated the chord commencing bar 28 as being spread…. Let me know if I can offer any further help, and thank you once again for choosing it to play.”
If a composer thinks his writing is so awkward that he is surprised anyone would perform it, then I would suggest redistributing, and / or editing when necessary is completely fine. It also seemed strange to me that while acknowledging the awkward writing, he did not propose altering the score to assist future performances.
If you have questions regarding a contemporary piece you are playing, why not contact the composer? Just as it is invaluable for us to be able to communicate with a living composer, so too it is important for them to receive feedback on their writing from living performers.