"We are asked (to put it politely) for whom we are writing..." From his perspective as a composer, Roger Sessions discusses some basic questions raised by the experience of music: what do we mean by "knowing" a piece of music, or "understanding" it? In what ways is the relationship between composer and listener different today from what it was in the past, and what demands can each make on the other?
Music, like all nonverbal arts and certainly like mathematics and some branches of science, has its own dialectic, which is not that of words at all." Mr. Sessions warns against the pitfalls of metaphorical terms used to describe music, and explores the nature of musical form and communication.
It is the quality and character of the musical gesture that constitutes the essence of the music...." He discusses the performer, why his role is inestimably important, and why the "definitive performance" is a legend we can dispense with.
The conception itself is a musical image, and in bringing it to fuller realization, the composer is not pursuing a line of reasoning, but producing an object." Two chapters on composition offer an illuminating view of how a composer's mind works, how a musical idea takes shape and logically develops, what a musical train of thought is like.
The willing ear does not imply an undiscriminating ear, but the contrary: only a willing ear is a genuinely discriminating one." Mr. Sessions addresses the question of criteria and how the listener makes judgments about a piece of music. Concerning the new and experimental music now being written, he summarizes his own views in Mahler's comment, "The younger generation is always right."