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A composer ( Latin componere ' to put together'; also composer , composer , composer ) creates musical works ( compositions ) and owns exclusive or partial intellectual property in them . Outdated terms are also composer or composer .

The result of the composition process is then presented as a composition, usually in notated form (traditionally by hand or directly as a notation on the computer). In particular in electronic music , but increasingly also in all genres, the works of which are only fully created when working in recording studios, the works are also finally determined in the form of recordings . The music of a composer is made to sound by interpreters ( musicians , singers ) or realized in the studio.


Traditionally, the occupational title of composer denoted an author of musical texts intended for interpretation. The composer is the creator of a musical work that was originally considered instrumental music without text and was referred to as vocal music with text . A composer can also be a lyricist, but other people can also act as pure lyricists . This can be both the texting of an existing melody and the setting of an existing text. In a broader sense, vocal music means all compositions that include voice, even without text or singing (e.g. vocal noises instead of language or speaking instead of singing). In the language used by the collecting society GEMA , however, every original owner of a copyright to a musical work is referred to as a composer. The fact that the majority of the works recorded by GEMA and other collecting societies are now generally not or only partially noted indicates a change in the terminology. At the latest since the advent of electronic music and the fixation of works in the recording and editing process, there has been a divided job description with numerous conceptual delimitation difficulties.

Legal issues

Music and text are separate parts of the work that are simply combined with one another for joint exploitation in accordance with Section 9 UrhG. It is a so-called work combination of two independent copyrights of music and text. The association of works at least tacitly establishes a civil law society between lyricist and composer. According to the prevailing opinion , both text and music may be used separately despite the work connection without the consent of the other author , as long as this does not affect the joint use of the previous work connection.

According to GEMA's regular distribution plan, the beneficiaries involved receive as a composer for the public performance of an unpublished work of light music 8/12 and the lyricist 4/12. If a music publisher is involved in the song , the share for the lyricist is reduced to 3/12, the composer receives 5/12 and the publisher 4/12. A participating arranger (processor) receives 1/12 and reduces the composer's share to 4/12. However, this distribution regulation can be changed in an individual contract.

If several names or groups are listed equally under the music title, it is assumed that those named are equal creators of both parts of the work, i.e. text and melody in a song. In the cited judgment, the BGH also made it clear that it is customary for a song to identify the author by mentioning them by name.

Differentiations in the composing profession

A distinction is made between composers and arrangers in many musical genres , who write a musical set of notes or an arrangement for other ensembles for given melodies and harmonies . Often improvisation templates are viewed as not belonging to the sphere of composition, because, in contrast to improvisation, this is based on the concept of the completed work. In the 20th century, however, the avant-garde questioned the concept of the work in favor of the open work of art - a conscious break with the tradition of composing. For example, Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote text fragments for his works of intuitive music to set the mood for the musicians, which represent the sole compositional basis for an organically created piece of music by the improvisers that builds on it. On the other hand, since the 1960s at the latest, the main form of distribution of a composition has been the sound recording, whereby a recorded improvisation can also be fixed and thus assume the character of isolation. The criterion for the character of the work in the copyright sense is only the achievement of a "height of creation" (which is rather minimal in the case of music) in an independent intellectual creation, which must typically be fixable in a music-typical medium (e.g. sheet music, CD). The demarcation to the fine arts and to newly created genres (such as sound installations ) are fluid, but this rarely poses problems in practice.

Anyone who creates works in this sense is therefore viewed by GEMA as a composer, which does not necessarily correspond with the public opinion. The job title “composer” is not protected, so autodidacts , music educators, improvisers, performing musicians, etc. can also use this name. As a collecting society , GEMA tries to classify compositions and composers differently with a complex rating system, so that remuneration should not be based solely on the frequency of performance, cast or duration, but also on criteria that should take into account the "value" of the work and the author. An objective classification is on the one hand radically called into question by the musical avant-garde, whose works explicitly derive their value from the constant break with such criteria (which is why, for example, manual criteria can no longer reliably provide information about the " height of creation "). On the other hand, there has been a comprehensive differentiation of completely divergent music styles since the 1970s, the specific quality criteria of which have in part not yet been recorded in musicology, which makes an objective classification difficult.

In addition, the self-designation composer outside of the traditional and academic-institutionalized areas (bourgeois music culture and “established avant-garde”) is mostly unusual. Instead, composer is then only a designation in relation to GEMA and the exploiters of works, while self-designations can be, for example, "producer" (in electronic music), "singer-songwriter" or simply "artist".

Differentiation of professional and occasional composers and ranking criteria

The distinction between professional and amateur composers is not easy beyond the tax assessment, as there are many different influential composers who:

Determining the importance of living composers in particular is just as problematic. First of all, composers can primarily be differentiated according to the area in which they can legitimately locate their work (a factual improvisation of an interpreter based on a concept score by Dieter Schnebel , for example, is the performance of a composition of new music , which can only be explained by the localization performance of its creator ). The following can be used as indicators of a composer in the academic-institutional field who is determined by the self-image of representing the contemporary continuation of Central European art music (and at the same time gives an indication of the composer's rank):

  • Completed composition studies at a recognized university
  • the existence of works that can also be performed “true to the work” by musicians other than the composer (regardless of the level of craftsmanship required),
  • Awards, scholarships and other sector-specific funding,
  • Commissions from relevant performers, ensembles and institutions,
  • the appearance of reviews in the specialist press and musicological analyzes,
  • a publisher that produces the often complex sheet music for performances,
  • the full-time exercise of the profession (in contrast to the casual or hobby composer), but often supported by teaching at a university or part-time work as an interpreter or conductor.
  • Membership in academies
  • the training of own students and influencing the work of composers of the next generation.

The internal importance of such a composer within the academic field can be easily read off from these relatively rigid criteria, such as the list of clients, performers or prices, due to the strong institutionalization. The cultural, overall social or even historical rank can only be grasped to a limited extent, which can be seen on the one hand in the unbroken validity and continued influence of compositions from the formerly "trivial" areas, such as jazz and pop music a long-term effect or even influence on the academic art music has been agreed. If such long-term effects can be considered a criterion of artistic value, even the most important representatives of the academic field of the 20th century have aged relatively worse than the top representatives of jazz. On the other hand, composers endowed with all academic dignities at an early stage were often retrospectively devalued in favor of innovators who received recognition later. The latter may also explain why numerous historically significant composers did not succeed in professionalising themselves early or at all. Therefore, with a historical distance, the redemption of the academic ranking criteria can become completely worthless again.

In Germany

The responsible professional association in which German composers organize themselves nationwide and in regional groups is the German Composers Association , which was founded by Werner Egk and today has over 1500 members.

In Germany, composers usually register with GEMA , which holds the composers' copyrights in trust and distributes royalties to the composers from the Internet, radio and TV broadcasts, public performances and the production of sound carriers. In other countries, other collecting societies are responsible for administering such rights, but regulations are similar internationally. For this purpose, the composer concludes an authorization contract with GEMA, with which he grants it all rights that are necessary for the use of musical works. In addition, composers often conclude a publishing contract with a music publisher who takes on the commercial exploitation of the musical work, which includes the production and sale or rental of sheet music. Outside of the academic sector, the main task of the music publisher is to promote and manage the composer's works, for example to offer music labels for publication on sound carriers and to generate license fees, e.g. B. for use in movies.

Composition studies at German conservatoires require a passed entrance examination and a ten-semester full artistic degree in which the extensive craft (including music theory , ear training , instrumentation , instrumental playing , performance practice, etc.) is learned.


Classical and New Music

Popular and film music

Composers (classical) - graphic overview

Toshio Hosokawa John Zorn Wolfgang Rihm Gérard Grisey Brian Ferneyhough Friedrich Goldmann Steve Reich Helmut Lachenmann La Monte Young Terry Riley Harrison Birtwistle Arvo Pärt Alfred Schnittke Krzysztof Penderecki Sofia Asgatowna Gubaidulina Mauricio Kagel Cristobal Halffter Karlheinz Stockhausen Hans Werner Henze Morton Feldman Pierre Boulez Luciano Berio Luigi Nono György Ligeti Iannis Xenakis Bernd Alois Zimmermann John Cage Olivier Messiaen Harry Partch Dmitri Dmitrijewitsch Schostakowitsch Sergei Sergejewitsch Prokofjew Bohuslav Martinů Alban Berg Anton Webern Edgard Varèse Igor Fjodorowitsch Strawinski Béla Bartók Arnold Schönberg Sergei Wassiljewitsch Rachmaninow Ralph Vaughan Williams Louis Vierne Erik Satie Jean Sibelius Richard Strauss Claude Debussy Gustav Mahler Giacomo Puccini Leoš Janáček Gabriel Fauré Nikolai Andrejewitsch Rimski-Korsakow Edvard Grieg Antonín Dvořák Pjotr Iljitsch Tschaikowski Modest Petrowitsch Mussorgski Georges Bizet Camille Saint-Saëns Johannes Brahms Anton Bruckner Bedřich Smetana César Franck Jacques Offenbach Giuseppe Verdi Richard Wagner Franz Liszt Robert Schumann Frédéric Chopin Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Hector Berlioz Gaetano Donizetti Franz Schubert Gioachino Rossini Carl Czerny Carl Maria von Weber Niccolò Paganini Ludwig van Beethoven Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Dmytro Bortnjanskyj Antonio Salieri Johann Christian Bach Joseph Haydn Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Christoph Willibald Gluck Giovanni Battista Pergolesi Georg Friedrich Händel Domenico Scarlatti Johann Sebastian Bach Jean-Philippe Rameau Georg Philipp Telemann Antonio Vivaldi Tomaso Albinoni Alessandro Scarlatti Henry Purcell Giuseppe Torelli Arcangelo Corelli Dieterich Buxtehude Jean-Baptiste Lully Heinrich Schütz Girolamo Frescobaldi Claudio Monteverdi Christoph Harant von Polschitz und Weseritz Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck William Byrd Orlando di Lasso Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina Josquin Desprez Johannes Ockeghem Guillaume de Machaut Walther von der Vogelweide Hildegard von Bingen


Web links

Wiktionary: composer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Composers  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Eckhard Roelcke: Flutter tongue, heavy sheet metal . Article about a collaboration between fourteen composers, organized in 1995 by the International Bach Academy Stuttgart . In: Die Zeit, August 25, 1995, archived online version at, accessed on September 16, 2017
  2. ^ Explanation of the law in Bundestag printed matter IV / 270 of March 23, 1962, p. 42; BGH GRUR 1964, 326
  3. Gunda Dreyer, Jost Kotthoff, Astrid Meckel: Copyright: Copyright Law , 2008, p. 209 restricted preview in the Google book search
  4. BGH GRUR 1983, 887, 888