- Parsimony: be economical in your means. Do not write more notes, or higher notes, or louder notes or faster notes just because you can. Does this mean that Mahler's 8th Symphony, the "Symphony of a Thousand" (because it needs nearly that many performers) is a bad piece? Possibly...
- Coherence: don't be incoherent. Pretty simple. But there is quite a lot of incoherent music.
- Expression: do try and express something with your music. I mean other than your ego, or need for praise, or just your cleverness. Remember, there might be an audience who hope for some kind of human expression in the music they are listening to.
- Interest: try and do something interesting, not dull.
And now the seven sins:
- Ideology: this is one of those really dangerous traps. It was especially dangerous in the 20th century because so many composers thought they had to have an ideology such as avant-gardism, or serialism, or epater-les-bourgeoisism. For most of music history composers just tried to write a good piece of music sans ideology. And music was the better for it.
- Bullying: some composers seem to be trying to bully the audience (or the performers) into submission. It's rude and usually the music isn't worth it. This was also all too common in the 20th century.
- Lengthiness: a good quality in a fabric, but often a bad one in composition. Yes, there are many good, long pieces. But there are also a lot of pieces that one sees on the program with genuine dread. I'm sad to say that Schubert is an occasional offender. And, of course Mahler, Bruckner, Wagner... Trust me, it is not always a good idea to keep going on and on, tediously repeating yourself, one thing after another, to the last syllable of recorded time. Which reminds me of the finale of a Schumann string quartet.
- Ugliness: while it can be a sin to write music that is excessively pretty, the more common sin is ugly music. Again, the 20th century often seemed to confuse mere ugliness with daring innovation. But bear in mind that useful distinction between the sublime and the beautiful. The beautiful needs no admixture of the grit of contrast, but the sublime does. Often great music, such as the Grosse Fuge of Beethoven, involves some harsh contrasts, some fearful sonorities. This is not ugliness, but the sublime, beauty that has a touch of terror in it.
- Melodrama: this is an historical genre, but I want to use it in the sense of fatuous emotionalism. Just think Andrew Lloyd Webber.
- Self-indulgence: this is the source of some of the other sins, but I want to get it in here just in case someone finds a way to be self-indulgent that was not already covered.
- Industrialized Musical Product: not sure this is an aesthetic sin, exactly. But it ain't good!
Perhaps in future posts I will try and find examples of all of these. In the meantime, please comment! Agree, disagree? Either one, but give reasons...