Mozart and I have been discussing the competition that Emperor Joseph II arranged between Muzio Clementi and himself on Christmas Eve, 1781, and it’s started me thinking about the value (or not) of competition.
WAM: That evening will live on forever in my memory. How good it felt to put that imposter in his place.
MM: Imposter? Clementi was an accomplished pianist and composer, as were…er, ARE…you.
WAM: Yes, he enjoyed that reputation, my dear, and he certainly did have some technical proficiency, particularly in his right hand, but his lack of sensitivity – I believe your generation would call it “soul” – was evident. His playing was fiery, but mechanical. And that is why the Emperor proclaimed me the winner and awarded me 50 ducats.
MM: So I take it that you consider competition to be healthy.
WAM: In my case, Madame, there was no competition. I was simply the best.
MM: Okay, Amadé, I’m not going to argue that point. But I’m referring today to competition in writing. Specifically in fiction. I recently returned from Malice Domestic, a conference of mystery writers and their fans.
WAM: I was there, remember? I thought the chicken at the banquet was a bit rubbery.
MM: The banquet, yes, where they presented the Agatha Awards in categories like Best First Mystery, Best Mystery Novel of the year, Best Nonfiction Mystery, etc.
I was catching up on my reading over the weekend, and managed to consume several books. I have a favorite, one I could not put down until I’d finished it—
WAM: Care to share the title?
MM: Not just now, I’m thinking of writing a review of it in a future blog. My point here is, though, that what I couldn’t put down, someone else might not have been able to finish. She might not have been as engaged in the story as I was. Reading is so personal.
WAM: As is music. But, of course, everyone loves mine!
MM: Yes, but the point I’m trying to get to here is, that trying to compete with a fellow writer is futile. The writer’s voice is personal. And if a writer strives to compete with another, she might just alter her voice, and thus do her own work a disservice.
My late, brilliant husband used to say, “Don’t compete with anyone else. Compete with yourself.” I think Alan was right.
WAM: Ergo, strive to make the next work outshine the last one. Yes, Madame, that was always the driving force behind my own compositions. After all, who could compete with me but Mois?