There has been some good discussion recently on several threads about music theory, form, "rules" - and the relative importance or unimportance of those things in relationship to the composer.
Wanting this following contribution to not be buried in the middle of existing threads, I am posting some thought-provoking quotes apropos to the subject from "The Courage to Create" by Rollo May. He is a major 20th Century thinker - A psychiatrist/author/philosopher who wrote some extremely succinct and pithy psychology books in the '70's and '80's.
In this book, "The Courage to Create," May has numerous illuminating comments to make about Art, the creation of Art, and the psychology of the Artist. He's speaking of Art in an all-inclusive way, and throughout the book uses examples from the visual arts, music, poetry, theatre, performance - he's speaking about all Art forms.
From a chapter focusing on form - I want Rollo May to speak for himself. I've extracted some quotes which relate to the questions recently discussed and debated on this Forum:
"Limits are not only unavoidable in human life, they are also valuable...Creativity itself requires limits, for the creative act arrives out of the struggle of human beings with and against that which limits them."
"Limits are as necessary as those provided by the banks of a river, without which the water would be dispersed on the earth and there would be no river - that is, the river is constituted by the tension between the flowing water and the banks. Art in the same way requires limits as a necessary factor in its birth.
"Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art."
"In a discussion of how he composed his music, Duke Ellington explained that since his trumpet player could reach certain notes beautifully but not other notes, and the same with his trombonist, he had to write his music within those limits. 'It's good to have limits,' he remarked."
"Form provides the essential boundaries and structure for the creative act...Form and, similarly, design, plan, and pattern all refer to a non-material meaning present in the limits."
"The trouble begins whenever anyone dogmatically sets himself or herself up to defend either extreme. On the one hand, when an individual insists on his or her own subjectivity and follows exclusively his or her own imagination, we have a person whose flights of fancy may be interesting but who never really relates to the objective world. When, on the other hand, an individual insists that there is nothing 'there' except empirical reality, we have a technologically minded person who would impoverish and oversimplify his or her and our lives."
"Speaking of poetry, Coleridge distinguished between two kinds of form. One is external to the poet-the mechanical form, let us say, of the sonnet. This consists of an arbitrary agreement that the sonnet will consist of fourteen lines in a certain pattern. The other kind of form is organic. This is inner form. It comes from the poet, and consists of the passion he or she puts into the poem...
"Form is an aid to finding new meaning, a stimulus to condensing your meaning, to simplifying and purifying it, and to discovering on a more universal dimension the essence you wish to express."
"In our day the concept of form is often attacked because of its relation to 'formality' and 'formalism,' both of which - so we are told - are to be avoided like the plague. I agree that in transitional times like our own, when honesty of style is difficult to come by, formalism and formality should be required to demonstrate their authenticity...(But) we should remember...that all spontaneity carries with it its own form....The juxtaposition of spontaneity and form are, of course, present all through human history..(and) I can understand the rebellion in our day against form and limits as expressed in the cry 'We have unlimited potentialities.'
"But when these movements try to throw form or limits out entirely, they become self-destructive and non-creative. Never is form itself superseded as long as creativity endures. If form were to vanish, spontaneity would vanish with it."