You might digest a novel in a day, while your neighbor might take a month. Perhaps Jane Austen had a speed at which she wanted you to read Pride and Prejudice, but once it was published, she had no control.
The same is true for Mona Lisa–although Leonardo da Vinci might have known his ideal amount of time to take it in, some viewers might take ten second to snap a selfie, while others spend hours studying every line and shadow.
Most art has a speed–the speed the artist thinks it should take to have the perfect experience of it. But music is one of the few arts where we get to dictate the speed…often down to the fraction of a second.
Even dramatic plays can vary widely with interpretation, cuts, blocking, and direction.
It’s composers, above all, who can compel their target audience to experience their art in exactly the time they imagined it.
That’s a special privilege, a very significant power over our audiences. We do well to keep in mind the real time of our artistic experience. Unlike a novel, it really matters how long we imagine a piece of music taking.