I am having a little compositional hiatus at the moment, unsure of what to write next. Part of my work this morning was spent on tidying up my list of competitions and calls for scores and trying to work out what to aim for. What this has led me to is a new choral work, but, rather unusually, I have begun writing it without having decided on a text. Once I have posted this entry I shall have to continue my hunt, as yet unsuccessful.
This approach could lead to all sorts of problems, of course, in terms of expressing the text, the number of syllables and so on, but the first idea for the piece seemed strong enough to get down onto paper, and, while I do not know exactly what the words will be, I at least have some kind of idea of the mood they will try to encompass. Maybe my writing will even be freer as a result of not being constrained by a text. Whichever, it should be an interesting experiment.
Apart from this new piece it is a case of sitting quietly for a while. There are a good few commissions waiting to happen, but none of them is confirmed at the moment, so I need to keep my powder dry on those for the time being. I think I have sketched enough for those pieces already in terms of outline, and it is not worth going any further until I get a green light or two.
My new attitude to work continues to go well, and I genuinely look forward to getting to “the office” in the morning and doing my stints of hard graft. As I wrote yesterday, this has left me with more rather than less free time on my hands, so I am finding myself a little more relaxed in terms of outlook, a little more rested in terms of sleep (despite the cats’ best efforts) and a little more widespread in terms of leisure activities. I hesitate to refer to those leisure activities as “hobbies” because, of course, that is how many people would probably view composition, but we must remember Elgar’s sage advice – “It’s damned hard work, my boy!”.
Meanwhile I am continuing to work on my harmonic language, developing a variety of styles to suit the occasion, however unfashionable that might be to the modernists. I was somewhat perturbed to find that the winning piece of a recent and substantial competition subscribed to what a composer colleague calls the “Radox bath school” of composition, something I try to avoid. There’s an awful lot of bleating about how tonalilty is not dead, but very little of it bleated by composers doing something original and interesting within that style.
I believe that tonality (or what I prefer to call “free tonaility”) still has a long way to travel, and even as great a composer as Lutoslawski (whose music is not tonal) avoided microtones, believing that there was more than enough exploring still to be done with the chromatic scale, developing his own unique language as a result. Much of my current writing takes ideas from Lutoslawski, one of my very favourite composers, and I find that those ideas can be applied to a wide array of styles – tonal, pantonal, atonal and serial. As anybody who has studied serial composition will be able to tell you, the choices made at the beginning of the process will determine the sound of the work, which is why Berg’s lushly Romantic Violin Concerto sounds so different from Webern’s Concerto Op.24, serial pieces both.
It is an aspect of that technique which I try to apply to my own writing and which I believe allows me to write in different musical languages. I also believe that, crucially, the personality of the composer still comes through via the decisions that they make, which should always be unique to that mind, and that there is therefore no need to hide behind a single style. A painter has many colours, but could still execute a canvas in different shades of a single one of those colours. Why can a composer not have a toolbox which enables them to select the language most appropriate for that commission, that performer or that audience?