Thursday, 21 January 2016

Composer in UK: music for piano and clarinet (2016)

Composer in UK: music for piano and clarinet (2016)

music for piano and clarinet (2016)

There has been a breakthrough.  For those of you who may have read any of my previous blog posts, I can just imagine what you're thinking:  "What? Another breakthrough?"

And, snarky you may be, but this time it's resulted in a new piece - my first completed work for 2016.

music for piano and clarinet really does exist.  I'm not philosophising about it. I'm not saying that this will transform the world in any way.  But writing it has been a crystallisation of almost everything I've written here.  So, it's done, then?

Well, not quite.  No mutterings from the back please!  When I say not quite I simply mean that, although the music has been notated, much of what happens in the music is determined by the performance.

Each bar, or section, is repeated many times but notated only once.  Each iteration should include a small modification, at the performers' discretion, until, by the time the bar has been repeated thirty or so times, the sound should bear little relation to what has been notated.  Then comes another bar or section, often very similar to the first, and the process is off again.

I am - and have been for over ten years - interested in silences and repetition in music.  There are silences in this music and many repetitions, so I seem to have found my moment.  I've landed in  2016 with my creative feet hitting the ground running.

Having finished this piece, I can now go back to older ones with renewed vigour and confidence.  I first had the idea for a string quartet, gestures and memories, a couple of years ago, finding a place to put many older ideas into new pieces with structural integrity.  Then, the chamber symphony, which has been on my mind, on and off, for years.  And so on...

And none of this would have been possible without the fellowship, love and support of fellow composer Marc Yeats.  His kindness has been extraordinary. His music an inspiration.

music for piano and clarinet is dedicated to him.  And a dedication was never more deserving.

Very many more posts to follow soon, as I try to create short pieces while write longer ones like the string quartet and the chamber symphony are being composed.

I have a very strong feeling that 2016 will be good to me. I'll keep you posted...

Thursday, 28 May 2015


And so came...


...a new piece for piano, dedicated to the wonderful Petronel Malan.  I'm writing this in tandem with music for Marc Yeats called, post hoc and with a surge of confidence in my compositional skills.

I started to write flocci a few days ago and I wanted to try to add more today.  But instead, I analysed the twenty or so bars I'd already done.  Not one note was out of place, not one interval suspect:  Clearly, as I wrote this, my compositional focus was intact and productive.

I know I've yelled "Eureka" from the hilltops in other posts and I won't delete them simply because they no longer apply and they might make me look a little foolish.

But this time, I really am writing the kind of music I want to write.  I suppose, if it needs a stylistic descriptor, then New Simplicity might be the one.  An antidote to the immensely complicated music of Brian Ferneyhough, et al, whose music is often described as New Complexity.

I admire Brian (and many others) very much.  I admire them as people and as composers and I've tried to walk in their established footsteps many times.  But, stylistically, they are not for me.  I don't wish them any ill-will and nobody should regard this short polemic as a criticism of them.

But I really have found my own voice at the age of 60.  I never wanted to be an explorer - when I was a young man, I wanted my music to sound like Tchaikovsky.  In my twenties, it was what I then knew of Peter Maxwell Davies. Next came Milton Babbit and Bernstein.  I could go on:  Dallapicola, Marc Yeats, Simone Volio have attracted me for some time.  But, as I've said to students over many years, study their scores, by all means and even, as an intellectual and compositional exercise, try to imitate them.  But in the end, from this cacophony of voices, you must find your own.

So, in the quiet will be my Opus 1.  The first time I'm able to put down on paper my thoroughbred musical ideas, born of actually composing useless, derivative crap for so long.  And post hoc will be my Opus 2.

After that, there will be no stopping me!  At 60 I can still be an infant terrible.  I still act like one, anyway.

I'll keep you posted...  A Pulitzer Prize can't be far away now.  And invitations to many countries.  New commissions pouring out of my ears...

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Something for Marc Yeats...

Despite the absence of recent posts on here, there is such progress being made behind the scenes.

I heard a piece by the brilliant Marc Yeats and I wanted to dedicate something to him.  Listening to Marc's music is always an inspiration for me and he is a very good and supportive friend.  I promised him that I was writing a piece, dedicated to him, called post hoc: (after it), by which I intended to suggest that my music came after listening to one of his most recent pieces.

I intend to fulfil my promise!  But I was looking through my catalogue of study scores on YouTube last evening when I came across a piece by the late American composer, Morton Feldman, which just blew my sock off.  This was the music that had been in my head all these years:  the slow place, the proliferation of silences, the atonal but repetitive nature of the music narrative.

So I began to sketch a piece for piano, touches, which unfolded so organically from within itself, perhaps as if I had been given 'permission' to write it.  It will all be done in a few days and I'll have made that breakthrough which has eluded me for so long.

post hoc  will still be written, I promise you, Marc!  But in this new style.  And with a force and vision I haven't felt for years.

Monday, 2 February 2015

It is with some trepidation...

...that I announce that I am making some progress with this composition malarkey.  To put it another way, I am writing some music.

The final kick of inspiration came from a piece by a remarkable composer called Simone Movio; someone, it seems, just as obsessed with the natural order of silences as I have become.  

In the back of my head, I'm still working on the string quartet, Gestures and Memories, but since that is a major work, I've decided to write a piano piece called silentum, inter (silences, interrupted) which I would like to dedicate to Mr Movio.

I'm sure it will make his day...

Is it really that long...?

Is it really that long since I wrote anything here?  Almost a year?

You might conclude from this long period of inactivity, that I have been inactive. I wish I might say, 'far from it.'  But the only thing I composed from beginning to end was one piece, Contours, for the Sheffield Society of Recorder Players.  I was played last July.  It went well, thank you for asking, with one comment hitting my funny bone, from the mouth of a Swedish(?) bass player...

it sounds like music from a horror film..

But, after rehearsing and actually have them watch me, the conductor, the final run through went well and it pleased me.  My friend Chris, who's close to ninety years old, did have one small reservation, however...

Oh Michael, why are you doing this to us?

After that piece, I composed nothing else in 2014.  I did little bits here and there but again failed to complete them.  Until the very end, 2014 was not a good year.

But this is 2015 and there's new hope.  I think I may have a handle on actually how to compose music.  Now that's saying something for someone who's been doing it for fifty years or more.  It's all to do with Elliot Carter, Caitlin Rowley and the notion of improvisation.  This is such a HUGE thing, I'll write a new post about it when I'm some way into the piece (for treble recorder and piano, composed for the saintedly patient Treena Hope) and I actually have something to show for all my words.

2015 has started better than I could ever have imagined.  I hope that means I'll finally get down to some serious composing again.

But please don't hold your collective breaths - it is almost a year since you heard from me...

Happy New Year.