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.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Prelude in G

During my researches into combining silences with music, I came across an old CD I made about twelve years ago.  These thoughts were clearly in my mind when I wrote this little prelude in 2002...

spatia inter

spacia inter is my latest experiment with sound and silences.  silentum inter is still on the go for alto recorder player Treena Hope.  Things take time...

But that is precisely the point.  I've always taken for too much time to write music.  It's a habit I've fallen into but I'm going to find a climb a way out of if kills me.  No more working for five hours in the morning, completing twenty bars or so, then going back in the afternoon (after my daily dose of Waitrose White Chocolate Tiramisu) only to delete nineteen of them.  And tinker with the rest until I forget the initial inspiration, why I started it in the first place.

I can improvise, for heaven's sake;  it's just a matter of taking the mood of one of these improvs and setting it down definitively.  This, from now on, will be my new compositional method.  Intellectual rigour will be, well, taken care of.

As those of you who have gone to the trouble of reading my older posts will know, I haven't done much composition for some time.  I lack self confidence. Maybe I even lack skill but I've been doing this now for more than fifty years - I remember reading books about composition by Reginald Smith-Brindle when I was in my early teens.  I wrote two completely tonal symphonies when I was 14 and 17 years old.  In 1972, I wrote a completely atonal Capriccio for cello and orchestra;  I know this because I still have a copy of the opening section.

I wrote ten musical theatre pieces between 1977 and 1984; numerous piano pieces, two string quartets (1970 & 1994), masses of music which I made time to begin but not to finish.

I have some sort of ability and a tremendous urge to make music.  It really is about time I let the world hear some of what I write.

I now Tweet (composerinukMPS) and I've had tremendous support from other composers and groups.  I always try to support them back whenever I can. There's a sort of fellowship on Twitter; a sort of understanding that to be critical of composers who are still alive is hurtful, pointless and nasty.  We all get enough of that from every source you can imagine.

Someone asked me not long ago what I did for a living.  I told her that I am a composer...

That sounds rather self-indulgent...

is what she said.  Well, you know, it really isn't.  I have plenty to say and I have gleaned a sort of technique simply inferred from how long I've been doing it.  I can get better.  I will get better... But I'm doing okay.

I'll upload a link to spacia inter as soon as it goes up.

Happy International Women's Day to all of us.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

That Eureka Moment...!

I've been working on two pieces recently, side by side.  One a piano piece, the other for an old pupil of mine, Treena Hope, who plays treble recorder better than anyone I know.

The piano piece had a title and quite a few bars;  silentum inter (the silence in between) and, although I might write eight or nine bars in a single session, I fell into the habit of deleting half of them when I next opened the file. Progress, taking two steps forward and one back, was (as I'm sure you can imagine) painfully slow.

Then, at 3 am today, the solution came to me - put them together as one piece.  It was truly eureka moment but I needed to remember a few of the details and had to get up out if bed to note them down.  I was tempted to write the whole thing then and there but experience has taught me that working through the night is not a good idea.

I hope the next piece of writing on this blog will be called silentum inter and that it will mean that these two pieces have been successfully merged.

This is a short blog, rather like a long Tweet.  Yes, I have joined Twitter and already have 18 followers;  I'm no Stephen Fry but I do hope that number will increase soon.  After all, I've been twittering for almost three days now.  

Like my music, not every piece nor every blog has to be seminal.  I will keep this short just to keep you all posted...