Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Things to Consider when Composing (2 of 9)

[From a 9-part handout for my introductory composition class.]

II. How do you develop compositional craft?

     1. Study the music of others.

          (a) Study music of different genres; try to understand as many styles of composition as you can (but don't feel you have to fully understand all genres, or indeed any genre, before you begin composing; the study can be a lifelong process).

          •How many compositions have you studied in detail?
          •What types of compositions have you studied in detail?
          •How much of your knowledge of music comes from history textbooks or other secondary sources, and how much comes from your study of specific compositions?

          (b) Include lots of 20th-Century and Contemporary music in your studies. It has been my experience that a great many students who have some interest in composing have no (or limited) interest in the concert music of the past 80 (or so) years.

          •Discuss; is this generally true? Is it true for you? If so, why? Is there anything wrong with this?

(c) Study (or at least listen to) at least one piece by at least 6 of the following composers. When you find works that are particularly interesting/moving etc., study/listen to more works by that composer. Find out more about them via web searches or other means.
John AdamsLouis Andriessen Bela BartókLuciano Berio
Pierre BoulezJohn Cage Ka Nin ChanAaron Copland
George CrumbMario Davidovsky Morton Feldman Brian Ferneyhough
Philip GlassGerard GriseyChris Paul Harman Charles Ives
Helmut LachenmannGyörgy LigetiWitold Lutosławski Olivier Messiaen
Tristan MurailJohn OswaldSteve Reich George Rochberg
Clark RossKaija SaariahoGiacinto ScelsiAnne Southam
Karlheinz StockhausenToru TakemitsuGiles TremblayAnton Webern
John Weinzweig Christian WolffBernd Alois ZimmermannWalter Zimmermann

          (d) Think like a composer (part 1) while you listen or study. Ask yourself why something (a composition, a section, a musical gesture) works or doesn't; does a given musical idea or section go on too long, too short, or is it just right? Does it speak to you? Why or why not? What qualities in the music help you to connect with it? Sometimes we like a composition right away, and other times it takes a while for us to warm up to it, but we may end up liking it a lot. Why?

          (e) Think like a composer (part 2): Learn what is idiomatic or non-idiomatic for instruments and voice types; make note of textures or orchestration techniques that are effective / captivating / beautiful / disturbing, etc. Many composers keep notebooks, not only to write down their own ideas as they come to them, but also to jot down anything that they find striking in the music of others. Some musical borrowing is not only "okay;" it's good! (It is also a time-honored method of composition pedagogy.)

     2. Compose as much as you can.

          •Composing is exactly like performing; the more you work on it, the better you become.In fact, if you are musical enough to be admitted to the School of Music, you are musical enough to become one of this country's best composers if you work hard enough.

          › While it is true that many people who take an introductory composition class do not wish to become professional composers, one of the benefits of learning to think like a composer is that it can inform the way you play, teach, or research music.

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