For a little while now I’ve been trying to analyse various pieces of music in detail to learn how they work. This, my composition mentor Gerard Brophy has reiterated many times to me, is the ‘blood’ of composition. Understanding how other people have written their music is supposed to help me to come to terms with the way I will write my own music. So logically the best thing I can do, as Gerard tells me, is listen to as much music as possible across a wide variety of genres, in the effort to gain a wide base of influences. Then, when I come to write music of my own I will be able to draw on a much wider knowledge base than if I did not study the works of the composers before.
Recently I’ve been listening to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas. I borrowed the score from the library and had a look at the orchestration. Listening to the piece, I tried to figure out what combinations of instruments playing in certain ranges had certain timbrel effects. I guess that if I look closely at what Dukas does with the instruments, I will gain an insight into how the sounds of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice were constructed.
Also, I have been listening to “Sleep” by Eric Whitacre, a very wonderful piece which was the first of Whitacre’s choral works I heard:
His fantastic project “Virtual Choir”, which until December 2010 invites anyone to submit a video and audio recording for their part for “Sleep”, allowed me to download the bass part to have a look at. Then, I thought, why don’t I just download all the parts and put them together so I can see how they all work together? So I printed out the Sibelius file I created and I’ve been playing it at the piano to analyse the harmonies. Eric Whitacre’s harmonies sound amazing if you have ever heard his music, and I wanted to know how he created the sound. I’m considering buying the scores for his “Lux Arumque” and also “Water Night” as well so I can see the way they are constructed.
Thanks to Thomas Goss who produces a “Composer of the Month” series on his YouTube channel Orchestration Online, I was able to hear the music of a Hungarian composer I had not heard of before: Kemény Gábor (Hungarian names, Thomas Goss says on his composer of the month feature, are usually put with the surname first and this confuses me). I listened to his Piano Concertino and sent him an email asking for the score; he very generously sent me both the score and recordings for me to look at in greater quality than on YouTube. The Concertino is a very-well written work, even if it is on a small scale, but as I haven’t analysed a great deal of music yet, a small scale is somewhat easier to come to terms with. Also, the scoring for two pianos, strings and percussion will not make for a complicated process of working out how the parts work together. After listening to Kemény Gábor’s concertino, I might like to write a work for the same instrumentation. Analysing Kemény’s concertino should give me an insight into writing for the instrument combinations.
As I am discovering all the time, the more I learn the less I realise I know. The craft of composition takes a very long time to learn, as with many things, and there is a long, long way to go. I can only do my best and if I continue to do so, I’m sure I will learn at least a little.