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Open discussion - Why do you compose in the style you do?

Hello colleagues, 

We have a variety of composers on this site who write music in many different styles, from neoclassical (music in the style of a period of history), modern classical, jazz, ragtime, techno, filmic, video-game, pop, and "other," as well as people who have no fixed style but hop around through different approaches with each piece. I am starting this conversation to invite you all to discuss why you choose to compose in the style that you do. To have this be a somewhat structured conversation, I ask that in your initial reply you use the following format:

1) Style or styles I compose in and why:

2) Example: (link)

3) Brief description of the music you just provided the link to. 

The music you link to can be something you've already posted here, it doesn't need to be something new. After your initial posting, it's open discussion.

Gav

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Jon, thanks for the clarification. I agree, to pursue this would likely take us far afield. But I appreciate knowing that you weren't referring to the pushback against creation science. As to whether atonality has a goal similar to that of Marxism, could not the same argument be applied to even tempering? ;)

Jon Corelis said:

If I'm a little reluctant to reply to this specific comment, it's because such discussions may lead far afield from the subject of this thread.   But here I'll only say that first, it seems to me that the whole import of the Shakespeare passage is to argue that the hierarchical social and political order is part of the natural order of the universe, and thus by implication is part of the divinely established order of creation.  As for teleology and politics, teleology implies hierarchy, and it seems to me that the whole tenor of neo-leftist politics is rooted in the Marxist vision of an eventual classless, that is, non-hierarchical, society.

But I suggest further discussion of this doesn't belong in this thread, though it may belong on this site, if we can keep it connected to music and composition. Perhaps we should consider the question of whether atonality wants to do to music what Marxism wants to do to capitalism.

Liz Atems said:

[...] Your discussion of fugue was especially interesting to me as I just finished a piece that contains lots of fugal textures but is, in my opinion, NOT a fugue per se. What is it that makes a fugue a fugue?

What, indeed, makes a fugue a fugue? That's the big question. I think "fugue", as with many such terms in music (another big one is "symphony"), is a term that has changed over time, and seeking for "the" definitive definition is probably a fool's errand.  Rather, my approach is to appreciate it in historical context, but not only so, but to build upon it in new directions. Now I confess I haven't studied this in detailed, because history isn't my strong suit, and nor is my interest the history itself, but more what I can borrow and adapt from history for my compositional needs -- but the gist of it, as I understand it, is that fugue came out of the same contrapuntal tradition as the canon and various other baroque / pre-baroque imitative / self-similar forms. Nowadays most people associate the fugue with Bach (and rightly so), but actually he was hardly the first to employ this form; rather he adapted the form as it had been employed at the time and took it in new directions -- and so successfully that today, most would regard Bach as "the" standard when it comes to a general definition of fugue.

Nevertheless, there remains a largely unexplored (or at least, under-explored) realm of fugue beyond Bach, one simple example being the key scheme of the exposition, which in Bach is almost always I-V-..., i.e., the answer entering in the dominant key or modulating to it -- which today seems to have become a mandatory part of the textbook definition of fugue.  If one looks at Pachelbel's fugues, however, one finds much more variation in the key schemes of the exposition; for example, I-I, V-I, I-IV, just to name a few.  What I glean from this, is that the answer does not have to enter in the dominant key at all, contrary to what modern textbooks say; instead, the essence of it is that the answer should serve as a contrast in some way to the subject, whether this contrast arises from the appearance of the dominant key, or some other key, or, indeed, as in the pre-Bach fugues, not at all a key change per se but an entry in the plagal register (i.e., in plagal mode). (In fact, one can see many examples in Bach himself where the answer can be understood as appearing in the home key and gradually modulating into the dominant key -- the former being the traditional answer in plagal register, and the latter being Bach's innovation.)  And thus, in Noises in Two Voices, I had the answer appear a minor 3rd above the subject, and later on, in all manner of different positions w.r.t. the subject. It can be regarded as an artistic liberty taken w.r.t. today's textbook definition, but I could equally argue that it is merely extrapolating from the older tradition in directions that Bach did not take.

But anyway, that's just one small example. One could go on indefinitely on the fine points of fugal writing, of which there are interminably many; but that isn't really the point here.  The gist of it is that my view of fugue is that it's not so much a form as it is a particular kind of contrapuntal texture, and viewed in that light there is much more room for innovation and artistic liberties than the prescriptivists would have us believe. I have been sketching and thinking over writing a sonata-fugue, for example, a "hybrid", as you put it, of a fugue that happens to also be in sonata-form. Or you might say, a sonata in fugal texture.  In fact, I wanted to write an entire symphony-fugue, but I'll settle for small steps at a time. :-D  Currently I'm writing a fractal fugue of sorts -- where the key scheme of the entries in the exposition come directly from the pitches of the subject itself -- I've been working on this for years now -- I have the exposition written and am quite happy with it, but it remains challenging to continue in a way that fulfills my original vision of it.

Finally, I think that the distinction between canon and fugue isn't necessarily an exclusive one; a canon may be considered a stricter form of fugue, with much less room for free counterpoint, whereas a fugue allows more flexibility.  But anyway, such labels are IMO artificial; what actually matters is whether the music is good. It matters little whether something befits the label of "fugue" or "canon" if the music itself is no good; and if the music is good, it matters little which label it bears! As you said, it is more important to stay true to the musical inspiration than to try to shoe-horn it into one form or another. After all, at the end of the day what's important is whether we have a good piece of music, not whether we have an impeccable compositional exercise to be submitted in class.

That may be so; nevertheless, my take on it is that I don't care to subscribe to this or that philosophy, whether it be modernism or traditionalism or whatever else it may be; I don't even care to make something "new" as though that were a goal unto itself. Is not the act of composing a new piece already in itself something new? What matters is that one isn't merely copying some previous work without thought or heart -- in which case it would be just a boring facsimile, or at worst, plagiarism -- but that one follows one's musical inspirations to its logical end. Surely the result will be novel in some way, since every individual is unique in their own way! There is no need to try to be different. I am already different, and I'm proud of it. (And even if I'm the same, I'm still proud of it. :-P)  Consequently, what I write will necessarily be different and unique in a way that only I can be, without needing any conscious effort to be such.

Jon Corelis said:



H. S. Teoh said:

To paraphrase Debussy: because I feel like it.

When challenged by the registrar of the Paris Conservatory as to what rule he followed when composing, Debussy replied disarmingly, “Mon plaisir!” But it wasn’t a matter of just his pleasure; he also said, “La musique doit humblement chercher à faire Plaisir.”

I strongly reject the notion that new is (necessarily) better, and that to be creative implies throwing away the past and inventing something from scratch. My belief is that true novelty comes from buliding upon previous work, rather than rejecting and denying it and inventing something supposedly "new".

One of the main tenets of Modernism, “Make it new!”  has been continually misinterpreted.  The “it” in that command is not the work of art, it is the tradition.

I compose in a variety of styles, depending on the goal of the moment. Classical, jazz, ragtime, pop, and progressive rock are on my list of influence as are other things. I find that I also go through periods where only one type of music-writing interests me. Today that style is what I call “pop classical,” where I write mostly 2-3 minute works in a mostly ABA format, for classical instruments, but with a pop sensibility. I write this music for non-musicians mostly, but always like to hear from colleagues their take on it. There’s one such piece below, “The Dancer Stretches.” It’s written in Waltz time, because I love waltz time for its natural grace and flowing quality. Score is in the YT.

A most interesting combination, Gav.

I'm fairly similar - will take from styles and genres as seems fit. Influences have probably been too many to matter though I have to watch out with a few (modern) composers. I've tried some pop, light and some lounge-styled jazz. Never been involved with what I understand to be 'progressive rock'. it seems too band-identity based. From talking, these are bands like early Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, etc. the bands that I was warned to avoid if their LPs had more than 5 tracks total! I'm still swayed to listen to Hendrix a lot. 

Attempting to answer why I compose as I do - I looked right back to when I first formally started and it's led me to reckon that the orchestral scores of late are impelled by the same drive that produced my first work: improvisational, through-composed; emotionally charged, etc., with some resolution as events in my life started to turn in my favour. The few composers of whom I've got involved seem similar so I have to avoid them like the plague! 

I've always had music in me. Perhaps because of that I've had no ambition to be a professional composer just as learning to read and write never drove me to become a novelist.  

I've been called a postmodernist - still unsure what that means. If I'm developing a style it's impressionist, heavily reliant on chromaticism to the point of verging on the atonal. 

Great points, H. S. I certainly never considered the key scheme of the various entries in a fugue to be sacrosanct. I have three fugal expositions in my piece - in the first, the entries follow the rather traditional I-V-I-IV pattern. In the second, the entries rise by major thirds. In the last one, there are five entries (even though there are only 4 voices) and they keep rising by fifths. I could write a detailed analysis of my piece and point out exactly where it breaks the mold of fugue as I understand it, but that would be pointless.

Certainly a hybrid of a fugue with sonata form is something no one would object to... I can think of at least two obvious examples in Beethoven (Hammerklavier and Grosse Fuge), plus others from the 19th and early 20th centuries (Bruckner's 5th and Mahler's 8th Symphony). I did listen to your Exuberance fugue, and in one or two places it stretches the definition of fugue almost as much as my Fugal Variations. Maybe my piece could be viewed as yet another fugue that stretches and bends the form. Personally, I still think it goes beyond bending and actually breaks it, by substituting non-fugal texture in places where it shouldn't, if it's to be a fugue. But as you say, what really matters is whether it's good music. To answer that question, I defer to others...

- Progressive rock I see as where the audiences went who would normally flock to classical music but have a need/interest that classical music was no longer fulfilling

-I have no idea what postmodern means either!

-chromaticism I see as a powerful tool which I myself am exploring to some extent

Dane Aubrun said:

Never been involved with what I understand to be 'progressive rock'. 

I've been called a postmodernist - still unsure what that means. If I'm developing a style it's impressionist, heavily reliant on chromaticism to the point of verging on the atonal. 

Gav, just to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your piece The Dancer Stretches. Unpretentious, whimsical, unpredictable. Kudos.

On chromaticism: an emphatic yes. I could not see writing a piece without it and I generally find purely diatonic music without accidentals or even so much as an inflection toward other keys to be uninteresting. I can't say yet what kind of music I "usually" compose, but if I stick to composing tonal works they will most likely have frequent modulations as in Fugal Variations. I would like to further explore using the tension between different key centers as a dynamic force (as in Nielsen's mature works), so that might be next.

Thanks for your nice comment on the piece! Re: chromaticism, I think I often find as you do, that a purely diatonic piece is easily put in the "dull" basket, because that area has been thoroughly explored and my ear wants something that stretches the boundaries. Frequent modulation I find, also as you do, assists in creating an environment that chromaticism more easily fits into. I find that using extended jazz chords is conducive to this end as well, as an example, major chords with a major 7th (e.g., C-E-G-Bnat)

Liz Atems said: 

Gav, just to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your piece The Dancer Stretches. Unpretentious, whimsical, unpredictable. Kudos.

On chromaticism: an emphatic yes. I could not see writing a piece without it and I generally find purely diatonic music without accidentals or even so much as an inflection toward other keys to be uninteresting. I can't say yet what kind of music I "usually" compose, but if I stick to composing tonal works they will most likely have frequent modulations as in Fugal Variations. I would like to further explore using the tension between different key centers as a dynamic force (as in Nielsen's mature works), so that might be next.

>Score is in the YT.

Sorry, my mind is tired I guess... Where can I find the score Gav? 

I would like to study it, it impossible to do with a sliding score.

Thanks

Ali

Gav Brown said:

I compose in a variety of styles, depending on the goal of the moment. Classical, jazz, ragtime, pop, and progressive rock are on my list of influence as are other things. I find that I also go through periods where only one type of music-writing interests me. Today that style is what I call “pop classical,” where I write mostly 2-3 minute works in a mostly ABA format, for classical instruments, but with a pop sensibility. I write this music for non-musicians mostly, but always like to hear from colleagues their take on it. There’s one such piece below, “The Dancer Stretches.” It’s written in Waltz time, because I love waltz time for its natural grace and flowing quality. Score is in the YT.

Ali, see PM from me -

Very nice piece Gav, I'm partial to 3 beat stuff too, it has an irresistible flow. I like your harmonies and the unusual instrument combination as well (well unusual to me at least).  The pizzicato passage is very effective, well done!  One thing to think about IMHO, violas and lower strings are used to balance all those screaming violins we usually have so without the high end there it is easy to get muddy with these instruments and I feel that some of the passages here could be improved either by re-voicing (maybe raise the cello part) or possible some low mid eq adjustment.  Just my thought; nice work!

Gav Brown said:

I compose in a variety of styles, depending on the goal of the moment. Classical, jazz, ragtime, pop, and progressive rock are on my list of influence as are other things. I find that I also go through periods where only one type of music-writing interests me. Today that style is what I call “pop classical,” where I write mostly 2-3 minute works in a mostly ABA format, for classical instruments, but with a pop sensibility. I write this music for non-musicians mostly, but always like to hear from colleagues their take on it. There’s one such piece below, “The Dancer Stretches.” It’s written in Waltz time, because I love waltz time for its natural grace and flowing quality. Score is in the YT.

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