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Composing the Historical

About a year ago, composer Ed Hughes and I had an interesting chat about the relationship between our own methods of composing and those of composers in history. It was a given that we thought these to be strongly linked, though of course more so in some pieces than others. And we instantly thought of composers we know well – eg Robin Holloway, Michael Finnissy – who work this way.

Afterwards though, I reflected that out of the younger composers I meet or mentor, it can’t at all be assumed that they came to composition via experiencing historical models in some way. In fact, if I hadn’t spent a lot of time playing in amateur and youth orchestras in my teens, I’m not sure if I would have known much earlier music in any depth when I started composing.

So it’s most welcome that a series of interviews with nine composers on this topic, carried out by Ed and Sussex University colleagues Mimi Haddon and Evelyn Ficcara, has just appeared on a generous website called Composing the Historical. Ed’s introductory essay is highly recommended, and the whole thing is a model of clarity (generally free of jargon.) Indeed the idea of a highly focused website is in itself a publication model which could be more widely emulated. I frequently see academic books advertised on topics that might interest me, but maybe not for 500 densely packed pages. And their cost is often quite staggering for anyone who can’t just pop into a university library.

photo: Helen Bourne





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