by Tomas Morante
As contemporary composers we are often faced with duelling and often conflicting ideas and impulses when we consider our objectives and motivations for writing/producing a piece of music. I make note of the fact that we are contemporary composers since much of my, and perhaps your, current compositional dilemmas are and can be directly situated in a historical discourse regarding music tradition and revolution. For instance this very morning as I was walking with a fellow student of mine we found ourselves comparing our respective engagement/disengagement in what we saw was a tendency in contemporary art composition and composition instruction to push avant-gardism and the modern/romantic ideal of revolution or innovation for its own sake, or, arguable, for the sake of curiosity. Although brief and mobile, our consensus seemed to suggest that it was personal conviction and taste that ultimately moved us most to compose, as opposed to internally perceived external expectations.
I for one have, for the last three years or so, been and continue to be entangled in an aural, textual, and (less so) graphical obsession with the doctrines and practices of common practice counter point and harmony, specifically the motivic writing, voice leading, and voicing/orchestration seen in Beethoven’s opuses 131, 132, 133 and 135. Some, I must assume, would see this lengthy concentration on such a narrow selection as perhaps being myopic, clichéd, and ultimately hopeless unproductive since in the end all I can hope to achieve are some perhaps convincing imitations in the now dated or irrelevant style of such and such a composer. I have many varied responses to this attitude, for as I see it there is still a great deal that antiquity has to offer in terms of stylistic discourse (this is a very broad label that is inclusive of musical practices and philosophies of Beauty, Spirit, and tonal culture throughout history), balance (this includes asymmetry), structure both sonic and temporal, and the nature of musical energies (i.e. cultivating the expressivity and momentum of a melody/phrase). I am by no means suggesting that contemporary avant-garde music is without these considerations, not at all, in fact there are innumerable examples rife with the most compelling demonstrations of these considerations. I know for a fact that what I say next is only an indication of my lack of musical exposure, however given a limited vantage point I remain loyal to the ancients since it is they who as of yet have withstood the tests of time and can thusly be relied upon for the novice’s instruction in timelessness. Since, in art, it is this quality I am most desirous of I trust the classics and cumulatively expand my good faith from there. For as artists we are above all developing an aesthetic sensibility¬— a morality— of right and wrong, of working or in need of work… we must develop an aesthetic ethic in ourselves that entails self-reflexivity and constant engagement/participation in the reservoir and rivulets of our culture. Despite the dubious nature of citing some unified theory of Canadian or Albertan identity/culture, our individual/relational aesthetic ethics must strike past the uncertainty and in so doing create unity through the timelessness and truth of our aesthetic. In fact personal integrity and truthfulness become a kin to aesthetic truth and timelessness— a word that implies integrity or the unchanging truth of a thing. For it is often stated in numerous ways that the objects of one’s heart and mind craft the lens through which one finds the world. So ultimately our aesthetic question is really just a human question: what is timelessness and what things in art and life are timeless?