I have had quite a few musically talented students in my life, three or four very musical and only one extremely musical. However, for the time being, none of these have yet understood the essence of composing, nearly all of them having taken alternative roads. Young composers desperately search for a voice of their own, but they don’t realize that it’s no use searching at all costs; either it will come of its own accord through listening, studying and composing, or it won’t. It’s no use forcing oneself, it’s no use composing cerebrally with new techniques and styles at all costs and producing compositions as much possible without emotional and intellectual discernment. The natural balance between the instinctive and subconscious drive, together with the intellectual intelligence of a composer, will lead him/her to have a personal voice, if there is one to be developed. However, in the end, all this has to come from a person with deep emotions and visions. The difference between being extremely musical and having an unique voice that transforms itself into Art is enormous and very fortunately undefinable. The differences between being musical, very musical and extremely musical are very much smaller and easily definable. The fact that Bach and Brahms were considered conservative and Beethoven and Wagner were considered innovative is of no consequence, since Art transcends Time and takes into consideration only the depth of emotions and visions.
To the beginner with exceptional qualities who searches for his/her voice, I can only say that since it has to be unique, so must the different aspects of the Harmony, Counterpoint, Orchestration and Form be unique. The student that copies Masters must not continually preoccupy him/herself whether he/she are going forward towards being unique. Freedom from simply copying requires time, which is of no consequence to reaching uniqueness. Preoccupation and doubts are normal, but excessive worry and lack of free thinking may actually stop the creative and artistic process.
A vast education of the classical styles is very important since it gives the means to quicken the comprehension of Music. Moreover, a good teacher will also guide, explain and pass on an oral tradition of infinitely small musical nuances that no text can ever give.
Musical ideas must have strong musical identity in all their parts. Harmony, above all, conveys the emotional depth of a work. For a musical idea to be unique it must have the right balance of harmony with possible melody, counterpoint, rhythm, orchestration and colour. Too much repetition or too much diversification, which at the end give the same impression to the listener, can lead to boredom. Again, the right balance of well-defined principal and secondary musical ideas (which derive from the former, but are at the same time contrasting and have their own strong identity) develop into unique small structures and, again, the right balance of small structures develops into unique form. Even secondary passages must have a strong identity and always aim for the highest quality. Balance is not purely conscious calculation, but is that particular equilibrium between right conscious and subconscious choices.
In other words, the only important attitude is to follow one’s personal intuition without fear, always trying to be true to oneself.
London, 13th August 2015