Category Archives: composer’s scrapbook

Composing 1

You might find this essay interesting. It is from George Rochberg’s The Aesthetics of Survival-A Composers View of Twentieth Century Music.

“A long time ago I wrote about what I called “moral presence”. Moral in the sense I mean it is the true, that which is incontrovertibly the hidden reality of all that is, the essence and suchness of things. Moral presence is hard won in modern art- though it is there before us in every flower, in every animal (the gentle and ferocious), in every tree and blade of grass. It literally saturates the universe. Human consciousness is too distracted to be aware of it. That’s why … The Buddihists speak of quieting the mind. Only by the effort of inner seeing and inner hearing does moral presence bloom into consciousness. It is almost impossible to discover in this age; though it is there in a Bartok and ocassionally flashes through a Schoenberg, but rarely-in fact almost never- in my contemporaries. They are too distracted with superfluities and superficialities. (1985)

Through Color

“Through color sensation alone, virtually without the agency of shape we become absorbed into the experience of vision.”- Feldman

The statement above, made by E.Burke Feldman in reference to an abstract painting by Mark Rothko titled Earth and Green, could be analogous to the listeners aural experience when listening to Schoenberg’s “Summer Morning By A Lake”, (Farben), from The Five Pieces for Orchestra, op.16.

In the case of the Rothko painting the eye tends to go with sensation of intensely defined and undefined colors accompanied with blurred, burnished, lines of forgiving demarcation. In the Schoenberg composition the ear follows the subtle orchestral shifts in color handled masterfully by Schoenberg. His choices draw our ears to the colors. The colors open and breathe. They are both intense, and subtle. Defined and undefined. There is a perceivable rhythmic pulse supporting these subtle shifts in color. This rhythmic feature adds stability. The colors blend, separate, recombine and emerge anew. Klangfarbenmelodie in this sense can be perceived as being, aurally, similar to gradations of color that we notice in the Rothko. We become absorbed into the color and the sound. The subtlety intrigues and teases. And it is sustainable.

In composing a piece based on color we could approach it in many ways:

fuse timbres
treat color as a process
create special timbral combinations

Are these all approaches to composing using color..
Where is the strength of melody..and how do you create contrast if everything is fused, is it not making something too amorphous, can there be unifying definition through orchestral color that takes on the role formerly reserved for melody



“Quality is acheiving or reaching for the highest standard as against being satisfied with the sloppy or fraudulent. It is honesty of purpose as against catering to cheap or sensational sentiment. it does not allow compromise with the second rate”.
This quote is from The Decline of Quality, by author Barbara W. Tuchman (from an article from NY Times Magazine, Nov.2,1980)

The Arts

“The arts are not simply skills: Their concern is the intellectual, and spiritual maturity of human life…the arts have become the custodians of those values which most worthily define humanity…” Robert Shaw, conductor

I Reflect

I often reflect that discipline does not, in itself, change us. However I believe it can be said that it does provide a behavioral frame inside of which we can make critical and significant changes in our thoughts and ideas. If we are sensitive to, and act on, our best impulses. DIscipline=limits=clarity=focus on specifics=challange to create within a structure=ability to think in detail. And within a frame, or gestalt, through disciplied thought and action we can encourage or enable and watch the best ideas grow and take organic “qualities’ or properties.They become more multi-dimensional/ layered. They can become real ideas. Here is a quote from composer George Rochberg which adresses the issue of refining and distilling our thoughts and creative ideas -“grapple with the elements in a meaningful manner, then it,(the composition), will have force and spirit”. – Rochberg

More on Tempering the Work…

Composing at its best is a judicious blend of instinct and intellect. Emotion tempered with reason. A great work, I believe, is made out of a combination of obedience and liberty. Such a work satisfies the mind, together with that curious thing which is the artistic emotion. Stravinsky said,”if I were permitted everything, I would be lost in the abyss of liberty”. On the one hand he knew his limits, on the other he ceaselessly extended them. – Nadia Boulanger

And Then on Process…

“There are two modes of acquiring knowledge, namely by reasoning and experience. Reasoning draws a conclusion and makes us grant the conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, nor does it remove the doubt so that the mind may rest on the intuition of truth, unless the mind discovers it by the path of experience” Roger Bacon-1526-1626 English Philosopher

Perhaps the composers frame or sequence of creative thought, as he chases the elusive muse, could go something like this: Imagine, Reason, Calculate, Execute and Evaluate: repeat- buy coffee- repeat.

William Carlos Williams

paragraph from a ND article titled “How To Write”

The written object comes under the laws of all created things involving a choice and once a choice has been made there must be an exercise of the will to back it.One goes forward carefully. But the first step must not be to make what has been written under a quasi-hallucinatory state conform to the rules. What rules? Rather the writing should be carefully examined for the new and the extraordinary and nothing rejected without clear reason. For in this way the intelligence itself is corrected.

Labels: If you wish to understand the invisible look carefully at the visible. from the Talmud

Concerto for Orchestra

The image that Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra (1954) evokes in my mind, as I listen, is similar to one I envison when I listen to Bartok’s heartfelt and powerful Concerto (1944). Inspired and somehow cut of the same cloth, which is my immediate impression, they both communicate something primary to the human condition. Home, heart, memory and the passage of time, love, learning, loss and longing, friendships, and family. Those things paradoxically certain and also inexpressible are in the psyce of everyman. They color the memory of a time now past. A way of thinking once forgotten but now remembered through sound.-MP


While Lutoslawski has made important contributions to the development of modern music, particularly in the domains of post-tonal, twelve-note sonorities and rhythmic textures based on “limited aleatorism”, he has consistently looked to the masters of the symphonic era, such as Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms, for his understanding of large-scale closed forms.

(from “Considerations of Symphonic Form in the Music of Lutoslawski” by James Harley)

“Throughout the Stalinist period, as he occupied himself with functional music, Lutoslawski made frequent use of Polish folk music. Such modally rooted material is featured prominently throughout the Concerto. In addition, the relatively simple harmonic language and the restricted density of contrapuntal textures ensures widespread accessibility”.

(from “Considerations of Symphonic Form in the Music of Lutoslawski” by James Harley)