Saturday, December 17, 2005

The ensemble....

What does it mean to compose music for large ensemble today?

In many ways, big groups like Orchestras, Choirs or Wind Bands are aberrations: they rose to prominence in the 1800's (later for Wind Ensemble) and have been museum pieces ever since. Most Americans get exposed to orchestral sound only through television and the movies, and often these sounds have been produced electronically. And in the end, they are still drawing on opera and classical/romantic tradition.

So what is the "ultimate" music making group? In other words - what would composers today aspire to write for? Is it for small, chamber ensemble? Solo instrument? Installation/non traditional space? Still large ensemble?

And what about performers? What do they aspire to? Solo success or ensemble prowress?

Personally - I write for what I think best expresses the idea of the piece itself. For the most part it is electronic production, or for four or fewer performers. But my aesthetic is generally evolving to a quieter, more delicate (but NOT flute!) overall approach - maybe I'm jsut reacting to hearing a lot of Rock lately.

What about you? What are your thoughts?


Blogger Mike Boyd said...

The "bigger is better" narrative has ruled composition for too long. Perhaps ultimately it is the intense organization and bureaucracy that ruins the large ensembles - with the resources and such to put a large gruop together, it's probably hard to not have them entrenched in some type of "tradition" (tradition is invarriably a construction that reflects the values of the current more than the past...). Thinking about "ultimates" itself is problematic - we should continually strive to create a temporarily "ultimate" art, and then move on to do the same again.

12/19/2005 10:48 PM  
Anonymous Stephen F. Lilly said...

Linking this post to the previous one, I have the "ultimate" non-Romantic approach. I write for whatever ensemble is available. In fact, I often conceive of a piece in terms of my available performers. I've dated a soprano for the past five years, and not surprisingly, most of my output from this period addresses the voice. Even my most recent compositional project based on the iteration of nonlinear equations stems, in part, from a desire to learn how to program. No melodies or ideas from the great beyond (God has yet to command me to write a string quartet); just unadorned practicality. Besides, why would I want to write down the melodies in my head – they’re all variations on the last radio single I heard (I think it would be hard for anyone to justify a thirty minute theme and variations – in Rondo form, of course – on “My Hump” by the Black-eyed Peas).

Thus, in response to the original post, I would write for Orchestra if presented the opportunity. In fact, I wrote my dissertation because of an orchestration class. Practicality has its limits, however. No matter for whom or what I compose, I must have creative control. Thus, I would never consider writing for commercial film, K-12 ensembles, or traditional opera. With such restrictions an artist becomes an artisan.

12/20/2005 12:16 PM  

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