Composing is the art of blending the sounds of different voices and
instruments into a pleasing composition. Instruments have always been used to
make music. One can imagine early music as a spontaneous combination of rhythm
instruments, flutes or strings and singing. In every region of the world, music
developed with combinations of folk musicians and more formal music cultures
that involved instrument makers, teachers, notation, composers, sponsors and
producers of rituals and entertainment. In China, a music culture was well
developed by the second millennium BC. In ancient Greece, choirs performed for
entertainment, celebration and religious festivals. Music education was
considered essential; music theory included the modal scales that became the
basis for European classical music. In India music developed along with
Upanishads as Ragas, devotional music. Raga theory developed remarkable
complexities in terms of scale structure, microtonal distinctions and song
Small ensembles evolved in the European Renaissance with little distinction
between vocal or instrumental parts. Music for dance emphasized rhythm and
repeating sections with changes in tempo. Liturgical music often involved an
organist alternating with a hymn sung by the congregation or choir. The prelude
was a short performance piece that involved improvisation on a keyboard or lute.
Variations on melodic themes formed the structure of longer pieces. Themes of
four to eight measures were repeated but with different counterpoint and
different voices. These simple elements continued to evolve in the classic
repertoire with increasing complexity and growing ensemble size until you had
orchestras playing symphonies. The progression of European music involved
increasing reliance on music notation and obedience of musicians to the
instructions of composers.
Some of the best known 20th century composers of symphonic music were
Mahler, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Otto Klemperer. Schoenberg and
Stravinsky wrote music for films. Homegrown composers often combined orchestral
music with popular music. Stylistic distinctions were overcome by creative
innovators in the US such as Copeland, Ellington, Gershwin, Bernstein and a host
of jazz musicians who emerged as virtuoso performers and creative composers.
Musical ideas converged in the US, Canada and Europe to produce rapidly evolving
and eclectic styles. As recorded popular music emerged, song writers and
arrangers became the new composers who dominated radio play.
Composers in the Europe of old were immersed in music from their early
childhood. They followed forms that were fashionable and influenced each other.
JS Bach, the great master was influenced by Handel and Vivaldi. Mozart expressed
musical ideas from Bach, Handel, Haydn and many other composers at work in
Europe. Beethoven studied with Haydn and was inspired by Mozart. Händel
was born in 1685, the same year as JS Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Bach
eventually complimented Handel and his music saying that Handel was "the only
person I would wish to be, were I not Bach." Mozart admired Bach's genius.
Beethoven said that JS Bach was "the master of us all". Each musical "genius" added his own innovations so that the ideas that drove
musical composition progressed, despite the resistance of patrons and audiences.
There has always been a battle between audiences who want more of the same and
composers who were innovative. Many creative composers suffered repeated
rejection and penury.
Composers in the 20th century were often employed to write
Broadway musicals and film scores. One of my favorites is Ennio Morricone
who is credited with more than 400 movies scores. My favorite is the soundtrack
to the movie, Mission. In response to questions about his prolific productivity,
Morricone stated: “Compared to classical composers like Bach, Frescobaldi,
Palestrina or Mozart, I would define myself as unemployed.”
Jon Pareles described Marioconne in the New York Times( January 28, 2007):
“Maestro Morricone’s parlor, in a palazzo with a view of the Campidoglio hill in
the center of Rome, is a Baroque room so large that the grand piano is almost
lost amid the lavishly ornamented chairs, couches and tables. He composes not at
the piano or on a computer but at an imposing desk in his writing studio. On a
coffee table supported by a realistic rhinoceros is a neat stack of score paper
with all the parts for an orchestra written in pencil. His extensive background
in classical music can be heard in his swelling love themes and in his
meticulous orchestrations, which can suggest the stateliness of the 18th century
or the eerie dissonances of the 20th. Unlike younger film composers who create
their music as studio recordings rather than manuscripts, or who hand off their
themes for others to arrange, Mr. Morricone writes full scores and conducts them
himself. Morricone grew up playing trumpet like his father, who worked in jazz
bands and opera orchestras; sometimes Ennio substituted for him at gigs., Mr.
Morricone was also arranging and sometimes writing pop songs. He experimented
constantly with timbre, using surf-rock guitar or jew’s harp, panpipes or
synthesizer, wordless voices or exotic percussion. For the beginning of “Once
Upon a Time in the West,” he persuaded the director not to use conventional
instruments, just amplified ambient sounds, from the creak of a swinging sign to
the screech of an arriving train.”
Like Morricone, I played the piano, trumpet and have eclectic musical
interests and delight in playing with sounds of all kinds. I feel free to
combine musical styles and invent new ones.
Morricone stated: ” I have studied the expressive methods of the entire
history of musical composition. At times I turn more toward light music, at
times I turn more toward serious music. I mingle things, and sometimes I turn
into a chameleon. We are living in a modern world, and in contemporary music the
central fact is contamination, not the contamination of disease but the
contamination of musical styles. If you find this in me, that is good."