On Contemporary Music and More
Edward Manukyan answers questions through E-mail.
Thursday, April 6, 2010
Dear Mr. Manukyan,
My name is Nikos and I am from Greece. I study at Edinburgh University, perusing a Master’s Degree in music composition. I am writing a research project and it would be very helpful if you could answer one or more questions about you and your works.
1. What is your opinion about contemporary classical music? Is there room for further development? Do you believe that there are elements in your compositional style and technique which contribute to this development?
2. What is the role of the composer in the 21st century?
My ambition is to craft an essay that might later be turned into an article of 5000 words. Finally I would be very happy if you could provide me with the option/permission to use this material for conclusions and examples.
Please take your time during the Easter to answer...
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Dear Mr. Spiliotis,
I will be glad to answer your questions. Thank you for the interest.
As you may already know, contemporary classical music does not exist in any significant degree of stylistic uniformity. For many centuries what the general public now calls “classical music” was the popular trend of art music, confined largely in parts of Europe, and, for that reason, its gradual development could be identified by common characteristics. So, the Baroque era gave rise to the Classical era, which in turn gave rise to the Romantic era, etc. However, it would be meaningless to give a name to the music of our time; it is simply too varied to fall into a category. Therefore, to have an opinion about contemporary classical music is to have an opinion about a huge range of works that have very little in common. Perhaps the only relevant opinion worth stating would be that music composed today is more varied and diverse than ever before.
There are, however, developments in technology that will impact the works of all composers regardless of their styles. The way music is notated, for example, will have a significant effect. Composers have relied on pencil and paper for an awfully long time. Now every one of them, except for the most old-fashioned, uses computer software such as Finale or Sibelius to compose and notate their works. This is not simply a superficial change in the way the work is done. The ability to audition your ideas as they come and to experiment with advanced techniques with the help of the computer has given an extraordinary advantage, which channels the composer’s talent into a full concentration on the most essential part of music-making. This will sustain its impact on music for years to come, and in ways that may not be fully predicted today. If we try and look further into the future, it must be obvious that, if humans don’t destroy themselves long before then, the future (not so distant, by the way) will eventually see a unification of technology and biology, and humans will converge with super computers. What kind of music will there be then, and whether there will be any use for music at all, are questions as fantastic as the idea of human computers.
Of course, I believe there is room for further development, and there will always be. It is simply impossible for me to imagine a time when nothing new could be done in music.
The question whether my music may have any significance on the development of a style in contemporary music – as conceited and big-headed as it sounds of me to even consider it – is to be taken very seriously, at least as a manifestation of commitment.
The core aim of my work as a composer has been to develop a personal style using elements from Armenian folklore. Whatever innovations I have made, are entirely to be found in my treatment of these elements, in the way I use those to construct melodic structures, sound palettes, musical layers, and the overall development of my ideas. I have discarded traditional harmonic principles, even those of Armenian schools, in favor of deriving everything from simple motifs, elements. In some works, I have remained closer to the mainstream, the traditional, in others I have experimented vigorously. While I wouldn’t expect my music to influence a generation of composers from all over the world, it wouldn’t be too immodest of me to envision that my works may indeed help create a trend among Armenian composers or composers interested in not only Armenian music but the music of the Caucasus, in general, however big or small its effect.
You ask about the role of composers living in the 21st century. Composers have never had a “role” other than making music. Composers must choose for themselves the kind of stylistic direction they would like to pursue, and they must do it spontaneously, without external pressure. These days many talented young musicians think that in order to become professional composers they must attend a university. In fact, the only thing a young composer needs is a rich collection of music scores (works by master composers of our time and the bygone eras) and a great deal of time at their hands to study the gigantic wealth of works passed down to him – the profession of a composer does not tolerate part-time dedication.
Finally, I must mention that a musical composition is more personal when it isn’t the result of the indoctrinated creativity safely imparted on composers in composition departments, and for this reason, it is more valuable. Striving to constantly learn things is a big challenge; striving to unlearn things is a bigger challenge. Some mild and non-capricious habit of disrespect and arrogance is very helpful, and in fact essential for the development of aspiring artists.
My best wishes,