Compositional Style

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Musical Composition By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Musical Composition
Last updated: 15/03/2016
Tags: 20th century music, academic music, song structure

With every passing year, and with unparalleled contemporary access to masterpieces penned by composers long dead, we have ever broader shoulders to stand on, such that neophytes of today may wonder what more they can contribute to new music without sounding derivative.

The trajectory of musical expression from the structures formalised during the Baroque and Classical periods, through the excesses of Romanticism and flights of fancy of Impressionism, tends inexorably towards 'stream of consciousness' composition, or "one damned thing after another", rather like history itself, culminating in so-called 'Modernism' at the start of the 20th Century.

Possibly as many will have asked "was Modernism a mistake?" as have asked "What is Modernism?"  Considering it's been around for about a century, one could justifiably question whether it's a misnomer, and whether its usefulness has lapsed in a manner comparable with that of the Ars Nova and Ars Antiqua.  With its implicit imperative to renew however, I believe the central tenets of Modernism will prevail, in that they connote a desire to innovate, to perform, to incorporate the popular and to devise new technologies.

When considering the various parties involved in the process:

  1. The composer
  2. The performer
  3. The audience

composers are availed of many choices in structure, timbre, tonality and texture, all of of which could be said to contribute to 'style'.  As Cahn & Heusen's song observes, "If you've got it, it stands out a mile".

At times, composition students may have felt it mandatory to write something inaccessible, for fear of not complying with perceived strictures of academia or other zeitgeist, whereas I believe there is as cogent a place as ever for us to study melody, harmony, counterpoint and orchestration, and to write from the heart, even if what we compose ends up falling outwith the constraints of historical practice. 


Derek Williams Musical Composition Teacher (Edinburgh)

About The Author

Alongside my career as an educator, I have been self-employed variously as composer, conductor, musical director and record producer for a range of international clients.




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