Guest post by Doug Thomas
I create in order to learn; there has not ever been a piece of music that I have composed without the wish to discover something and develop my artistry.
While it is, I believe, observable in all my works, it is most obvious in Portraits, and the soon to be released Landscapes.
With both projects, I intend — through microscopic study — to portrait composers that I have found influential or with whom I have spent considerable musical time. My creative approach consists of identifying the subjective elements that define these composers and, through a process of translation, make them mine.
Through a broad selection that spans over each main period of Western classical music, I have selected Couperin, Vivaldi, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Debussy, Glass and Stravinsky. Some influences are quite noticeable in my works already, some much less, and some will perhaps become more prominent as I evolve musically.
Let’s take “Vienna 2”, the first of the eight pieces of Landscapes that I have recorded and released, and examine how I have composed it and what the result has been.
The first phase of creation for this piece is one of learning; through a selection of some of Schubert’s motifs, and rhythmic, melodic or harmonic cells, I analyse, transcribe and identify the elements that make the music so interesting to me. I immerse myself in the composer’s world in order to bring the personality traits out and understand his creative process. It is similar to the work of the archaeologist, who brushes the dust and reveals the keys and symbols. It is a process of listening, reading and copying.
The second phase is then an opportunity for translation and creation. It is how I adapt Schubert’s vocabulary to mine, how I reappropriate his sentences and make them mine.
This last phase is crucial for me as it is the one that decides whether the piece will sound like a simple pastiche, or whether it will have the flavours of Schubert’s music, while being truly my own musical DNA. It might translate into improvising over the elements until something emerges or an intellectual process of shuffling the pieces and structuring new elements together.
What I find truly interesting with such an approach, aside from the enrichment, is the end result. What I see as being very much Schubert’s words out of my mouth has actually become my own expression. Had I not mentioned Schubert, “Vienna 2” might have been perceived very differently, and the secret would have been intact.
When Richter wrote Infra, a large inspiration was also Schubert’s, and his Impromptus, yet although the musical material is very similar, it is no one else but Richter’s works.
Hopefully, I can say the same about “Vienna 2”, Portraits and Landscapes. Ultimately, I feel richer.
Doug Thomas is a French composer and artist based in London. He also publishes articles, interviews and reviews, and is a regular contributor to this site and its sister site ArtMuseLondon.