Sunday, 3 July 2016

Enrich your ideas with memories

'To explore remembering is to explore being creative.'
Bruce Adolphe from The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process by Ann McCutchan

Music which is attractive and memorable is rich with memories that its composers and performers weave intimately into its fabric. Memories of past works, past performances, past experiences (both musical and otherwise), influence the flow and direction of the composer's writing and the performer's singing or playing, imbuing the music with subtleties, insights and delightful cross-references that add to its quality and make it exciting.

A glorious example of music imbued with memory is Richard Strauss's 'Metamorphosen'. It was written towards the end of his long and eventful life and is enriched with his many musical and non-musical memories. To me, the music seems to travel along the time-line of a life, gathering up the memories it finds there and, very gradually, transforming them into something both nostalgic and new.

Significantly, the piece was written during the closing months of the Second World War, and Strauss's memories of this tragedy seem to form an elegiac mist around the shimmering string sounds.

But perhaps most poignantly, it is one of Strauss's most long-held musical memories that provides the piece with its last, understated but haunting transformation. During the final few phrases Strauss quotes the funeral march from the slow movement of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony. All at once all the previously heard memories in sound flow into this one moment of memory, imbuing its quiet rendering with a richness of meaning which shines towards the listener: a last ember of transformation before the end.

Enrich your ideas with memories. When working on something new take the time to look back along the progress of your life and work, and take note of the memories that rise and reach towards you. Let them flow through you onwards and into the work before you. Watch them transform your ideas into something rich: something more than merely new.

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