Friday, 9 October 2015

Preparing to write for String Quartet, 10 suggestions

1.       Consider why you want to use this medium. 
2.       Write down a list of the techniques that you might use.
3.       Think carefully about where you have heard other composers using these techniques.
4.       Ask yourself which SQ piece stands out in your mind as a great work; is there a particular reason for your choice?
5.       Ensure that you are familiar with the capabilities of the string instruments and the people playing them.
6.       Consider your audience, what might they expect from your work.
7.       Select your method of planning, even down to the type of paper you use.
8.       If you make sketches, keep them all, even the most unproductive.
9.       Work out your best time of day for composing and keep to the routine.
10.   Have a critical friend, another point of view is more than helpful, it is vital.

It is not enough just to say I want to write for string quartet.  If you have been instructed to do so, or it is the case that you won’t be paid unless it is a string quartet then that is another matter.  The medium is not a matter of it will do.
Point two follows on from the first, you can use a particular medium in a simple way, e.g. in this instance one might just use bowed and pizz. textures. If you listen to Jonathan Harvey’s quartets you might be astonished as to the variety of sounds available, and most composers hunger after new sounds.
For most of us the Beethoven SQs are the main source of study, then Bartok but why restrict yourself, try one or two of the Maxwell Davies Naxos quartets or go outside the accepted range and listen to string quartets playing Bach’s Art of Fugue.



I write out my own manuscript paper, it takes time, but I love the process of using pencil on paper.  I also have my own paper made up on Word using the lines on Insert, it saves money especially with a laser printer, but again that is not the reason, it is the comfort of familiarity.
I am terrible at organising paper, I have boxes of music paper that I should throw away.  Slowly I am cultivating the habit of scanning sketches and have the computer file them.  If only I could have done this 30 years ago.
Morning time is best for me, between 8.00 am and about 2.00 p.m. anything after this is less productive, and one has a life to live.
It has been less than a year since I got to know Nurtan Esmen, we have the luxury of being continents apart, but through the medium of the internet we can be as critical to each other as we like!  Seriously though having a person who is kind enough to listen to your music, and it may sometimes be bad music, is a luxury.  We forget all too often to say thank you to those who help in this way.

I have helped composers and people sitting exams in composition for a number of years and I know that for every suggestion I make somebody else will have two better ones.  If you are reading this and have such suggestions, please add them to the list, that way everybody wins.