Friday, October 2, 2009

Musical Influences - 1

If you were asked to name the composers who have had the most influence on your music, what would you say?

I am sometimes asked this question, and I never quite know what to say... It is relatively easy to list many musical creators in a wide variety of genres whose music I love (although there are so many that it would be a challenge to make a comprehensive list), but I have never taken the time to figure out how much of an influence any of them have had on my music.

Until now. I recently received an E-mail asking me this question from a music teacher who had heard my music in the Northwest Territories, of all places(!), and while I was thinking about my response, it began to dawn on me that yes, a quite a few composers have influenced me to varying degrees in a number of my compositions.

I will spill the beans and reveal my answer later, but in the mean-time, what are your musical influences?


Joshua White said...

Tough question. I like so many different composers for so many different reasons. It is hard to pick a few out of the bunch that would be my favorite. But as for the composers who inspire or influence me, I find it easier to distinguish.

One of my biggest influences I would say is Debussy. I love the way he incorporates strange exotic chords so seamlessly and smoothly. It's just so alluring.

Sticking with the French/ Parisan composers, another one of my biggest influences is Satie. the simplicity but beauty of his music is pretty deadly.

and finally, the modern day composers that influence me would be John Adams and Steve Reich. I am fascinated how they are able to create these soundscapes out of very minimal material, and in my opinion it's the most beautiful music out there.

Maestro said...

I love this question. In agreeing with Joshua, Debussy is one composer that I really get inspiration from (despite the idea that he stole his composition) Also, I enjoy Chopin and his incorporation of a central melody with what seems like a complicated countermelody.

Mary Beth said...

I have many influences from many different genres of music and it is very hard to even think about narrowing them down to a couple big influences. I havent heard a lot of classical music or mordern music however John Cage's music has inspired me greatly. I am also inspired by Beethoven, Debussy.

From jazz theres Nina Simone, Miles Davis, John Coultrain, Klezmer style also has influenced me, as well as Big Band music, etc.

Most of my influences are not of the classical genre. Radiohead, Fiona Apple, Tom Waits, The Beatles, Wilco, etc. this is just to name a few of people or bands that have takin me by surprise and have greatly influence me in how I write, listen and love music. I could probably write down 50 composers and artists from all genres who influence me.

VicDiesel said...

I don't find that answering this question is overly helpful. I would hope that my music doesn't overly sound like any composer in particular, and if I've succeeded in finding my own style, why do you care and what does it enlighten for you if I were to answer?

So I usually list "JS Bach, Charles Ives, and Paul Oakenfold". Only partly in jest.

Clark Ross said...

I agree with VicDiesel that the question can be problematic, because it carries a potential implication — probably unintentional — of lack of originality on the part of the composer.

And I suspect that most composers do not see themselves as following in the footsteps of any particular composer(s) or compositional movement(s). We are all trying to express ourselves musically with our own voice, and we hope, as Vic suggests, that others do not hear it as being derivative in some way.

That said, I think the motivation behind the question is usually benign; the answer may tell us something about the composer that we didn't know.

In my case, I was posing the question mainly because I thought students might enjoy thinking about it, and an added bonus was that the answers revealed information about students' musical taste that I hadn't known previously. Knowing their musical tastes might even help me to teach them better.

lindseyw said...

My output of compositions has only begun recently and still remains a very brief collection but I can still pinpoint influences that helped me get going.

I love Debussy's music but what influenced my writing from his style is the way he displaces rhythms and strong beats to keep a timeless feel from becoming too rigid or frameless.


I happen to be playing a piano piece, souvenir de porto rico by Louis Morreau Gottschalk this summer and the minimalist style really caught my attention. I liked the way the same thematic material is repeated and thickened while keeping the same harmony and rhythms and adding more on top, only to peal back off the layers and fade back out. This showed me how a motif can be modified so many different ways before it is the one you pick and can also be a foundation for an entire piece without getting worn out.

I have so many composers that I admire but these two, in particular, have stuck out in terms of how they have written their music.

David said...

I guess I'm a little late on this here comment -trolley hah. It's a tough question. I haven't been composing anything significant for very long. However, there are a few composers whose music very much inspires me:

I love the music of Debussy, he has such a firm control over the tone and mood of his music and passes between moods so freely.

I also enjoy Chopin's music for its flowing rhythm. In the nocturnes especially. He also has very powerfully moodful harmony.

Leo Brouwer's music I also find very interesting and while we're in guitar country I've recently been very into Dusan Bogdanovic. Their phrasing is unlike anything else that I've heard. And Dusan's polyrhythmic play is quite something.

I wouldn't say that I wish I could compose music like that of these composers because then it wouldn't be my own. However, I do strive to take elements of their music and implement them in my compositions.

Steve said...

I feel that a lot of the classical music I've been exposed to in the past few years has been some of the best music I've heard, but admittedly I haven't listened to enough of it. I love Debussy's harmonies and textures, I love Bartok's unique incorporation of folk melodies, I love the rhythms in a lot of south american guitar music and modern percussion music, I love the simplicity of Satie, I love most minimalist composers... regretfully I feel I've only scratched the surface of each of these composers and I know there's other worthwhile composers I haven't given a chance.
These days I simply don't have the natural drive to listen to music like I used to.. I desire to play and create music more than ever, but it usually takes a conscience effort for me to seek out new music and give it proper attention. I usually only listen to music when walking/driving somewhere, which is usually something a little easier to digest - electronic music, hip-hop, or progressive rock are some genres I will cycle through regularly. I guess all of these genres influence me in some way or another.. I am very active in my listening, always trying to understand complexities and to know pieces of music inside out.. so this type of listening will inevitably influence my personal output.

A. Rideout said...

When I listen to music I listen for things that are unique that no other composer or group has done before. It doesn't need to be something totally brand new and out of the blue but it could be something old that has a new fresh twist on it. With my own writting, I guess like a lot of others I try to achieve this; something that people find to be pleasent and listenable but at the same time to be fresh and new. When looking back at composers in the past who have influenced me in this way I think of one in particular, and that would be Stravinsky. I love his writting and the way he organizes his ideas. He wrote with an edge and that is always cool to listen too.

Adam Batstone said...

I tend to go a little overboard and when I hear something I like or that is interesting to me. I will exclusivley listen to that type of music for a few days until I become mentally exhausted from it. aha Im not sure this is a good habit but I find when I fully digest a piece of music, revisiting it a few months down the road I hear new things from it, new ideas that I never heard at first.

Aiden Hartery said...

Very tough question...
For "classical" music, I'd say my biggest influences / music that I listen to a lot would be Mozart, Chopin, Wagner, Debussy, Glass, Ives, Reich... God.. there are so many more. hahaha very tough question.

A composer that I think about and enjoy above all of them would probably be Stravinsky. I really love his music, how he presents, orchestrates, arranges, his mix of tonality with atonality, it's all great. I would really like to dig in and analyze more of his works and really see how he creates his music that gives it the "Stravinsky" sound.

Tim Purdy said...

This is a great question.

I love how every composer writes differently and I enjoy listening most to the pieces that seem to gel with my own personality. I would have to say that those composers are Debussy, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Stravinsky and some of Messiaen. I hope to grow into a composer that writes music that sounds similar to these masters, with my own personal flair.

After re-reading the former paragraph, I thought about what I choose to listen to when I am in the mood for heavy drums and virtuostic guitar / keyboard duels, and a very musical group that is really tight and technical, and I thought of Dream Theater! Dream Theater are a fantastic group that definitely has had an influence on my compositions thus far. One example is dealing with time signatures. They often change time signatures without the feel of the music sounding abnormal, and on my latest work for trombone quartet, I believe I have achieved this. At least, I hope so!

I believe that we are influenced every day by the music we choose to listen to (and don't choose to listen to for that matter yet is forced on us - radio / mall...). I am making it a point, especially over Christmas when I have more free time, to listen to many different styles and practices so that I can really define my own tastes and know how I want to deliver the message of my future compositions.

Mitchell wxhao said...

This is a hard question. I feel like I've drawn influence from Stravinsky, Bartok, but also a huge amount of influence from video game music and concert band music at large. It's the kind of music I've mostly been exposed to. But is that when I say when someone asks me who my influences are? Who knows? No one has asked me that yet.

Sarah-Beth Cormier said...

Defining "influence" can be tricky. But I would have to say that John Powell and Michael Giacchino, my favourite film composers, have probably had the biggest influence on me. It was Powell's music that inspired me to trying writing my own and Giacchino's music that has helped me to better understand how music works in film. The techniques both employ to amplify the emotional impact of their music are always in my compositional toolbox. Their mastery of technique, emotion, and narrative function in music represent a skill level I hope to one day reach. In the meantime, the rich textures and harmonies, varied and recognizable melodies, and wealth of colours and emotion displayed in Powell and Giacchino's music are reflected in my own compositions to the best of my ability.

Robert Humber said...

I think my problem is that I'm too easily impressed. At this point in my education, every other day I am finding a new piece that explodes my brain. And I understand that this is probably the point of my life that I will soak the most information up so I am taking advantage of it. I do think I have my own compositional voice, I'm just at a stage where I am trying different ways of expressing it with the information age throwing astronomical amounts of inspiration at me. I am at least partially accepting of the fact that I am but a trainee in this field and I think I'm capable of writing great music in my current state, but I also trust that I will get better with time and my voice will shine through my work.

Just for example, I'm currently working on a Sanctus movement of a chamber Mass I'm writing. The work began with direct influences from Messiaen and Liszt and I wrote probably three minutes of it with these composers fresh on my mind. However, I looked back a couple days later and found some things that could be changed. Then a couple days later I changed it again. By this point my mindset had shifted, I had been listening to different music. Ultimately, I was left with these basic Messiaen/Liszt ideas I had started with but with new ideas molding into these, all inspired by new pieces/composers/ideas. Further, in the last couple days I've listened to a bunch of Requiems while following along with the scores. On top of this, I was very inspired by a Berlin Philharmonic online concert of George Crumb's 'Ancient Voices of Children'. So now I'm finding myself once again considering revamping the whole piece tomorrow with these new ideas I'm thinking of.

Assuming I do give the movement a makeover, I will now have a piece inspired by Messiaen, Liszt, Britten, Durufle, Penderecki, Crumb, Tavener, Rautavaara, Faure, Mozart, Hindemith and more. Of course these influences are also churned through my own mind in a way that felt right at the time I made it. If you asked 100 composers to write a piece based on all of these people you would get 100 different pieces.

I think that right now, I'm just fascinated with a lot of music which is naturally going to find itself in my music.


-I will always love film and video game music.
-Beethoven 9
-Holst 'The Planets'
-Stravinsky everything
-Debussy, Ravel... (Daphnis et Chloe, Gaspard de la Nuit, Debussy Preludes, Orchestral Nocturnes...)
-Sibelius symphonies
-Bartok everything
-Traditional Japanese court music (Gagaku)
-Indian music
-Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki, John Tavener ("holy minimalism")

... I was going to write many more things but there isn't much point. The point is, soak up everything and hopefully you will a) feel happy and excited about music and b) develop your own voice over time. It's probably best not to worry about it too much.


Durufle Requiem

Actually a decently well-known masterpiece although I hadn't heard of it until recently. Absolutely blown away by the subtlety of its beauty. Reminds me a lot of the Faure Requiem (a favorite of mine) in the way it glides along, its subtle clarity of expression, almost Classical era-esque in that regard. However it also holds qualities of the more Impressionist composers of France like Debussy and Ravel.

Britten War Requiem

So hooked on this. I could listen all the way through 5 times a day if I'm in the right headspace. Probably a piece on my personal top 10 list.

Sibelius 5th

First I heard his 4th and it was my favorite. Then I heard his 2nd and then that was my favorite. Then I heard this and it might be my favorite. Sibelius is an incredible symphonist... I think we should learn about him more in school. The final movement never fails to give me goosebumps.

Thanks for reading.

Duncan Stenhouse said...

I've always loved and hated questions like this. I think that for me personally this question can have a variety of answers depending on which genre I am trying to compose with in. I grew up in a house filled with music, my mom is a double bass player and my dad has been in choirs his entire life. Growing up they tried to take me to as many concerts and productions of things as possible. The Calgary Philharmonic was a very common weekend activity for us and they tried to take me to musicals as much as possible. My parents have other interests though as well, a mutual love of classical music and 80's rock music, my moms love of jazz and my dads love of techno music made for an eclectic style of tracks being played throughout the house or in car rides in the mornings of my time home. As I grew up my own tastes developed and I began to love these genres and many others that my parents weren't as inclined to like such as opera, alternative rock and hip hop. Not only do I derive influences from certain composers but from a variety of genres and types of music as a whole.

As a composer I will constantly try to derive new inspiration from anything that grabs my ear and makes me question my own writing and if I could be doing better or experimenting with new sounds or niche's I hadn't yet explored. As of right now in my six or so years of composing as a hobby I can say that composers like Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Chopin and Satie have been major influences on my work. More contemporary composers like Gjeilo and Lauridsen have also influenced my work and jazz music will always be a huge part of my musical background, with far too many influences to even consider listing here.

Duncan Stenhouse said...

(Had to post in two parts)

Another fascinating pull for me however has always been rap music. Rap music has been an absurdly large part of my life and listening history. I find the lyricism, truthful punchiness and extremely complex rhythms to be some of the most interesting sounds to be coming out of any style of modern popular music. Artists like MF Doom and Black Thought write multisyllabic rhyming couplets on countless songs of theres, creating both clever and extremely thought provoking intricate lyricism that sadly most people don't associate with rap music. Rap producers like Thundercat and Flying Lotus and artists like Anderson Paak. are creating some of the most incredible and interesting beat progressions to be coming out of any type of music at the moment quite frankly and sadly I find that this genre in particular is frowned upon in the classical world even though its musical and lyrical output is so strong. (For a fascinating video essay on the rhyme schemes going on in the rap world and how its progressed heres a link ). While this has been a large digression from the main question at hand I thought I should include it none the less as for me rap music is a huge influence on the percussion I use in my pieces and will likely continue to be.

Movie composers like Alexandre Desplat and Hans Zimmer have also been major influences since there are so many videos and readily available interviews with them online where they go through their processes. This is a practice I try to maintain as well. If an artist catches my ear I will research them and listen to as many interviews with them as possible to try and see what their creative process is. Its a fascinating way to see through other artists eyes. Wether its Zimmer talking about how every theme is a question and an answer or Jimi Hendrix talking about how to him music is colours or Nina Simone talking about how sometimes performing can be the most freeing thing in the world to a musician. All these tidbits and views from different influential artists of our time constantly run through my head when I am composing or listening to music.
Obviously a large goal of composing is to make something that sounds good to a listener but to me there is also a large part of composing that needs emotion and something solid behind the tune that can be interpreted differently by everyone. All musicians shape each other and have very separate intakes when in comes to the music we all love and thats what makes us all unique.

This was a fascinating post to comment on and read some comments of, I apologize for my constant digressions from the actual question at hand but I believe that most of what I said relates to my answer for such a broad question.

Kat NT said...

I like to think that my inspiration for composition is a big jumble of life experience up until now. Although this statement is very broad for me to say, my musical interests are constantly changing so to pinpoint certain composers. However, there are some compositions that have been so jarring to me in my life that I feel that I gravitate towards. I would say, for a large part Shostakovitch has been a huge musical inspiration. I have always admired how clever his writing his, and I always try to make my pieces "clever" as well.There was always a lot of musical theatre in my house (my mom being a director and my uncle a musician) so I always accredit my musical taste and inspiration to be largely influenced by that.

I think as others have done before me it would be interesting to list pieces that I am enjoying right now.

String Quartet No.8 Shostakovitch
Bartok 44 Duos (specifically number 32 and 44)
This year, I have been taken interest compositions of Milton Babbitt after taking the Post Tonal theory course.

I think our musical tastes and influences are always changing. As I am learning more throughout my degree, I being to appreciate pieces differently.

Kristin Wills said...

As others have mentioned, we are constantly finding new musical influences. Personally, I find my recent music is heavily influenced by Messiaen, specifically his organ music. I was instructed to listen to some of those works when I wrote a piece for organ last year, and something about the way the harmony works really appealed to me. I found that I unconsciously started to write my own harmony in a similar way. This piece in particular was one that inspired me: