While Aaron Copland’s works are widely celebrated for their elegant formal coherence, his compositional method was strikingly nonlinear; in fact, he spoke of himself as an artist who primarily assembled materials.
Rather than writing pieces from start to finish, Copland wrote down fragments of musical ideas when they came to him. When it was time to produce a complete work he would turn to these ideas—he called them his “gold nuggets”—and if one or more of them seemed promising he would write a piano sketch and proceed to work on them further at the keyboard.
This piano phase was so integral to Copland’s creative process that it permeated his compositional style in subtle and complex ways. His habit of turning to the keyboard tended to embarrass him until he learned that Stravinsky did the same.
This according to Copland. I: 1900 through 1942 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984, 255; RILM Abstracts 1984-3448).
Today is Copland’s 120th birthday! Above, the composer in 1962; below, a selection of his “miniature” piano works suggests how he worked with his gold nuggets.
The symmetries of Jacob Obrecht’s Missa “Maria zart” can be deconstructed into constituent elements, like a puzzle, to re-create certain stages of the composer’s working methods.
Described by Rob Wegman as “the sphinx among Obrecht’s Masses”, the work ideally lends itself to this approach because of the simplicity of the melodic and rhythmic layout of its cantus firmus. These characteristics may have inspired the composer to write even more geometrically than is usual in his oeuvre.
This according to “Looking at the sphinx: Obrecht’s Missa “Maria zart” by János Bali (Journal of the Alamire Foundation II/2 [fall 2010] pp. 208–30).
According to some sources, today is Obrecht’s 560th birthday! Below, an excerpt from the work, conducted by Prof. Bali.
Creativity has been defined as the ability to produce work that is novel, high in quality, and appropriate to an audience. While the nature of the creative process is under debate, many believe that creativity relies on real-time combinations of known neural and cognitive processes.
One useful model of creativity comes from musical improvisation, such as in jazz, in which musicians spontaneously create novel sound sequences. A study used jazz musicians to test the hypothesis that individuals with training in musical improvisation, which entails creative generation of musical ideas, might process expectancy differently.
Researchers used EEGs to compare the brain activity of 12 jazz musicians (with improvisation training), 12 classical musicians (without improvisation training), and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions. Some of the examples followed typical Western chord progressions, while others followed atypical ones.
Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progressions, indicating that they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.
This according to “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity” by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zheng, Kellyn Maves, Cameron Arkin, and Psyche Loui (Brain and cognition CXIX [December 2017] pp. 45–53).
Below, the Miles Davis Quintet plays Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a work often cited for its use of unexpected chords.
In an interview, John Lee Hooker described the genesis of his 1961 hit Boom boom:
“I used to play at this place called the Apex Bar in Detroit. There was a young lady there named Luilla, she was a bartender there. I would come in there at night and I’d never be on time. Every night the band would beat me there; sometimes they’d be on the bandstand playing by the time I got there. Whenever I’d come in she’d point at me and say ‘Boom boom, you’re late again.’ It dawned on me that that was a good name for a song. Then one night she said, “Boom boom, I’m gonna shoot you down.’ She gave me a song but she didn’t know it.”
“I took that thing and I hummed it all the way home from the bar. At night I went to bed and I was still thinking of it. I got up the next day and put one and one together, two and two together, trying to piece it out—taking things out, putting things in. I finally got it down right, got it together, got it down in my head. Then I went and sang it, and everybody went, Wow!”
“About two months later I recorded it, and the record shot straight to the top. That barmaid felt pretty good. She went around telling everybody ‘I got John Lee to write that song.’ I gave her some bread for it, too, so she was pretty happy.”
Quoted in Working musicians: Defining moments from the road, the studio, and the stage by Bruce Pollock (New York: HarperEntertainment, 2002, pp. 290–91).
According to most sources, today is Hooker’s 100th birthday! Below, a classic performance.
In an interview, Ian Anderson discussed the songs on his third solo album, The secret language of birds.
“I like singing songs that put people in a landscape. I have a picture in my head for each song that I write, and it’s a framed, still image. My early training as a painter and drafter, I think, produced in me a way of writing music and lyrics that illustrate visual ideas.”
“I try to bring some maturity to the thing I’ve been doing for most of my career, writing songs that tell people a story, not in the temporal sense, but a story they make up to fit the picture I suggest to them.”
“It’s like sending people a postcard. You’re giving them a little flavor of where you are and what you feel and how you’re getting on. But it can only be just that, a little snapshot. They have to do some of the work to imagine the bigger picture.”
This according to “Passion plays: Ian Anderson’s three decades of visual songwriting with Jethro Tull” by Steve Boisson (Acoustic guitar XI/5:95 [November 2000] pp. 86–97).
Today is Anderson’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in 2004; below, the album’s title track.
The German physician Hans Leicher undertook an operation on Richard Strauss’s nose in 1928, when the composer was working on his opera Arabella.
Leicher subsequently recalled that Strauss drafted two numbers for the work in the hospital immediately following the operation, after two cotton balls impregnated with a 2% cocaine solution had put him into such a state of stimulation that instead of resting he was inspired, and worked intensively.
The numbers were the duets Aber der Richtige, wenn’s einen gibt für mich and Und du wirst mein Gebieter sein, often described as the finest moments in the score.
This according to “Richard Strauss und die Hals-Nasen-Ohren-Heilkunde: Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der zwei schönsten Duette der Oper Arabella” by Herbert Pichler (Richard Strauss-Blätter I [June 1979] pp. 46–53).
Below, Aber der Richtige.