Andrew Toovey Photography © Morgan Hayes

PHD M3C BCU

"Toovey concentrated on achieving a fluent narration, moving in and out of actuality and dreamlike sequences with sureness and conviction. From the opening viola solo to the final song of the bird, his score was rich in reference to folk music — the opera was well made and striking." (The Guardian)


PhD Research Title:

Confronting a crisis of discourse: Stylistic diversity in 21st century music composition


Outline of the composition focus including previous experience and context/objectives.

My aim throughout this research period will be to create a significant body of multi-stylistic compositions exploring the juxtaposition of techniques drawn from a diverse range of both contemporary and historical aesthetic approaches.

I have researched literature pertaining to the central question regarding stylistic diversity in 21st century music composition. This will take the form of continuous reading and compiling of literature on the subject. Two of the most informative essays have been by Kevin Korsyn and Arnold Whittall. In his book published by Oxford University Press, Decentering Music, Kevin Korsyn very eloquently sums up the position I wish to take regarding stylistic diversity when he writes about the disciplines of musicology, ethnomusicology and music theory as:

Confronting a crisis of discourse … Contemporary classical composition is demonstrating similar aspects of complex historical changes through globalisation and commodification of knowledge. A distinctive feature of the early 21st century world is that at no point in history has music experienced such a diversity of compositional styles. (Korsyn, 2003).

Arnold Whittall, in his article in The Musical Times, ‘Problems of reference’, describes this as ‘contemporary music’s search for a firmer ground as the topic of what might constitute a mainstream at a time of persistent stylistic plurality’. (Whittall, 2004). On the question of whether there is a sound, style or composer truly defining the present time I position my works within a plurality that I believe defines the current state of classical composition.

Drawing upon art as a means to create an original musical language is something prevalent in my earlier work. My MA and MPhil degrees centred upon developing a response to abstract expressionist artists using structure, timbre and shared aesthetic as means of shared connectivity. For example my ensemble piece Até (1986) was structured using the proportions observed in a series of paintings called ‘The stations of the cross’ by American artist Barnett Newman. Also two pieces, Splice (1991) for chamber ensemble and Cantus Firmus (1992) for solo piano, were written developing some of the colour collage techniques I observed artist Bridget Riley engaged in while working in her studio. The stylistic juxtapositions exploited in my opera Ubu (1991-92) and Viola Concerto (2005) serves as a significant precursor to my current research preoccupations.

Stylistic diversity is a traditional phenomenon and an important aesthetic focus in postmodern approaches to composition. Broadly defining the research into stylistic diversity in my original composition and that of other likeminded composers, initially encompassed investigating my whole composing career from a young age, and personal association with many key composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. So, the research included delving into a large archive of material, including articles written on the music, newspaper reviews, recordings, scores and many other documents. Defining the past as a composer was an initial goal and to this end I decided to make for the first time a composer website that encompassed as much information as possible. This included a biography, a historical timeline, where artistic details could be explored, whilst placing the compositions and that of other composers and artists within this context. A complete list of all compositions, including reviews, recordings (with links to the YouTube channel) PDF’s of most works and a discography, video and information on the present PhD M3C at BCU were all fully investigated. I also have an extensive library with a very broad range of composers’ works, which I can consult during the research.

Pilot research and archival records have formed an important part in my initial preparation for my research. A brief outline of my formative compositional and musical activities will help ground the process of composition into my life-long research into it. When I first started composing (aged about seven) I wanted to copy composers I tried to play on the piano. These were mostly classical composers (Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart) and lesser known composers who wrote pieces specifically for children. I also sang in a local church choir, and began to write simple anthems for them, aged about eleven. At this time I was not aware that I should try to have an original voice or style, but tried to imitate the composers I played, sung and listened to.

By the time I went to University, (Surrey University BMus (Hons), and MA, MPhil in composition and aesthetics at Sussex University) I had become fully aware that my compositional experiments thus far needed to be developed into my own particular style. From this distance in time viewing these initial experiments, it became clear to me that I had been developing my own style and trying out different combinations of ideas through my research into many different composers. For example when I played Bela Bartok, I would try to listen to and study scores of as many of his pieces that I could find. I wrote an extended essay for my ‘A’ Level studies on his First Piano Concerto (1926) when I played viola in a performance of this piece by the Brent Youth Symphony Orchestra. My attitude to music and specifically composition has remained the same since these early days, one of passion for the music followed by research, building of knowledge regarding the technical aspects of music composition from the various composers to eventual osmosis into my own compositions.


How my time will be organised: Compositional context and schedule:

The overall original composition context of my research will concentrate around a collection of works that will include a diversity of styles and techniques. The rationale for this is to gradually develop ideas towards the most extended work Narrow Rooms, an opera that will be two hours in duration. I have a schedule in place of pieces that will be written over the research period:


Composition Projects – October 2015-December 2016):

1. Holding You - 11 string players, Project Instrumental. 5 minutes.
Performance during the Frontiers Festival March 2016.
 
2. Verboten (Forbidden) - Thallein chamber ensemble. 3 minutes.
Performance during the Frontiers Festival February 2016.
 
3. The Way it is now – 7 songs for voice and viola. Rose Redgrave, viola, voices: Andrew Hamilton, Robert Nettleship and Murray Ashdown. 12 minutes.
Performance in composer forum concert. BCU.
 
4. Ej upp (No Entry in Swedish)– solo alto recorder (Chris Orton) 6 minutes.
Performance during the Frontiers Festival. March 2016.
 
5. Euonia - Thallein chamber ensemble. 7 minutes
Performance during visit to Beijing Modern Music Festival, China. May 2016.
 
6. First Out - Piano Piece for Ian Pace. 6 minutes
Performance at York Late Music Festival. May 2016.
   
7. Pump Triptych - for Andrew Smith (clarinet) - 3 movements: 1st – B Clar, 2nd – Bb, 3rd – Eb. 10 minutes
Performance during COMA Summer School Doncaster. August 2016.
   
8. Contrecto - for Harmonium and Tabla 30 minutes
Performance at St Katherine’s Church, London February 2017.

Pieces to be written from January 2017:

Thirty Double Portraits for voice, violin/viola, piano and cello with choreographed dance. 30 minutes.

Narrow Rooms - Chamber opera in twenty three scenes. Six voices and chamber ensemble. Libretto by Michael Finnissy based on a novel by James Purdy. Approximately two hours in duration.

I will also continue with the series of chamber pieces for various performers and ensembles. So far this includes Arthur’s lullaby (violin/viola duo), The trumpet in my life (solo Trumpet), and Don’t Let the snow fall (solo voice).

How my time will be organised: Gaining a wider perspective on stylistic diversity.

My methodology whilst writing my compositions will be to research current thought on stylistic diversity and artistic collaboration from the perspective of other composers, musicologists, artists and a wide range of sources. I have approached a number of composers from around the world who I will interview. I will focus on these questions myself during this research period and ask them to answer them as well:

1. What is your attitude to music that contains elements of stylistic diversity?
2. Do you think that contemporary music still has geographical borders?
3. What is your attitude to importing musical ideas or techniques from different parts of the world into your own compositions?
4. Does music have to be placed in one genre?
5. Do you find works of art (of whatever type) of any significance when engaging in compositional thought?

This is a small sample of questions and I will develop a more significant range of questions that fully explore the notions of stylistic diversity.

The scope of my research will encompass a focus on composers who display a multiplicity of styles and influences. Decoding influences and use of extra musical aspects will form part of this research as will attitudes to the embracing or rejection of stylistic ‘isms’’. Developing a synthesis of current critical theory on stylistic diversity will enable me to place my own composition into a larger framework. This will include wider attitudes to the globalisation and regionalism. I have chosen composers to interview on the subject from around the world in an attempt to develop notions of for example ‘What makes music sound Russian, Norwegian or Canadian?

I will also perform similar research in connection to visual artists’ attitudes to the same ideas. In the past I have spent much time talking to artists and have an archive of letters and other documents pertaining to these issues and many others. This includes among many, Bridget Riley, Leon Kossoff, John Davies, Jake Chapman, Julian Grater and artists that I corresponded with who are now deceased including, Stanley Hayter, Jean Dubuffet, Ken Kiff, Robert Rauschenberg, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore. Some of this material will prove useful as a starting point to developing opinion on the subject.

I have a particular interest and experience in writing pieces for a diverse group of performers, from solo instrumental pieces to large orchestral pieces. In an attempt to centralise and consolidate my thought processes, I would write text based pieces (Songs combining different contexts). An opera based on a text that would investigate devised music based around historical styles (Baroque era techniques for example). This would enable me to investigate stylistic traits in a wider historical context, rather than just focusing on more recent trends. I will also write a series of chamber instrumental pieces that may well be developed into a connected series of pieces to be played individually or as a group. The research centres upon the creation of a significant body of compositional work that addresses this question. My research will culminate in an opera that investigates stylistic juxtapositions.

How will my findings influence my compositions?

Having just embarked on writing the new compositions listed above it is too early to say exactly how my findings will influence my compositions in the future. However three pieces are nearly complete so for the moment I can comment on these as an example. Holding You written for 11 string players and the ensemble Project Instrumental was inspired by a conversation with photographer Malcolm Crowthers. We were talking about an exhibition we visited together of the recent work of David Hockney at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2012). Malcolm concentrated on how Hockney focused on the minutest of details and yet held the overall structure and scale of each picture clearly in his mind. He likened this to a photographic portrait where the focus was on the sitter, but the surroundings could also tell a great deal about the inner character of the subject. When I tried to put this into musical terms my piece, Holding You, became one idea, very high harmonics focused on a limited pitch range and a continually very soft dynamic, muted and subtle. I wanted it to encapsulate one moment (the flicker of the camera shutter) or elaborate detail.

Also in the composition, The Way it is now, seven songs for voice and viola I have used cuttings from the Metro Newspaper I read most days on the underground train in London. I have been collecting ideas from the papers for some time. Here is one example of text regarding the artist Grayson Perry that I set in The Way it is now:

I don’t care enough about most issues to get passionate
My teddy bear is a lifelong possession,
Central to my entire mythology.
They want to go in and be shocked
They’ve switched from suspicion to an
Expectation of spectacle in art.
I might be the ‘tranny potter’,
But at least it’s a brand.
I like my ceramics because they’re wobbly
And hand-made and not mass-produced.

I decided to do this as I would also like to develop some of the interviews that I have with composers and visual artists mentioned above to become potential text for other works, especially the work Thirty Double Portraits. These portraits of friends in alphabetical order mostly combine an artist/friend with a composer/musician:



Andrew Toovey - Thirty Double Portraits (2017). A collection of thirty connected short pieces for voice, flute, clarinet, bassoon, percussion, violin, viola and cello with choreographed dance duet.

A Armando Alemdar Andrew Hamilton On the Monday morning
B Colin Blundell Ed Bennett How can you say such a thing?
C Carole Hensher (D) Joe Cutler Suddenly he was there before him. Standing, watching.
C Vanessa Cabban (D) Sean Clancy What about the rest?
C Craigie Aitchison (D) Robert Chavara What kind of fruit?
D David Drew (D) Adam de la Cour We kept mainly to the unknown roads
E Eva Hornstein Ed Hughes She glanced at the letter and raised her eyebrows
F Roland Freisitzer Michael Finnissy I watched them until they were out of sight
F Duncan Felding Monika Beisner I smiled to myself
G Josef Goschl Antony Gray You boys are all right
H Suzanne Hartley Morgan Hayes Clear and warm
H Deirdre Henderson Rochelle Haussman Behind the mists of appearance
I Ian Slade Indi Padda Stay together, I shall be close
J Judy Shelton Jonathan Harvey (D) I’m near you
J John Davies Julian Grater We smelled the burnt ground
K Monika Kinley (D) Matthew Lee Knowles How do I know?
L Leon Kossoff Leo Grant After some distance
M Charles Mutter Malcolm Crowthers He listened and then sighed
M Joyce McNeil Morag Morris (D) Cloud shadows were settling on the hill
M Daniel Masters Morton Feldman (D) The need for sleep did not dominate the hours of darkness
N Chris Newman Robert Nettleship Because
P Stephen Pettitt Patrick Giguere The sun set and darkness came in quickly
R Bridget Riley Robert Chavara He used the white one first then the blue one
S Andrew Smith Howard Skempton Will you be staying long?
S Chris Shurity Rowland Sutherland Because it’s not too late
T Keith Turnbull Tim Hyman I love a man in a hat
V Owen Vaughn (D) Ilan Volkov Will you be?
W William Attwood Michael Wolters I shall be here all the time, but not on a Tuesday
Y Yvar Mikhashoff (D) Pete Yelding Was the pig alone?
Z Zoe Martlew Zachaeus Dawson The tiger and I are already acquainted

(D) denotes deceased. All titles are taken from Openings and Endgame, short stories by Richard Cutler (Scotforth Books, 2013).

As much as I am a part of the global music scene, knowing many composers and musicians around the world, I find the Birmingham Conservatoire to be progressive in its diverse attitudes to many areas of composition. It is, frankly the perfect place to conduct a study in my chosen area of knowledge, because of the complementary and challenging aesthetics of my lead and co-supervisors, Dr Cutler and Dr Wolters, and the other associate composers, Howard Skempton, Andrew Hamilton, Sean Clancy, Ed Bennett within the composition department. Their combined international renown for experimental and conceptual composition thought is rare in many other British Universities. Over the years I have established close links with The Birmingham Conservatoire, initially by giving composer talks and external examining activities, all of which have been a great pleasure to undertake. I very much appreciate the openness and diversity of both staff and students, and welcome this opportunity to focus and greatly develop my own compositional knowledge within the context of this thriving and exciting environment. Through this initial contact I have also been able to forge links between myself and many musicians and artists on the Birmingham scene, which will help expand my research for my PhD.


How my time will be organised: Keeping a listening/looking Log:

As part of my methodology I am keeping a listening/looking log of cultural events attended during this period, keeping notes and reflecting on the impact to my music as a coexistent process. This includes all music, art and film events I attend during the PhD. This is in some respects an expected part of a composer’s life, but I am making it fully connect to my research. It is regularly uploaded to my composer website and since October 2015 consists of the following entries. Detailed written notes are also made on each concert in my diary some of which I have copied here as examples of my thoughts:

Abb.
BCU = Birmingham Conservatoire
BH = Barbican Hall, BM = British Museum
ENO = English National Opera
RCM = Royal College of Music
RFH = Royal Festival Hall
ROH = Royal Opera House
SBC = South Bank Centre
WH = Wigmore Hall

Berg’s opera Wozzeck. Concert Performance. RFH SBC 02/10/2015.

This work had an important influence on my whole attitude to composition when I first saw it as a teenager. Written 1914-1922 it was one of the first piece I heard that incorporated many stylistically diverse elements (Romantically expressive, pub piano scenes, local folk-song elements to name but a few) and was to shape the way I thought about connecting music from diverse possibilities.

Film: The Martians Cineworld Hammersmith 05/10/2015.

I was struck by the feeling of stasis I felt during this film. Very little changes and there is a tangible dread of the loneliness and barren sense of the landscape.

In Modern Dress. Kings Place presentation of City University. Classical music with technology. 7/10/2015.

A very unusual concert where piano pieces by Haydn, Beethoven, Ravel etc were placed within a relationship where technology took the music to unexpected places and sound worlds. Sometimes artistic videos were also shown. I’m not sure what all this added up to in terms of – do these sounds enhance the original or interfere?

Richard Ayres new orchestral piece No.48 (Night Studio) BBCSO/Volkov - BH. 8/10/2015.

Having known this composer since we both studied with Morton Feldman at Dartington Summer School (1986), I have always treasured his ability to move into a multiplicity of compositional techniques and styles. In this large orchestral piece there are many ‘remembering’s’ of classical and early 20th century pieces that are favourites of the composer incorporated into a piece that is about the composer memory and listening history.

Shostakovich opera Lady Macbeth (Original version) ENO 10/10/2015.

Film: Macbeth. Cineworld Hammersmith 12/10/2015.

The harsh landscape and very bleak telling of this play were marvellously captured. A tour de force of bleakness.

Two electronic concerts at BCU 13/10/2015.

I am not a huge fan of purely electronic music concerts as I supposed I’m used to the convention of having something/someone to look at while listening. Many of the pieces seemed dated and rather old fashioned. I think it is quite a challenge to produce something that does not show nostalgia for the past.

Exhibition: The Celts BM 16/10/2015.

Wonderful objects collected together to show the wider geographical area the ‘Celts’ came from. You could even hear examples of old horns and other instruments. I felt it might be possible to attempt to incorporate these sounds into my own work.

Stephen Isserlis (cello) and Richard Egarr (harpsichord) play Bach – WH 18/10/2015.

Delicate and subtle, these Bach pieces where played as if they were being improvised such was the connection between the players. That feeling that the ink on the manuscript had not yet dried and were freshly and for the first time reaching my ears.

Bertrand Chamayou. Ravel Piano Recital WH 23/10/2015.

This was a extraordinary (and completely from memory) recital of most of the most notoriously difficult Ravel piano pieces. Played as if they were grade 5 pieces, with a beauty of touch that is rarely heard. I kept thinking – how can compositions of this technical difficulty be so beautifully transformed into the flicker of sound that vanishes the moment it is heard.

Elizabeth Watts – Soprano, Julius Drake – Piano – song recital of Liszt/Debussy/Hahn. WH 26/10/2015.

Piano Duet recital with Stephen Kovacevich and Marta Argerich WH 02/11/2015.

Frontiers Concert Series Philip Bates Prize for Songwriters 2015. BCU 03/11/2015.

Solo Violin Recital – Barnabas Kelemen Bach, Ysaye, Paganini, Piazzolla WH 09/11/2015.

Exhibition: Re-Form – Art by offenders from Koestler. SBC 12/11/2015.

An exhibition I go to every year in November. The art work and poetry made by people in prison or other institutions has been a regular inspiration for me. Much of the work reflects the place and thinking of the artists in whatever situation they are in, but some work also reaches beyond that to places where the mind is free.

London Potters Exhibition at Morley Gallery, Waterloo, 14/11/2015.

A good chance to see many different potters and ceramicists of all styles and techniques. Sometimes the best of them defied comprehension as to how they were made. I particularly liked those that blended different technical processes (types or firing or glaze etc.) and yet made them feel unified.

The English Concert, Harry Bicket, Iestyn Davies, Andreas Scholl, Purcell WH 19/11/2015.

This confirmed my love of the counter-tenor voice and the fact that two of the characters in my new opera Narrow Rooms will be counter-tenors. The blend of their voices was truly celestial. Both very different timbres, but wonderfully distinctive, the music was mostly Purcell and word painting was deftly handled.

Feldman Piano Violin Viola Cello (1987.) Explore Ensemble. RCM Concert Hall 20/11/2015.

Michael Finnissy: Chi Mei Ricercari (2013). Neil Heyde/Zubin Kanga RAM 27/11/2015.

Film: Lobster (2015). – Curzon Cinema 20/11/2015.

A somewhat surreal film with the repetition of various string quartets that focus directly on the dark or lighter aspects of the story. It was interesting to connect for example the Shostakovich extract to tension and foreboding, which was fitting. Made me think about aspects of structure and memory.

Frank Auerbach Exhibition. Tate Britain 03/12/2015.

I think this was the best art exhibition I went to in 2015. The consistency (including the sheer thickness of the painted layers) of the work is astonishing. Being able to see this breath and focus from a whole life of work was moving, I particularly liked the structural contrast between painting of people and building sites/landscapes, very revealing.

Artist & Empire Tate Britain Exhibition 03/12/2015.

Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci Operas ROH 03/12/2015.

Howard Skempton. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (2015). WH 05/12/2015.

Howard Skempton’s new vocal setting of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ showed a remarkable ability to take a folk-like melody and with subtle variation develop this over a forty minute span. Very little changes in all the usual aspects of this music, tempo, dynamics, texture, timbre etc. all remain consistent but consistently engaging and vital.

A tribute to Pandit Sharda Sahai ji by Kaashi Arts - Indian Music Concert at The Tabernacle, Notting Hill 06/12/2015.

Film: The Lady in the Van (2015). Cineworld, Chelsea 07/12/2015.

Frontiers Composer’s Platform – BCU Recital Hall 08/12/2015

Film: Star Wars VUE Islington 21/12/2015


SELECTED LISTENING LOG FOR 2016

Film: The Dutch Girl Cineworld Fulham London 13/01/16

Robert Crehan Hymn to the Martyr for solo organ, St Paul’s Cathedral, London 23/01/2016

Piano Recital: Xenia Pestova Hans Otte The Books of Sounds Café OTO 27/01/2016

Vocal Recital: Kozene/Rattle WH London 29/01/2016

Film: Spotlight – Cineworld Hammersmith London 30/01/2016

Film: Room – Curzon Cinima Victoria London 15/02/2016

Opera: Philip Glass – Akhnaten – ENO London 08/03/2016

Concert: Patrick Giguere Orchestral piece LSO St Luke’s 11/03/2016

Concerts: Finnissy at 70 – Guildhall (GSMD) Days London 12 to 13/03/2016

Concert: The London Ear Festival – The Warehouse London 13/03/2016

Portrait Concert of Ed Bennett – Decibel BCU Birmingham 15/03/2016

Exhibition: Painting the Modern Garden - Monet to Matisse RAA London 21/03/2016

Samuel Bordoli, Anthem for St Paul’s Cathedral, London 22/03/2016

Ryan Latimer – Antiarkie! Orchestral piece. BBCSO Maida Vale Studios London 24/03/2016

Film: LGTB Shorts BFI SBC London 25/03/2016

Opera: Gerald Barry – The Importance of being Ernest, Barbican Theatre London 02/04/2016

Opera: Janacek – Jenufa – Mattila/Belohlavek Czech Philharmonic RFH London 18/04/2016

Opera: Wagner - Tannhauser ROH London 23/04/2016

Finnissy concert: at RCM London 04/05/2016

Opera: Tazul Tajuddin - Puteri Saadong - The Tabernacle, London 14/05/2016

Finnissy at Club Inegales London 19/05/2016

Finnissy/McNeill at Cafe OTO London 19/05/2016

Xenia Pestova piano recital St Catherine’s Church Telegraph Hill, London 18/06/2016

Opera: Wagner – The Ring – Opera North RFH London between 28/06 – 03/07/2016

BBC Prom Concerts Mahler 3rd Symphony LSO/Haitink and David Bowie tribute, RAH 29/07/2016

Visit to home/studios of John Davies Cantebury 05/08/2016

IXION Concerts at the CoMA Summer School, Doncaster 08/08-09/08/2016

Boulez tribute concert BBCSSO/Pintscher Usher Hall, Edinburgh Festival 12/08/2016

Philip Glass Ensemble – Film – Koyaanisqatsi - Amsterdam 16/08/2016

Visit to John Maizels Nek Chand sculptures Letchmore Heath 31/08/2016

Exhibition/Film: Georgia O’Keeffe TM, Armodovar - Julieta Cineworld Haymarket London 04/09/2016

Exhibition: Armando Alemdar GX Gallery, London 07/09/2016

Film: Moonlight BFI SBC London 07/10/2016

Concert: Music by David Breeze and Janet Davey Schott Music London 08/10/2016

Concert: London Sinfonietta St Johns Smith Square London (Sciarrino/Berio etc.) 13/10/2016

Jonathan Powell Piano Recital – Rosslyn Hill Chapel London 22/10/2016

Exaudi Vocal Concert LSO St Luke’s London 23/10/2016

Exhibition: We are all human SBC 31/10/2016

Concert of piano/clarinet music McNeill/Quigley BCU Birmingham 01/11/2016

Concert: Michael Finnissy at 70 Explore Ensemble RCM Parry Room London 02/11/2016

Concert: 4th London Festival of Bulgarian Culture: Martin Georgiev Contrabass Clarinet concerto with Bach, Haydn, Pergolesi and Brahms. The London Mozart Players, Cadogan Hall London 30/11/2016

Concert Michael Finnissy complete Verdi Transcriptions Ian Pace – piano, Deptford Town Hall London 01/12/2016

Concert: Morton Feldman Second String Quartet Flux Quartet, Tate Modern 11.30pm 3-4/12/2016

Concert: ‘Night of the unexpected’ student concert BCU Birmingham 05/12/2016

Concerts: London Sinfonietta St John’s Smith Square and later London CoMA St Dunstan’s Church Stepney London 06/12/2016

Concert: ‘Composers Platform’ student concert BCU Birmingham 12/12/2016










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