is a great composer and a former teacher. I once asked him if he had any ideas on the process of composition and the next week I had this:
(notes from Will Bottje) a partial answer to a rather involved question.
How do you compose (How does one compose?) Decisions, decisions.
1. Before any notes or sounds are down- pre-compositional decisions
a. the medium, vocal, instrumental, electronic, etc.
b. an intended level of difficulty (student, good student, professional, etc.)
c. possible approaches to ‘technique’, i.e. some type of traditional formal procedure, ‘open’, serial, minimal, tonal (more or less), some or many random or indeterminate elements, etc. (or a mix of several of these).
d. some notion as to length, perhaps, though this can be open-ended
e. perhaps sense of mood or textural relationship. If a vocal work, selections of a text which seems stimulating. (When a beginning is decided on then many of these things may follow).
f. your knowledge of the medium you’ve selected–to explore the ‘outer fringes’ of technique or to use it (them) more or less traditionally. Traditional isn’t necessarily bad if you don’t know the medium well, at least at first. Good music can be written in a relatively straightforward manner!
g. note (extensive score reading from all periods and styles of music can help develop a foundation for instrumental and vocal usage). But one can never know it all!
a. a motive (melodic), harmonic sequence, rhythmic feeling–a gesture of some sort, or even a longer line. Perhaps, in some cases, there is a planning ahead (i.e. a triple fugue in which three themes are designed first, before moving to entire fugue- or a satisfactory theme and harmonic setting-etc. for a set of variations.
b. what follows next:
repetition ( including transposition, etc.) this may depend on form. More of it (at least some sort of recognizable relationship)? A contrast, (anywhere from slight to extreme) including change of tempo, change of texture, register, color, etc.
c. ones relationship to redundancy–how much, how little–to come back to something already established, or to proceed into more new material?
d. if a more or less ‘established’ procedure begins to evolve or has been already chosen–where am I in the general scheme of things? If you don’t know yet that may be OK, too.
e. the kind of ‘ears’ and minds you think you want to ‘reach’?
a. is element of ‘balance’ beginning to emerge or is it unimportant or predetermined by form decided upon.
b. does material so far seem to be moving to some goal (i.e. cadence, point of rest, climax, place of change) or is it ‘on-going’ a kind of through composed feeling?
c. does it seem to be heading for something rather long in scope, or comparatively short?
d. do the various elements of each section seem to ‘set off’ well those of the contrasting sections?
4. The larger View
a. Has material ‘grown’, ‘evolved’ developed or become ‘more meaningful’ since it started?
b. Is there a satisfactory sense of conclusion and ‘resolution’ (not necessarily tonal), completion?
c. Is it part of a multi-movement series or should it stand by itself?
d. are you comfortable with the play between linear and harmonic elements?
e. do rhythmic elements seem convincing? (more complexity vs less complexity is always a problem). Partly this depends on level of difficulty that is being maintained.
scores, tabs, and mp3s available at http://www.robertlunncomposer.com