Saturday, 12 July 2014

Composer of the month: Edward Caine

Dr Edward Caine PhD is a composer, pianist and conductor currently based in York. Edd has had work performed across the UK and internationally and has been awarded high profile commissions from HCMF and Cheltenham Festivals. He is currently working as  Musician in Residence in UK schools and has been performing solo and chamber concerts of classical and contemporary music on the piano.
For more information please visit
 Edward Caine’s new work, wild flowers,  will be premiered by pianist Ian Pace at the next Late Music concert, Saturday 2nd August.
Steve Crowther: Can you describe the work to us?
Edward Caine: The piece is called “wild flowers” and is inspired by a recent obsession I’ve had with running; I was running along the embankment beside the river in york, feeling the tall rushes and wild flowers knock at my legs on the way past, and I was struck by the spashes of colour and different light and shade patches. It’s also a follow on of a recent drive to improve my piano writing and playing. I guess you could describe the idea as impressionist, and certainly it is inspired in part by Debussy’s images. The work has several layers of musical gesture, and uses piano clusters to represent clusters of flowers or splashes of light, long vertical runs to represent stems, branches and fronds, and a fast shifting pianissimo texture to represent lots of blades of grass as they go past.
SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
EC: I usually start with a blank manuscript and a group of ideas, which I start to work out on the paper. It really does depend on the piece but the pre-compositional activity can range working out mathematical formula, through doodling shapes up to writing short pieces of musical material, which then present limitations from which I can work. Inspiration can come from anywhere though and often I’ll have ideas while at an instrument like the piano. For this piece (and for the group of etudes I am writing) the focus is on exploiting specific mechanical actions to aid piano technique, and so my initial steps are at the piano in the study of those actions. Mostly it is worked out slowly on manuscript, eventually checked using a piano, and then edited as I enter it into a notation program like Sibelius.

Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
EC:I feel it is very important to write with the intention of having something performed, and knowing the limits and strengths of the performer in question is a real boon to the composition process and can provide a great deal of inspiration. To a certain extent I do write with a sound in mind, although more often I write to exploit instrumental and vocal technique. I don’t always know exactly what the outcome will be and often I am surprised and excited by the sounds created. In this case, the performer I am writing for is actually myself, although Ian will be premiering the piece.
SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
EC: I don’t think I could accurately describe it. My pieces often turn out very differently each time and I have a diverse approach to my own compositional technique. If pushed, I say that I am a contemporary composer i.e that my music is quite dissonant. One reviewer did in fact describe it as an “acerbic dissonance”, which is a description I quite liked for the piece in question. I think of my sound world personally as quite awkward and in retrospect quite melancholic, although that is a side that recently I have wanted to move away from.
SC: What motivates you to compose?
EC: I’ve never been quite sure. I have sporadic moments of creativity of often very different types. One day I’ll suddenly decide I want to write an app for my iPhone, the next I’ll be doing computer illustration, and I’m relatively successful as a hobby poet. As a child, before I even got into music, I wanted to be an inventor, or an artist. When I did start teaching myself the piano being a virtuoso was what I had my heart set on, until I discovered composition, a discipline which has arrested my attention ever since. I think there are also certain points in a musician’s life when you realize that what continues to motivate you to do it is having always done it. For me composition is a process of discovery and of self-expression.
SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
EC: I really enjoy the music of Michael Finnissy, whose music is complicated, often beautiful, often rambunctious, political, cantankerous and certainly dissonant. His and Brian Ferneyhough’s music always interested me from the standpoint of someone that was first attracted to classical music through the complexity of the language involved, and the desire to express quite complex and emotional ideas (Ferneyhough’s less so, as being more of an exponent of process-based music). I also really enjoy the music of Salvatore Sciarrino, a former artist, who composes using sonority in the way a painter might use light. I find something about the analogy between sonority (sound) and visual phenomena to be compelling. Kurtag’s ideas of the use of performance Mechanics also interest me. Sadly the composer who has informed a lot of my approach has recently died, but I would feel amiss if I didn’t mention the towering giant of Gy├Ârgy Ligeti as one of my main influences.
SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
EC: I’d probably choose Beethoven, and not young Beethoven. The gristled, cantankerous, disappointed old man with lead poisoning in his blood, a profound deafness and an arrogance you could crack rocks on. There is something about his plight that I’ve always identified with. His music falls just short of perfect in just the right way and is to my mind awkward, personal and yet sometimes profoundly intellectual. There’s a real brilliance and humour about his writing as well, and you can feel his relationship to the players around him and the music itself. In the British library there rests some of his handwritten scores, and it’s really interesting to see how the noteheads seem to follow the line in the phrase, as if he’s just carving painting the line in with a brush. I think he would also be a hilarious old letch, and ripe for a few yarns after a glass or two.
SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
EC: It’s odd but I rarely have time to listen to music nowadays. Instead here are some recordings that changed my life and without which I think the world would be somewhat bereft (in no particular order):
Charles Ives: Unanswered Question
J.S Bach: Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould 1981 recording)
Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas (Brendel)
Messiean: Quartet for the End of Time
Chopin: Piano Sonata No.2 in B minor (Ashkenazy)
Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus
Steve Reich: Tehillim
Brahms: A German Requiem
I would choose the Brahms German Requiem (sung in English) as my one piece. It was the first large scale choral work I sang in and at a very sensitive time in my life, when I managed to escape my uncertain fate as a binman to study music in a boarding school (Ackworth School, West Yorkshire). I still know all of it by heart and would have the fifth movement (“Thee will I comfort as one whom his mother comforts”) played at my funeral.
SC: …and a book?:
EC: Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Every time I open it is makes me chuckle and there is so much to go back to. It appeals to both my intellectual and “slightly odd” sides.
SC: …a film?
EC: Films are over so quickly, and rarely life-changing. The geek in me would choose something from my childhood – Star Wars for example. The film I think I regularly go back to is The Muppet Christmas Carol. I’m sure that tells you more about me than I want it to.
SC: … and a luxury item?
EC: Assuming a power source, I don’t think I could do without my iPhone any more. It links me up with the world, it has become part of my arm.