(Un)Conscious Inspiration

No matter how much composers wish to be noted for their tendency to think outside-of-the-box or to be on the cutting-edge, it is apparent that composers are also unlikely to compose without drawing on some form of external (whether intentionally imposed or not) inspiration.

One likely source of inspiration is that a similar generator; in the case of composers, another composer. One composer with whom I studied, Nikola Resanovic, made it evident that he drew some of his inspiration from other musicians; namely, The Beatles. He made no attempts to hide such inspiration, but rather made it evident with occasional titles such as “Igor’s Pet Walrus” alluding to the source of a harmonic progression (as well as components from Stravinsky). It became apparent, however, that such preferences leaked into his music even when he hadn’t necessarily consciously intended to do so, e.g. preferences for particular progressions typical of pop music, and became part of a wonderfully engaging personal style.

Another source of inspiration might come from the materials with which a composer works. Brandon Paul, a student at The Ohio State University, published a study on the music of Einojuhani Rautavaara. Paul’s observations regarded the symmetrical nature of Rautavaara’s music around an axis that is largely the result of playing piano and the symmetrical positioning of one’s hands. The interesting revelations of the study, however, come with the discovery that the non-piano music also conforms to the same sorts of patterns. The language that was developed due to physical limitations in one medium, spilled over to create a unique style in all media.

My current impetus for thinking about the subject of inspiration came when I read about Satie’s daily routine during the period when he moved to Arcueil, 10 km outside Paris. He made nearly daily returns to Paris on foot, when according to Templier, “he walked slowly, taking small steps, his umbrella held tight under his arm. When talking he would stop, bend one knee a little, adjust his pince-nez and place his fist on his lap. The we would take off once more with small deliberate steps.” His consistent routines were marked by periodic stops at street lamps to jot down some music.

This habit becomes interesting in regards to an observation made by Roger Shattuck during a conversation with John Cage in 1982, that “the source of Satie’s sense of musical beat—the possibility of variation within repetition, the effect of boredom on the organism—may be this endless walking back and forth across the same landscape day after day… the total observation of a very limited and narrow environment.”

In the case of Satie, a habit that is not particularly inherently musical, yet permeates the daily life of a composer, becomes a source of stylistic inspiration.

Surely every composer is in some sense inspired by not only what is heard or played, but also lived.

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