Last Modified April 30, 2001
Editor's Note: It is not known
the exact year this interview took place although Mr. Wilson recalls it was
sometime between 1996 and 1999. Permission to include this article on
this site is given by Thomas Wilson.
Jane Smeaton: You say that your style of music hasn't radically changed but has evolved continuously. Have there been periods where you've written only serial music?
Thomas Wilson: Briefly. I was never really a thoroughgoing orthodox serial composer, but I've been very influenced by serial technique, as I suppose pretty well everybody has. Very often my pieces circulate round rows or motifs which are used in quasi-serial manner. The point at which I parted company with the serial orthodoxy of my time was on the question of tonality: this, it was robustly insisted, was a thing of the past, which I thought was absolute nonsense. Indeed, it seemed to me that music stood in grave danger of descending into anarchy without some kind of tonal coherence to bind the thing together - not of course the classical idea of tonality, which is a different matter, but something perhaps a bit more akin to the Bartokian era - a tonal centre as it were, a tone which is the centre of any particular complex of sounds. And that's the principle which I felt was the right way to proceed and as a result, I felt always grateful for the technical opportunities that serialism offers, but I felt quite free to use it in a manner which at that time was deemed not to be orthodox.
JS: And did you feel free to write what you wanted, or did you feel that somehow you were restricted by being obliged to write in a certain way?
TW: No. I always wrote the way I thought I should write.
JS: True to yourself?
TW: Oh, sure, I never allowed myself to be brainwashed into the current scene or the adopted wisdom of the day.
JS: What do you think about the music of the Darmstadt composers?
TW: Some of it's fine, but then that's the way they felt.
JS: Did you feel quite excited about it at that point -- that it was new?
TW: Oh, yes, I admire some of the pieces from that period - though there aren't many of them. I find some of them pretty congested, constipated in fact! Largely because, in fact, they treat music in a logical manner. So reason, as it were, seems to push them towards this integral serial approach that was current for a while and which, with one or two notable exceptions, was unsuccessful because it's an application of rationality to music in a way which is very dubious indeed. However, I like some of the Boulez pieces very much - Le Marteau Sans Maitre, for example.
JS: The colour of that?
TW: No, many aspects. I just like it. It seems to me to be an excellent piece. Pli Selon Pli and things of that sort are fine. But it's not for me. It's not my way of thinking.
JS: You seem quite interested in electronic music.
TW: Well, in a way, yes, but I've been pretty dilatory about it. The way it happens with me is that, if somebody comes to me and commissions me to do something, then sometimes these commissions have taken the form of enterprises which would be outside of my normal sphere of expertise and electronics is one of these. I haven't been into it in any thoroughgoing way. I'm not a person who has had the opportunity, or indeed the inclination, to get into an electronic studio and find out all about these things, except insofar as I've had to write music in a purely practical way. That has happened on three different occasions with three different pieces. But I find the whole notion...it's somehow a "hands-off' type of music, you know. You sort of say to the machine, "do this" and it does it.
JS: Depersonalised music?
TW: Yes, and to some extent I feel unhappy about that. I much prefer to be addressing an orchestra or ensemble and saying "That's not the way to do it, do it this way". So, the slight distancing of the human input element is one of the things that I don't like about it particularly. But on the other hand, when the opportunity comes to correlate the electronic substance of my piece with the humane, as it were, or orthodox, standard orchestral or instrumental type of music or whatever, then I've enjoyed it immensely. I've written a few pieces of that kind. I wrote a piece called Splendid Silent Sun which uses electronic music, to accompany a poetry programme for Radio Clyde. This was way back in the old days- that spawned a piece called Mosaics - which was sponsored by Radio Clyde again - and this was for their principle musical concern, Cantilena. The idea was that I should write a piece for Cantilena to play, but with an extra dimension added to it that would be electronic in character. The instrument chosen for this was the synthesiser, so I found myself knee deep in learning about modem synthesisers - DX7s and God knows what!
JS: You say you're not involved in other music - pop, folk, jazz or non-western? Are you interested in them?
TW: I have always been interested. The point at which I perhaps differ from some of my colleagues who carry this actively into their music-making very successfully is in the way they deal with it: if the thing works for them, it's fine. But that doesn't work for me because what I regard as folk music is frequently of a very high musical standard: my feeling about it is why the Hell should I start knocking it about, or why should I manipulate it? It's perfectly okay the way it is, and I value it and revere it. I don't want to touch it, particularly. I want to enjoy it and leave it alone and that's that. I'll do something else. And in any case, their's also an idea that by shouting from the rooftops in that sort of way; "Here I am, a Scottish composer", I really don't go along with that. I think you cannot evade being a Scottish composer if you happen to live here and you have been brought up here and have this place as your centre of experience. There is no way in which you can avoid being a Scottish composer, so why bother about all this self-conscious, "well, let's adopt this or that". I just allow these things to happen naturally. I don't force them.
JS: Well, your answer to the question of whether your music reflects any obvious Scottish influence was "fundamentally yes, superficially no".
TW: Well, yes, what I meant by that was fundamentally I think it's very Scottish. I don't think I can possibly avoid being so because I do have the conviction that the place where you live and the culture you grew up in and the attitudes you experience, all shape the views that you formulate. Consequently to live here, as I have done all my life and not to be a Scottish composer is inconceivable. To me, it would just be a complete nonsense. So I don't feel any need to insist on that aspect of my work. I just let it happen.
JS: Robin Orr said that it was sometimes cultural and sometimes literary but always "Of the earth". It was something he couldn't really explain.
TW: Yes, that's right. It's part of you.
JS: And despite the fact that he no longer lives here, he still feels that attachment.
TW: Yes, yes.
JS: The question of who you think the most important figures in Scottish contemporary music has proved to be a difficult one -- a lot of people didn't want to answer this at all. As you said yourself, it's an invidious question. And yet, you've given me a number of names: Geddes, Creswell, MacMillan and McGuire. And you ask whether one counts Maxwell Davies. It's difficult to know how to define a Scottish composer, whether it's one who comes and lives here or someone who was born here but doesn't live here any more. It's a difficult thing to access. I think I do count Maxwell Davies.
TW: I think you probably would have to.
JS: Well, I'm counting Lyell Cresswell.
TW: Yes! Oh yes, I've no doubt about him at all. I mean, he's been here for the last thirty years or so.
JS: Well, as he said on Monday, most of his mature works have been written here - there is that.
TW: I have no difficulty with including him. But it's not a question of birth or national characteristics or anything. It's got to do with how you respond to the milieu of Scotland. And very often you find people who come here from the outside respond to it even more vividly than the people who have been here all their life.
JS: I can't remember who it was, but someone answered the question - 'do you consider yourself to be a Scottish composer?' with: 'unfortunately, 'no' or 'sadly, no' - he obviously wished he was. And then, of course, you add that there are some promising young composers on the horizon too.
TW: Yes, they're still emerging, but there seem to be quite a few promising people- I'm not so au fait with the various young composers, because there seem suddenly to be so many of them, but they are quite talented people, I think. There's Jane Gardner...
JS: Now, this question is aimed at discovering whether you feel you share common ground with any other Scots composer.
TW: I think there's a certain amount of common ground with people like John Geddes, although we're very different in many respects. Nevertheless, I think there is some affinity in attitude. Bill Sweeney perhaps, possibly James MacMillan, I'm not sure about that. Yes, indeed, I think there are areas in which there's a kind of uniformity. It's not followed through to any identifiable conclusion, as it used to be, but there is a sort of lingua franca.
JS: Do you think the Scottish group of composers is ignored by people in London, by a musical establishment which decides matters from south of the border? Maybe Scottish music is not promoted on the London scene?
TW: I think that's probably true. I think the quality of music being written here is good and possibly better than most of the music being written south of the border - that would be my own private view and I wouldn't be ashamed to express it quite robustly. And there is no doubt whatsoever that because of our geographical location, since we're not part of the home counties kind of atmosphere, Scottish music has suffered to some extent. But, on the other hand, they do keep up a sort of steady contact with us: prestigious things do happen to us, as in the case of James MacMillan and quite soon I'm to do my third Proms commission and this kind of thing. So it's not as if we are ignored. I think they test the water every so often, but their principle preoccupation is what's going on in their own backyard! Well, that's understandable, because they're an extremely provincial lot down there. They don't like to think of themselves as such but that's what they are; whereas I think we're possibly a good deal more internationally minded.
JS: Obviously, there's no professional publishing house in Scotland, although I believe you have your own publishing company as do a number of other Scottish composers. Do you think that there should be a mainstream music publishing company here?
TW: Well, if there's one that does a proper job, yes.
JS: Do you think it's a bad thing for Scotland that the major publishing companies aren't based here?
TW: I don't see that I've found it to be a drawback, in my own experience.
JS: Have you always been on your own?
TW: I am now but I haven't always been - I was contracted to the major houses at one point.
JS: And were you satisfied with that?
TW: Yes, but certain things happened. I was contracted to Chappells at one stage for all my pieces but then the accountants - I think Chappells were ultimately owned by Philips [ed: actually Warners] or something like that - but the grey-suited men from Holland, who had all the figures and balance sheets came along and said "This will never do" and closed down the music division more or less overnight. And that meant that those people who had been under contract with Chappells could either choose between staying with the company and having nothing done for them or rescinding their contracts. I took the opportunity to do the latter, so I had my copyrights and everything returned and took the plunge by starting up my own concern. Basically, it's not a publishing house really, it's an enterprise which makes material available for performance. I'll sell a score to anybody who wants it but that's not my principle concern. What I do is, if some orchestra comes and says "We want to do such-and-such piece", I make the material available - that's about as far as it goes.
JS: You say that you don't perform at all.
TW: No, I'm not a performer. My own history as an instrumentalist is an extremely chequered one. I don't have any ambitions in that regard at all, nor in fact do I enjoy the prospect of performing in public. It's not my thing. I leave it to those people who are better at it than I.
JS: An audience reaction to your music is important...
TW: Yes, very.
JS: - - but you don't specifically aim to communicate.
TW: Not really, there's no way in which you can do this. The whole business of composition is to put forward your point of view. You do so in the fond hope that somebody else will recognise points of reference; you strike a chord and a sympathetic response is generated - if it happens that way, fine. If it doesn't happen that way, tough! They can just get on with it. That's the way it is. There's no way in which you can write for what can be construed as some kind of market, unless you happen to write awful rubbish, which is the lowest common denominator stuff. Then you can manipulate the public psychology, producing love songs about the moon in June until the cows come home and you know that they'll do very well. But if you're trying to do something serious musically, then the only way to do it is according to your own light and hope that it will strike some chord elsewhere.
JS: You write with particular performers in mind, all the time, because of commissions:"this is not of my conscious doing, it just happens that way". Do you think it helps to write with particular performers in mind though?
TW: I think it probably does because performers tend to vary in their various avenues of expertise. If you're writing for a particular kind of person, then undoubtedly you'll seek to show him off to good advantage in the piece that you're writing for him. So, in that sense, yes. In another sense, the actual performer you're writing for is only relevant for the first performance: thereafter it's open game, you're writing basically for anyone to play.
JS: I remember reading of an incident where a flautist commissioned Boulez to write a piece for him, which he did but the flautist was never able to play the work - it was too difficult. It seems there was a breakdown in communication somewhere along the line.
TW: Well, no, I think Boulez probably just takes the same approach that I do, and probably any other sensible person does, that you write music first of all; you don't write for that flautist or this violinist or whatever. You write what is necessary to write and then it's his job to play it. And if he can't play it, then tough, find someone who can.
JS: Yes! So you're always true to yourself?
JS: So although it helps to have an idea who you're writing for, it doesn't govern what you write.
TW: It's great fun and very rewarding to write for these people who are highly expert. It's marvellous and, in so far as they have particular qualities, you do exploit those qualities. But that's as far as it goes. I mean, you don't write so particularly for somebody that it becomes a 'no go' area for anyone else. You address yourself to a much wider and more universal public.
JS: And you write only for commission. That's the way it happens....
TW: Well, that's the way it's happened. You know sometimes it gets tedious, but that's the way it has happened. I mean since the middle sixties a piece would be premiered and somebody would say "I do like that, I'd like you to write such and such" and then "oh I like that' and that generates another and it's a kind of snowball which continues to grow. So I've been fortunate and these people who have responded in this way have covered all the very large areas of musical formats that are possible. It was one of my early ambitions to write in every conceivable musical form that there was and I've just about done that. Indeed I'm starting to go round for the second time in certain cases! That's just wonderful. I've been lucky.
JS: You never feel hampered by the dictates of a certain commission?
TW: No, no, apart from the element of time. One of the bugbears about a commission is that you have deadline dates to operate to. And when you've been composing as I have for between thirty and forty years now, you begin to get a bit weary of the imposition of deadlines and a kind of natural lassitude begins to develop and you become less excited by it. I'd like to find some opportunity or some way, I'm not sure I could do it mind, because a deadline is a stimulus to get on with it, but it would be nice to be able to be free from the pressures of the deadline. But apart from that, it's been fine.
JS: Now to the questions on postmodernism... what is your concept of postmodernism?
TW: Well, my problem is that I don't really have one. It strikes me as a bit of jargon that no one quite understands. What it prompts in my mind is a group of people who are seeking to reject many of the post-war developments to some extent; who reckon, anyway, that they've gone too far along that road and are trying to claw their way back in alarm to what they would regard as firm ground. This involves a resuscitation of the notions of tonality which I'm not hostile to in the sense that I've always believed in tonality, though not in a tonality which is nostalgic in character. I mean an attitude to tonality which has taken what has been bequeathed and developed it, or tried to do so. So I'm a bit unsympathetic to things like the latest Pendereski pieces. I remember there was a guy who surfaced briefly called David Del Tredici.
JS: Oh yes, yes. TW: And I thought that was just rubbish - I mean awful stuff. So, I'm basically not in favour of that because it just strikes me as nostalgia, pure and simple. But on the other hand, I am a strong believer in the influence of tradition and the fact that it seems to me that a successful musical life is one which starts from what is given at the beginning, from what you find - this is what the composers of the past generations have left me - what can I do with it? What can I develop out of it? And if that is having a foot in the past, fine, I'll go along with that. But that's as far as I would wish to go. Music has to be of the present.
JS: Michael Collins, an art and design critic, defined postmodernism by saying that it "takes stock of the old but absorbs the shock of the new ". It's both things.
TW: That's fine, that sounds all right. That sounds like some kind of neoclassicism, new Romanticism, but we've had all that before and it depends very much I suppose on how you do it, but it seems to me that Pendereski's latest pieces are a kind of evasion, you know.
JS: Well, there are four chief characteristics of postmodernism, as far as I see it relating to music. The first thing was a rejection of certain tenets of modernism, those that were the most extreme - for example, Stockhausen at his most organised and Cage at his least organised, those two different ways of music pushing at the boundaries which had reached the limits. That said, I don't mean to imply that postmodernism is a wholesale rejection of modernism; a lot of the discoveries made through modernism are still valid - serial devices, the development of instrumental techniques and so on. Suffice to say that postmodernism still has to have a critical engagement with modernism. The problem with, as you say Pendericki, and Gorecki is another one - they seem to have left modernism out! You don't agree with me about Gorecki?
TW: I find it catastrophically boring!
JS: That's regressing?
TW: Just messing about with the past.
JS: Although some describe him as postmodernist, I don't think it is the postmodernism that I am talking about. It seems to just ignore modernism.
TW: I don't think it's sufficiently strong to be called anything.
JS: A second characteristic is an awareness of and interest in the past. This runs contrary to Boulez's declaration that the whole past must be ignored and done away with. Postmodernism allows you to learn from the past with...
TW: Well, he no longer believes that for a start.
JS: I know he doesn't but I'm thinking of the post-war ethic of that time - the 1950s and 60s - this experimental period.
TW: He was a young man and had a whole lot of Messianic ideas which was fine; that's the way young people are but now he's learnt a bit of sense and he's become an eminently intelligent and sensible commentator.
JS: I know that he once said something very detrimental about opera but now he's actually in the middle of writing something like that himself - a large stage work.
TW: Sure, and he also said the symphony orchestra was kaput. I mean he's made his career in both fields and he's contributed to them both with distinction. It's just nonsense. People like that often take extreme positions, which they then modify in the light of common sense as they go along. But that's not to say he's not a very, very bright and important contributor.
JS: But I don't think postmodernists say that that period didn't mean anything. I think they look back at it with respect. They respect the period for the developments, and the experiments that were made and the achievements.
TW: Yes, well, so far I'm a postmodernist, because this seems to me to be quite sensible, if there's anything worth having, anything that's admirable in any sort of way, however little that should get its proper place, but what I'm rather against is people who say "God almighty, we've got ourselves up against a brick wall, where do we go from here?" and "I don't particularly like the point we've arrived at, let's go back to square one and write a la Bach". It strikes me as not the right attitude.
JS Well, the third characteristic is an enthusiasm for world culture, with special reference to the vernacular. Now this is perhaps an area in which you wouldn't fit in with, it's the...
TW: Oh no, on the contrary...
JS: It's the idea that in postmodernism the hierarchies between the classical arts and popular...
TW: No I don't see any distinction. There shouldn't be any distinction, but the world of commerce has, to some extent aggravated those distinctions that certain people perceive to be there. I don't see any particular distinction...
JS: You don't see divisions, but at the same time you think you should leave the folk tradition alone, and not try to amalgamate the two.
TW: No, that isn't right. In the case of the Scottish folk tradition, or indeed, by extension, the Irish folk tradition, the actual folk songs and dances and things which have come down to us are of very high musical quality the way they stand - I don't wish to sound too critical of my colleagues because I respect what they're doing and what they do comes out fine, but it seems to me that to interfere or tamper with that diminishes it. That makes the composer some kind of parasite and that's not what I'm interested in doing. I strongly hope that I will emerge as a Scottish composer and be seen as such, but I won't be seen as such because I use some of the obvious bric-a-brac of Scottish music, Scotch snaps and stuff. That's not for me. That sounds like being condescending towards my colleagues again, but it's not the case. It's truly not so. I think many of the pieces that they have written do work very well and liberate them from all these strictures. But it's not for me. It wouldn't work for me, because I think probably the basic problem is that we live in a world that is driven by notions of nationalism. We can see that plentifully all around us, but the really important, mandatory element which we should be paying attention to is the fact that man is an international creature, not a German, or a Serb or a Scot or whatever, except insofar as being a German, a Serb or a Scot gives something worthwhile to other nationalities - something that's useful interesting or valuable. It seems to me that in the Twentieth Century, we should be moving towards the international scene, rather than away from the existence of internationality. So I tend to treat such things with a degree of caution. But I have from time to time written Scottish pieces, for example the opera, which was commissioned by Scottish Opera, Confessions of a Justified Sinner - you can't get a more Scottish subject than that, but it's not treated in a musical style, which is identifiably folky, or anything of that sort although there are certain deliberately proletarian elements within it. It's a musical style that is a consequence of classical music, popular music, ethnic music, the lot, you understand - a kind of colossal soup, stylistically. And I use all aspects of that soup as I consider to be appropriate.
JS: Well, I think you could say that the postmodernist artist or composer is quite often eclectic.
TW: Yes, I would agree.
JS: He uses things not in an arbitrary way with an 'anything goes' approach but in a selective way, having the ability to choose things from a variety of different sources.
TW: That's purely instinctive. I'm not a person who believes that I can formulate my path by the rigours of intellect. In fact I'm very suspicious of people who do. For me, I write what sounds right to me, and if it should happen to be deemed eclectic, fine. I don't really mind as long as it's not simply borrowings from somebody else. The notions of an idea must pass through my mind or be given a new emphasis of some kind because it's me that's doing it rather than this guy. If that's what eclectic means, then I'm for it because everybody's then profiting from the achievements of the past and that's fine. That's exactly what we ought to be doing.
JS: And the fourth characteristic that I'm not sure about since the beginning of the week - I'm wavering about this one - is a reassertion of the communicative aspect of music. There's a lot of high modernist music that was really very difficult for the public and concert-going audiences to understand. Of course it's hard to talk about this without people thinking that composers are compromising themselves and their music, or they are pandering to an audience, as you mentioned yourself.
TW: Well, you never do that, I don't even see how that's possible, unless you're totally cynical, and you can say, "Oh, they love dominant thirteenths, nice soupy harmony. We'll have lots of these wee tinkling celesta, gamalan sounds." Well, if you're cynical enough to say "Right, we'll plug into the public consciousness because they're absolute suckers for this kind of thing", that's fine. To my mind, a composer who does that is just a total cynic and I would discount him immediately. I would have very little time for his work at all. But it does seem to me that everything you've said to me so far is a point with which I can identify. The trouble about all of this is that everybody's trumpeting about post-modernism, over the last ten, fifteen years or so it's been a front-line issue. If all of these definitions that we suggest are accurate and embrace the subject sufficiently widely and properly to constitute a real definition of post-modernism then it's been something that's been around all my lifetime. It's not something that has grown up in the last 10 to 15 years. It's something that's been there all the time.
JS: But I think there was maybe, although you don't feel that you suffered from it, there was a period where the musical establishment wished people to write in a certain way.
JS: And at the college and universities you had to follow the dictates. It was a land of prescriptive modernism and I think what I'm trying to say is that music composition is no longer such a dogmatic thing. People do have this freedom.
TW: Yes, that's quite true.
JS: But another point worth mentioning is that I think if you're a postmodernist, you have to have lived through modernism and to have tangled with it.
TW: Oh fine, well, put me down, I'll join in that case. Because that's exactly the way I see it. But I think it's also prey to abuse and I have strong feelings about what those abuses can be. If you end up with some other grey area which has got an 'ism' tagged to the end of it, then I regard that as pretty unhelpful, but if you've got someone writing stuff which is vivid and lively and successful musically, I really don't give a damn which 'ism' it seems to fall into. It seems to me to be totally irrelevant. The important thing is that it's a good piece and is well done and it's got a new and individual view of things. I think a great deal of stress in my youth was laid upon things like originality. It seems to me that originality is an almost impossible thing to achieve. The only original musician was the guy who bellowed across the hills to communicate some point to somebody or other. That's really the only original one. Thereafter, it's all been ideas about how to manipulate the vocabulary. I think that there was great insistence laid upon originality, but really rather unrealistically. What I think they probably meant, or what would have been a more profitable goal to pursue would have been a sufficient elasticity of approach to allow people to develop their individuality. I think that is probably what they meant, rather than originality. But that's a modification I've always made to this in my own mind. I really don't care what the rest of them are doing (except insofar as I might possibly enjoy it or learn something from it, of course).
JS: Well, I can understand this objection to being labelled, being in an 'ism' A lot of people wrote quite aggressively really, arguing against the concept of modernism, postmodernism, any sort of 'ism' but I'm trying to find out whether postmodernism exists in Scottish music and, if it does, what it is, how it manifests itself. I'm not laying down a hard and fast rule. On the other hand, it has to have something identifiable so that it's not a wishy-washy grey area, as you said. Being a postmodernist does not mean that you have to write in this fashion, XYZ. And it doesn't mean that because you're a postmodernist composer you're writing the same way as one of your colleagues. It's just this spirit, a more a liberating approach to things.
TW: It seems to me that this is the system of values that, I've operated myself long before I ever heard of postmodernism. It's just sheer common sense and instinct on my part.
JS: Listen to this quotation from a book by Mike Featherstone called Consumer Culture: "There are those who work and write unaware of the term's existence and others who seek to thematise and actively promote it" So you may well fit into the former category - you're doing it but you don't know that you are doing it!
TW: Yes, well, when I wrote serially, I wasn't promoting serialism. I was making use of the technical and stylistic benefits of serialism as suited my purpose. As soon as it had served my purpose then serialism went out the window and I opted for something else. I wrote one or two pieces which might be thought to be relatively strictly serial but within a year or two, I'd fashioned something very much more elastic than that, which I think would be more akin to a kind of thematic metamorphosis rather then serialism. And I would make use of it insofar as the music required the structural properties that derive from it - and the expressive properties too, perhaps. But I would not wish to insist upon it as the Darmstadt people used to do. If note ten failed to follow note nine, that was deemed to be very reprehensible. I remember a composer, who shall be nameless, who studied with one of these blokes. He got a real drawing across the coals because the row he adopted happened to have a perfect fifth in it! I mean that just strikes me as absolutely crazy. Well, as soon as this kind of thing happens it's not music, it's barbarism. The people who do this are trying to write music by numbers in the end. They are taking an excessively rational view of what isn't a rational activity. With me, if the next sound or tone that I wish to hear is not the ninth which it ought to be but note XYZ then XYZ it will be without a moment's hesitation - I just don't give a damn about note nine. The point is made all the stronger by the fact that it's elastic enough to escape from any self-imposed restriction when necessary.
JS: Well, the main point I want to make about postmodernism is that it is not reactionary, not nostalgic - just a return to the past ignoring what's happened during the twentieth century. At the same time some people think that postmodernism is late modernism, superannuated modernism, ultra modernism; it's not that either. As I've said before, it's a critical engagement with modernism and the realisation that there's good in all things - there are things you can use from the past and the present.
TW: The musical language that I employ is probably basically rooted in some sort of fugue and a universal chromaticism of some sort, probably stemming from the influence serialism had on me at that particular stage. Possibly after Bartok, where the chromatic spectrum was also freely employed. But if I feel that the progress of the piece, expressly requires a passage which will be quite diatonic, then I have no difficulty with engineering the music away from the chromatic posture that it begins with, to a diatonic one and then back again, whatever. I mean, if that's what the music needs, then all I have to do is have the skills to be able to bring it about and it's not really a question of eclecticism. You don't end up with a patchwork quilt, you end up with a single object, which embraces all of these things.
JS: Do you use quotation in your work at all?
TW: I do quite often, yes. Mostly self-quotation, but not entirely. Music is a form of communication of great power and constantly one is invited to take the next step. It's a language of very great precision from the expressive and emotional point of view. I've embraced the idea although it's difficult to carry to any great lengths but... one of the examples I would give you is some music from Bach - shall we say the Chaconne for solo violin which, when it returns to the beginning of the final sections, the reprise - the opening chord which in the first instance was simply a D minor triad DFA and it becomes D,F then you wait for a minute and you get B-flat instead. Now that sort of thing that strikes me as terribly precise and absolutely shattering - a whole new perspective opens up simply because of that B-flat. I cannot think of any other art form - literature or painting or anything else that would have quite that power or impact. But on the other hand, the writer, the novelist or poet is able to use words which are generally understood, whereas we're using language which is not so understood because we're brought up in a basically philistine environment in which most people are illiterate, musically speaking. And consequently, it's a very dangerous area. You have to tread with care otherwise you make an absolute fool of yourself, and don't succeed in your intentions. So I do make use of these things sometimes, but partly as private jokes! - to indicate in my mind that there's a certain point of reference here which reminded me of such and such so I stick in a few notes of a previous piece and those people who know my music will maybe pick it up! I won't tell them about it, though! They can find it out for themselves! I've used that quite often, and sometimes I use it for an expressive, more serious, purpose: in case someone says, "I wonder what he did that for?" Then often I'll infer a hint as to what the reason for the music appearing at that point is. Just off the top of my head, if we go back to The Confessions of a Justified Sinner, it's a big three act opera and is fashioned from the psalm tune Martyrs. This supplies the fundamental materials of the whole piece really - at least it acts as a back cloth against which the other materials show themselves from time to time. But I would have thought that that's what works for me. I regard the whole world of music as my oyster and I feel quite free to use it. When I write, the only thing which I impose on myself is the piece: that is, what appears should be a piece and not a whole series of references to other pieces. With any piece of entertainment, to some extent, you're not realising its whole potential. With music you've got a very powerful expressive medium. Now that's not to say you can't use it for a humorous purpose. Indeed, some of the greatest music ever written is very serious but also funny. It seems to me that there is no contradiction between those two things at all. I don't see that serious equals gravity or demeanour equals quality and anything that is funny or uproarious in some way is of lesser quality and not to be admired. I think that's quite wrong.
JS: But a lot of the total serialist music was very humourless and very serious and very difficult.
TW: They took themselves far too seriously indeed. They embraced this kind of rationalism that somehow or other man, the rational animal, must take this to the power n. There were several casualties along the way, and one of them was humour, certainly. But I just have little time for all of that. I think it was a misconceived idea, from which one or two good pieces emerged, simply because the people who were making use of this inappropriate tool managed to do so with a certain conviction which allowed them to produce a good piece - Le Marteau sans Maitre, for example. That kind of stuff works not because of the system or the style or the techniques that are employed but because of the guy that wrote it. And that's always the way. Finally, you come to the point where all those 'isms' and techniques go out of the window and basically you're confronted with music, which is not about 'isms' and things of that sort. It's not about the technical control of knowing how to manipulate and create a kind of tidal movement, of ebb and flow between the various expressive parameters that music releases. A good piece does that on its own.
JS: Well, thank you very much. You've given me a lot to think about there.