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Martin Bresnick featured composer at Music10

July 16, 2010

“Some com­posers are quite shy to talk about their work, for obvi­ous rea­sons: they don’t want to reveal their “tricks”, or they don’t want to share a pri­vate or per­sonal inspi­ra­tion behind a piece, and so on,” writes the CUNY Graduate Center Advocate. Not so Martin Bresnick, who in a presentation at Music10 “dove right into the sub­stance of his work: why he com­poses, how he com­poses, and what his pieces are all about.”

Bresnick, a longtime member of the composition faculty at the Yale School of Music, was a guest composer this year at Music10, a two-week festival of new music at the Hindemith Music Centre in Blonay, Switzerland. The CUNY reporter summarized his presentation in detail. Highlights are reprinted below; click here for the full article.

Bres­nick started off quite seri­ously by admon­ish­ing the com­posers and per­form­ers that music is dan­ger­ous and pow­er­ful, and that one must always treat it as a life and death matter. One must always do music at the high­est level; in a sense, he said, being a musi­cian is sim­i­lar to being called to priesthood.

This phi­los­o­phy guides Bresnick’s own work. He brings every­thing he can to his music, to the point that he con­sid­ers his own artis­tic aims to be “exces­sively ambitious.” In his works, he strives to be per­son­ally expres­sive and philo­soph­i­cal, and to cre­ate archi­tec­tonic forms.

That last aim — cre­at­ing archi­tec­tonic forms – was one of the recur­ring themes through­out Bresnick’s pre­sen­ta­tion. Bres­nick said out­right at the begin­ning of his talk that he felt that many of the stu­dent com­posers at Music10 neglected for­mal integrity in favour of the sur­face ele­ments of a com­po­si­tion. His point of view pro­vided a nice coun­ter­point to those of Hartke and Hoff­man, who dis­cussed pri­mar­ily sur­face ele­ments, such as orches­tra­tion, and the impor­tant role that intu­ition plays when they compose. Intuition plays a less sig­nif­i­cant role in Bresnick’s com­po­si­tional process, as he does not rely on it when he works out the for­mal ele­ments of a composition.

This is not to say that the sur­face of a com­po­si­tion is unim­por­tant to Bres­nick — as he put it, “Nobody fell in love with their part­ner because they have beau­ti­ful ribs in their chest!” How­ever, Bres­nick urged the com­posers at Music10 to try to strike a bal­ance in their works between cre­at­ing a beau­ti­ful sur­face, and ensur­ing that there is a last­ing struc­ture hold­ing that sur­face up.

The same student journal also discussed Bresnick’s work My Twentieth Century in a concert review, calling it “my favourite work of the night.”


It is always great to hear a composer talk so passionately about their work. I think that is how you get and retain fans of your work. People want to get to know the composer through their insights!

Alise Edwards
Sell my music online

July 19th, 2010 | aliseedwards