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Paul Griffiths Interview

Posted on 11 September 2004. © Copyright 2004-2021 Composition:Today

C:T talks to Paul Griffiths, acclaimed author on new music, writer, librettist, critic and much more. His textbooks 'Modern Music' and 'Modern Music and after' are classics in their field. His work as a librettist includes on Elliot Carter's first opera 'What Next?'.

What do you see as the future for contemporary music?

I would hope for a future less concerned with the future than with the present.

As a student in the late 80s I attended a talk/discussion you gave in which you seemed to have lost faith with newspaper-based music criticism. Do you still feel the same? What useful purpose can such a critic serve?

If I had doubts in the 1980s they would have to be compounded now, when it is no longer possible to deal with music in newspapers at any length or with any seriousness. My main hopes as a critic were (a) to communicate what happened to people who cared, and (b) to maintain the visibility of music for the benefit of people who didn't care but had power. Such hopes are unsustainable in the present newspaper climate.

What advice would you give to a young composer just starting out?

  1. Listen.
  2. Listen to what chimes not only inside you but through you and out. There are things that move us in private, narcissistic ways. Fine. Then there are things that open us, put us in new worlds. Those are the things that will stay with you, and take you on.
  3. Be in the right place at the right time. You can control this, to a degree. Identify someone whose music works (see 2 above) and study with that person.
  4. Study enough.
  5. Keep writing, or waiting to write. Maybe you'll have to wait a while. Mozart and Mendelssohn were writing masterpieces at 15. Bruckner and Lalo didn't produce anything worth hearing till they were around 50.
  6. Remember how and why you got into this.

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2021

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