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Wear your influences on your sleeve

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I know there are threads out there that ask "who influences your music?", but these usually turn into arguments and name-dropping. Instead, I encourage/challenge users to really sit and think about this one.

What specific techniques introduced/mastered/developed by past composers do you use in your own work, in what way?

I'm not looking for a "xxx composer is the best ever, and they just influence me!". I'm looking for the nitty gritty. This can include techniques a composer is famous for, as well as references to specific pieces. Hopefully, this will be a good self-examination process.

1. Schoenberg - Developing variation - I know this was done by Brahms before, but I don't feel like I owe much influence to Brahms. Developing variation refers to the technique of avoiding literal repetition or exact sequences through constant variations of the motive/melody/passage. This is something I constantly come back to and struggle with, but I feel like Schoenberg really did well.

2. Dvorak - Melodic Fragments - Rather than develop long, drawn out melodies (as was common with many other romantic and late-romantic composers), Dvorak would repeat motives and short melodic passages with differing instrumentations, keys, and variations on rhythm and other elements. Not until this idea was fully exhausted would he move on to a new idea.

3. Haydn - Brevity/Organization - Many, MANY composers have employed this same technique, but I feel like Haydn really set the standard for this. The idea of writing monothematic music that is still varied and exciting is a true challenge, and I like to refer back to his works to see how one can use a single idea and keep it fresh and exciting through an entire piece.

4. Bartok - Idiomatic writing - I'm not saying his music is easy by any means. However, Bartok truly writes music that would not "work" for any other instruments other than the ones used. This includes use of open strings, natural technique, and music really written "for" an instrument, as opposed to "being playable by" an instrument.

I know I have more, but I can't think of any. YOUR TURN!

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1. Wagner-Usage of Leit Motif. His usage of a particular theme for each character. Themes that the audience is bound to remember and immediately associate with a specific character. This technique is used even today, not only in musicals and classical music, but also in television shows. The Leit Motif can easily be called the ancestor of the sitcom theme song or the jingle. It's an easily recognizable tune that immediately says "this product" or "this television show", and often times leaves you humming for hours afterward.

2. Sondheim-Not classical, but his absolutely uncanny ability for writing the exact music to capture the mood of the scene, regardless of how it may sound, and not apologizing for all the dissonances because it's precisely how it's meant to be. Also, one of the most clever lyricists of the last 100 years, easily. He's not afraid to make his characters be just characters, but at times, they are so real you may feel as though you're watching a recording of an everyday conversation, set to music, as opposed to a musical on the stage, completely fictional.

3. Debussy- Beauty in Simplicity. I think of his Prelude "La Cathedral Engloutie (Sunken Cathedral) where nearly the entire piece is open fifths in the right hand, moving parallel up and down the scale, while the left hand underscores. In the hands of many other composers, this idea would never make it past the draft page.

4. Chopin- Artful Rehearsal. Chopin's most famous and easily recognizable pieces were his lessons, and his warm-ups. The preludes and etudes are far better known even to general public because of their extensive use in all forms of pop-culture. But, to him, these were simple excercises one should do before getting into the actual pieces of music you were working on. The preludes and etudes were just to get your fingers moving and comfortable in the key of the major piece, or to emphasize a certain technique, which would be repeated over and over throughout the piece. From his practice room, comes full-fledged art.

5. Ravel-Impressionism-Along with Debussy, one of my favorite impressionistic composers. He so artfully finds ways to incorporate the sounds of nature, carnivals, people, etc into an orchestral work using only instruments. The flutes become birds, the brass becomes man, and somehow, you're able to see a picture appear while listening to his work.

6. Gershwin-The Common Man-Absolutely unafraid to take a modern sound, and give it a classical flair. I try my best to emulate him in his method of combining old and new. The sound of music is always changing, and the past is just as important as the unknown future, but you don't truly know it all until you can see them in one big picture and see how they are identical.

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I owe alot to Messiaen..

His systematic use of different 'modes of limited transposition'

His rhythmic complexity.

more vaguely.. I feel like I use some of the same stylistic traits that I have found in his music


I rarely use serialism as it was intended.. but I do use it alot in several different ways.. which would not be possible without Schoenberg's creation of it.


I am inspired by and try to use rhythmic complexities as he does in his music. Also his sense of form fascinates me and has found its way into my works.


Electronic music. I have not studied this music as in depth as I would like, but the sounds I hear influence me greatly.

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Not that I do ANY of these to a degree remotely resembling the level of my influences, but:

Carla Bley

  • Intimate sense of LONG FORM/Structure.
  • SIMPLICITY (Triads are amazing)
  • Embracing the individual - adopt idiosycrasies and use them to your advantage (Also from Duke Ellington to a lesser extent)

Kenny Wheeler

  • Intimate sense of LONG FORM/Structure
  • Counterpoint - the line and how the third trombone part can be more important than lead trumpet.
  • DENSITY in harmony can still be SIMPLE and beautiful.

Tom Waits

  • Power and Energy
  • Also, SIMPLICITY: using simple things, presented in powerful ways is infinitely more beautiful and meaningful than anything else.
  • Exploration of Timbre & tone...

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Shostakovich, mostly Sym. 11

Trevor Jones's "Last Days of Pompeii" Sountrack... a lot of influences

and I'll tell you one very simple...

The Cranberries: "Zombie",... the song (in Em) ends with (an A) a 4th in the guitar... I've been using that 4th in minor circumstances so many times that I could say it's now became my signature.

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Jennifer Higdon - Freedom of form, octatonic scales, and a very good sense of coloration; creative orchestration. (An oboe solo accompanied by three trombones? Genius.)

Gyorgy Ligeti - Extreme registers, polyrhythms, polytonality, and some insane complexity. His dense textures are amazing. (Requiem, Atmospheres)

Lowell Liebermann - I like how he uses conventional harmonies to create something completely new. I also enjoy his piano writing; virtuosity is displayed despite the pianissimo feel.

Christopher Rouse - He's my Igor Stravinsky. After I heard his "Gorgon" I was convinced that in music, you could do anything. His explosive rhythms, "melodies", and exaggeratedly piercing dissonance defeats that of Stravinsky. It's true. ><

Maurice Ravel - His use of color and picturesque writing is fantabulous. I never thought major sevenths could sound so pretty.

Steve Reich - The way he layers rhythms and melodies astounds me. His music pulses and sometimes when I write music I use that kind of driving pulse to move the music along.

Derek Bermel - He was my introduction to musical humor. Who knew a clarinet and a cello could imitate sex sounds? ("Coming Together")

Eric Whitacre - I'm not a fan of choral music...but he really did do something with those tone clusters. Remarkable stuff, even if most of it DOES sound the same.

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Sondheim - I've been influenced by his approach to melody and harmony, and hugely affected by his treatment of background and texture to create "space" within my works.

Stravinsky - I'm profoundly affected by the way he treats individual instruments independently of others, and his use of complicated rhythm.

Bernstein - His grasp of rhythmic vitality and humor.

Debussy - His use of dissonance as "color", the emancipation of dissonance from tonality/resolution is a major influence on my music.

Ligeti - His use of layering, complexity, cluster effects.

Grofe - His innovative use of timbre/instrumental effects to create unique moods/feels.

Copland - His use of "open" sonorities to evoke simplicity (even when it's not simple).

Milhaud - His use of polytonality and 'split' chords while still using relatively sparse/simple textures.

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I think that perhaps it's a bit strange but I find myself influenced a lot less by other composers and a lot more by soloists. I compose entirely for piano solo by the way. If I am composing a Polonaise or a Rondo I often find myself thinking not of an individual work, say Chopin's Polonaise op. 53, for it's own compositional merit. I think about the percussive sound that Vladimir Horowitz brought out of the piano when he played that particular piece and many others. And I think I'm much more influenced by that. I am not really sure if it's a good thing. Melodies and harmonies come very naturally to me and I do need a lot of external influence or inspiration to get them out of my head. It's the nuances of a piece, and the dynamics and the style that different interpreters have brought to different pieces that I often find myself trying to emulate.

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I have no idea who my influences are, but I adore the progression from I to VI-flat, and I've heard it a lot in Grant Kirkhope's works.

I have some unpredictability at some point in some pieces which I attribute to just myself, since I find that comparing one's unpredictability to Berlioz's (whose style never actually became theory due to its excessively intuitive and personal structure) is thinking too highly of oneself; and I hate that.

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Bach: thematic modulations, counterpoint, voice leading—he was the first composer I seriously tried to emulate, kind of the foundation of my music now. His influence isn't entirely visible, but everything else is built on it.

Debussy: rhythmic structures, unconventional modulations, iconoclastic approach to traditional classical music—I don't love everything of Debussy, and I'm not the extent of iconoclast he was, but I do appreciate what he did for music, especially piano.

Sibelius: orchestration techniques, thematic development, use of modes, imagery, minimalism—they say we write what we like; I like the Scandinavian composers in general, and Sibelius in particular. I feel like he strips the orchestration down to the bare minimum so that every note counts. It's a purer form of music than the music of composers from other geographic areas IMO, and that's what I try to emulate.

Aside from those "Big 3" I can't really pinpoint other influences. You're welcome to give my music a listen and let me know what influences you hear. The more I compose, the less I'm able to hear others' influences in my music. I don't know if that's because it's true or because my ear is just growing too familiar with my own music!

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Bach: Counterpoint, getting a lot out of a single melody

Beethoven: Oh boy, does Beethoven influence me a ton. Here is everything that has shown up in my music that also shows up in Beethoven - Sudden dynamics, Grandiose feel, Drama, Sudden tempo changes

Mozart: Effortless grace to the melody, the music just flows - He was the one who inspired me to start composing at 12 years old

Chopin: Beautiful melody, relatively simple bass line, rhythmic ostinato

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