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Living on Paper – a Question for Composers

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This week I have heard a couple of excerpts from the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week – “Living on paper”: Letters from Iris Murdoch 1934-1995.

It led me to think about the art of writing both words and music and how much technology has influenced the way that it is done today, quite possibly changing the resulting creative work.

What we get from her letters is not only the personal perspective of Iris Murdoch but also an insight into the people around her and the times they were living in. The fact that the letters have been kept for over 80 years is in itself remarkable. I wonder – will we be keeping emails, texts, messaging or postings on Facebook in the same way in 2095?

Technology has changed the way we communicate and to some extent has diminished the art of writing. The letters from Iris Murdoch were considered and composed and not something that was thrown down as the thought occurred to her which is typical of the immediacy of today’s electronic communications.

Has technology also taken away from the art of writing music? Some composers still put pencil to manuscript, but many do not and this is not only because they choose to use technology, but often, also, because they have not learnt the manual writing skills.

Writing music using a computer is surprisingly recent. In the UK, twins Ben and Jonathan Finn created Sibelius 7 to be run on Acorn Computers whilst they were still at university in 1986. By 1998 it was transferred to Windows and Mac and by then the whole world was using it. Finale also came into being in 1988, using the Coda software.

Most of my concerts when I left the Royal Academy of Music, as a clarinettist specialising in British contemporary music, in the 1980’s, were performed from hand written scores. Many of these were clear and rather beautifully written but more, to be honest, were frustratingly illegible.

The act of setting pen or pencil to paper is so much part of a creative process and so very different from that of using a computer. How much, I wonder, has that influenced the art and nature of composition today?

Geraldine Allen



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