On The Return to Tonality…

November 10th, 2016

As I put the finishing touches to my song-cycle Dreams of Longing, something that has been gradually dawning on me has finally come headlong to my attention – how tonal my music has become in the last two years. When did this happen? How did it happen? How can I have gone through such a volte-face in such a short space of time?

Well, I guess the most obvious reason is that this change has occurred with no longer being in full-time education – no longer having to be accountable for every note on the page, something that is easier to achieve with heavily pre-composed chromatic music. Also, now composing entirely away from the security of the PhD has led to a certain sort of pragmatism in my composing that has moved me away from the chromatic to the tonal. Another major factor is that I have composed a large amount of choral and vocal music in this period, genres of music which don’t necessarily lend themselves well to dissonant and disjunct music.

I don’t think that this transformation has occurred overnight, nor is it something that I am hugely worried about – I think that the end-product and the compositional techniques taking place are very similar to the pre-2008 works. I have always been fascinated by tonality and using tonality in new ways in my work – this fascination dates back to works from 2004 and maybe beyond. I guess it has become more pronounced in my recent work; the choral pieces Invocation and How Clear How Lovely, the clarinet and flute duet The Strawberry Thief and this most recent work Dreams of Longing. In the song-cycle, there is even a tonal journey taking place from B major to B major via a variety of distant keys, something I would have never contemplated two years ago.

I guess what the pertinent question is, is whether this development mirrors a larger-scale development in composers generally? Are contemporary composers returning to tonality? Is it important? Maybe it is just me…


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