The first memory I have of composing is when I was about eight years old. I had taught myself to read music, and play the recorder, clarinet and a bit of piano. In primary school, often required to accompany hymns during morning assembly, I began to compose little obligato clarinet lines as a counterpoint to the main melody.
There are certain musical and artistic values that I hold today, which I can now recognise with hindsight that I always possessed. For instance, a love of melody and countermelody. After an initial period of self-tuition, I got a clarinet teacher and progressed to grade five within a year. I remember being transfixed by the sonorous, rich tone my teacher made with his clarinet, and a love of tone has also remained with me to this day. As a teenager, I composed lots of piano music, all tonal and inspired as much by pop and folk musics as by classical composers. I also wrote a symphony, some pieces for clarinet and piano, and a suite for acoustic and electronic instruments. I never did, and still try not to, draw up unnecessary divisions and distinctions between different styles of music.
One early musical love - and one which, again, I have retained - is Vivaldi. My dad had a tape of The Four Seasons in the car, and the vibrancy and freshness of the music were immediately apparent to me. In more recent works, I have begun to quote (in a range of ways) music of the past, not in a nostalgic way, but as a way of acknowledging the musical opportunities presented by the tonal music of the past. My music of today could broadly be described as belonging to the school (if one exists) of extended tonality: I believe in harmonic organisation which can produce a sense of inevitability which has not always been achieved by composers who have tended towards the avant-garde of the twentieth century and beyond.
I read music at the University of Nottingham (2001-4), where the lecturer in composition was Nicholas Sackman. At this time, my own works were still strongly rooted in tonality, and I remember feeling disenfranchised from any form of stark modernism, aleatoricism or new complexity, although there were (and are) always elements of these styles of composition that I admired and appreciated.
After a compositional sabbatical of several years, I made a return to serious writing and took a master's degree at the University of Sheffield (2010-11), where my composition tutor was George Nicholson. Important works completed during this phase of my composing career include my “Songs and Sweet Airs”, comprising songs from The Tempest. This was my first truly mature work, and was followed immediately by my first String Quartet. I remain very satisfied with both works. The Quartet is an intense, 17-minute work whose musical language I returned to and developed in my recently finished second Quartet.
After this, I focussed on vocal and chamber music: settings of the war poet Edward Thomas (“At Last He Sleeps”) and a Piano Trio were completed between 2011 and 2013, along with “Three Inventions for Solo Soprano Saxophone”, premiered at the 2012 Presteigne Festival. My first work for chamber orchestra, “Three Inventions” was composed in late 2014. Alongside these major works, I wrote several pieces for choir. Folksong became an important source of inspiration for me, and I know that I will draw upon this again in future works.
I am currently taking a PhD at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of composer Richard Causton. I have recently completed another song cycle from poems of Edward Thomas, this time for tenor rather than baritone. Poetry and art are constant sources of inspiration, and I often learn as much (if not more) about structure, form and balance from poetry and painting as I do from other music.
The post-postmodern age is characterised by a strange sort of "anything goes" attitude: nothing shocks us any more, nothing in art, music, politics or human nature. We may be indifferent, we may be interested, but it doesn't really matter either way. The very term "post-postmodern" suggest to me that the artistic world has lost its way and is in an awkward, shoe-gazing limbo-land. Perhaps people feel that there is nothing to rebel against artistically: things have gone a bit stale. It seems to me that, artistically and musically, in an age where we can't shock by writing a scherzo instead of a minuet (like Beethoven did), we can't shock by writing nothing (like Cage did), we can't shock by abandoning conventional classical harmony and key systems (like Schoenberg did), that we should attempt to revert to (or, better, to readdress and re-evaluate) practical and artistic ideals like making music great and beautiful, powerful and meaningful.