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Pen to paper

Back to the drawing board with BASIL RAMSEY

Regular readers may wonder my apparent insistence on writing about composers, usually singly rather than by the dozen or so. As we have planned a lengthy series in shortish bursts to start soon, my fascination for the creative process in its special application to those amongst us who compose music needs an attempt at explanation. Since quite young I have been in awe of those musical people whose gifts have included this facility to sit at the piano, or at the desk, and compose. I can honestly vouch for this special regard through the absolute wish never to even try composition from a fiercely held view that I have nothing of musical worth to say.

Years working for a music publisher strengthened my opinion that those musicians with nothing urgent to say were usually first in the line with their latest opera, symphony, song-cycle or school song, and a good line in verbal patter to convince us of the unique quality of their latest creation. This is sad, and yet an inevitable consequence of the sensitivity of the creative spirit. Heavens, imagine if just beyond our ability to sing or play an instrument this creativity opened up automatically and we all had the urge to write music. Wonderfully selective as it is, all real composers go through the pangs of uncertainty and often outright rejection in the early years, with some - but not necessarily the most gifted - receiving a modicum of recognition in time.

Our wish here is to embark upon a series of composer articles taking known and unknown amongst them with the intention of spotlighting the gift and the way it has manifested itself. Yet this also brings the challenge of gaining performances. Without water a boat has no purpose, from which follows that a composer without means of performance is musically dumb, and often feels that he or she is without purpose.

Not unrelated to this topic is a response to my words about the American composer Ernst Bacon a short while back. His grandson has written with news of an Ernst Bacon Society financing some CDs and a website for us all at He reminds me that Virgil Thomson no less regarded Bacon as one of America's best composers.

So, readers can take action or sit back and wait for the next bus.

Without composers music would never have flourished, which brings us to this point of a century's end when music spreads its voice through the electronic revolution like never before. But please always remember that music of the highest quality comes from those endowed with special gifts. They are spread thinly amongst us and are to be noticed as the creators they are.

Copyright © Basil Ramsey, July 22nd 1999

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