Interview 5 – Martin Schley

Martin Schley

Martin Schley

We have some background on you in the Bergmann Edition composer pages - anything you would like to add to that?  What is the current position with your studies?

Currently I´m working on my master’s thesis and my exam concert, which will be held at the end of June. In October I will start a second master’s degree with a focus on the instrument.

I think your Ten Studies were your first published work? I was interested to read ( ) that you produced them as undergraduate work, and that your tutor recognised their quality to the extent that he recommended publication. Indeed, he said he considers it ‘important’ that they should be published.  Were you surprised, or did you know at the time that you had done something special?

I was quite lucky that I finally got the opportunity - or occasion, so to say - to write for a “reason” and with a goal. Before that I was only composing for myself, there was no publication or performance of any of my pieces. When I finished the Ten Studies, I was very happy with them; and this work also gave me confidence to extend my composing work – which I had actually wanted to do for years.

Which of your activities is the most absorbing for you?  Are you, in your own mind, primarily a composer or performer?

This is in my opinion one of the most difficult questions, and I think for me there is no ´either/or´. I am always both composer and performer at the same time. Practically speaking, you need musicians to play your music. If you can perform your own pieces, I think it´s the only way, as a composer, to come to the notice of the public these days – apart from winning big competitions.

How much composing do you do – for example is it a constant endeavour, or do you turn your attention to it sporadically among your other musical work (study, transcription/arranging, ensemble playing)?

I love to have composing as a constant work in my daily life, and most of the time this is possible. Only now, in the last few months, with preparation for the exam and applications for jobs and studies, I have had to take a break. But I´m really looking forward to July, when I can finally start to write again. 

You also transcribe and arrange.  How does that work affect your composing?  

I think for guitarists it is a practical and necessary thing. Getting the guitar taken seriously in the classical music business is still something guitarists of my generation have to work on; and arranging is one possible way to achieve that. When other instruments are involved, it´s a great exercise to get to know these, and to become aware of different sound colours.

Do you compose from your head to the page, or do you compose using the guitar/keyboard?

(See also the next question).

For me the two ways are strongly connected, and in the process of developing a work I will use both. The characteristic form of a piece stands at the beginning of the work and is quite decisive I think, whether it is a historical form (such as baroque dance movements or Sonata form) or any idea or “frame” that one has thought out. When this frame (for example consisting of ´themes´, rhythmical or harmonical motives, development within the piece etc.) is set, and with me it is right in the beginning, that is the actual start of work (to decide in which ways the elements develop, which appear at what time and so on). I have never written music for film and theatre, but I would love to – and am only waiting for the possibility to do so, and a person to work with.

What are you working on right now?

As I have said, there is a break right now, but the last works in spring were a trio piece for a friend of mine for clarinet, cello and guitar and three small pieces on paintings by Juan Miro for clarinet and guitar, which will be recorded and streamed in June.

As a guitarist, do you play the music of other composers? If so, whose music currently enthuses you? 

When I think of a “paragon”/”idol” in guitar music, I have to name Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. I do not want to copy him at all but, in his music, I find that mixture of ´accessibility´ and harmonically advanced and complex structures with high artistic demand.

Who is the ideal audience for your work?

Audience cannot be chosen, but I hope for open-minded, sensitive and emotionally responsive people to listen to my music. 

Have you considered writing for larger ensembles such as orchestra or choir, with or without guitar?  Or already done so?

Yes, and this should be my next step, I think. I’ve already composed some choral pieces which have not yet been performed. I plan to realise a performance of my chamber cantata ´Petrus´ for string quartet, guitar and choir in first half of 2022. The next theoretical step would be exercises in orchestration/instrumentation, before I would consider writing orchestral pieces.

Who are the musicians/composers you most admire?

I think Bach stands above everyone. About him of course everything has been said, but I have never encountered such timeless, emotional and at the same time challenging music for players and audience.

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