Paul Halley is an Australian composer who specializes in the writing of string quartets. One of his works was chosen to illustrate a short film, The maker, which we presented to you a few months ago. As part of a beautiful project that we will reveal to you very soon, we were fortunate to meet him and ask him a few questions. You will discover an available and pleasant man, who explains us in a few words his approach to music.
PV – How did you learn music and composing?
PH – I’m actually self-taught. I had piano lessons when I was 13, got bored but learnt a lot and started composing. Over the years I’ve learnt almost entirely by listening and sometimes looking at scores of the great composers in particular Beethoven and Bach, but also Mozart, Brahms, Chopin, Wagner, Mahler and Schubert.
PV- Which instrument(s) do you play?
PH – Piano is my main instrument that I’m largely self-taught in – after the lessons I had as a teenager. I’ve also been playing violin for 8 years now, which I took up to be able to write better for strings.
PV – How did you start composing?
PH – As a young child I was good at making up tunes either to sing badly, or to pick out the notes on my mums organ at home.
PV – Do you compose for living or do you have any music related professional activity?
PH – No, not at all. Music is purely a creative nonprofessional pursuit for me.
PV – Why?
PH – I didn’t think it was a very viable career choice especially being in Australia not Europe!. There’s not many opportunities in Australia and the few that are present are always taken by the “composer club” of academic composers. Unfortunately I wouldn’t and haven’t got a look in in terms of commissions, performances, etc.
PV – Why do you prefer quartets to other ensembles?
PH – Actually I started string quartet writing because it is one of my favorite mediums and also I hoped to be able to get pieces performed more easily. I like the relative sparsity and purity of string quartets. Theres not much room for padding. I have been hooked on them for a while but would like to compose for other combinations too.
PV – Could you explain to our readers how you compose?
PH – I often don’t start with a specific source of inspiration as such as usually I am tinkering around on the piano to come up with a main theme. At times I have been searching for a theme specific to what I am trying to write, like for example, the piece I wrote for Kim my wife – had to be of course a very heartfelt theme, and with the Seasons quartets they had to sound like the season I was trying to “write”.
Once I have the main theme I then usually write the start of the piece which usually flows onto a 2nd theme or so. I then start thinking of developments of the main theme and sometimes the 2nd theme too.
These often become ways that I will use the theme later somewhere in the piece but at this stage, at uncertain places.
Once I have many development ideas I will then often do the ending of the piece, before almost all of the middle is unwritten. From there, I then go back to complete all of the “exposition” part of the piece before then slowly working out the development section and the rest of the structure.
Once I am happy with the whole structure of the piece, I start the “polishing” process to get each note as perfect as I can. This part can be quite painstaking but usually there is no new material added here, although occasionally I’ll get a new idea that I’ll add in.
After the polishing is finally complete, I’ll sit back and listen many times from beginning to end to see if there are any final improvements to be made, and if not the piece is done.
PV – What are your goals with your music?
PH – I would like to be well known for it! (lol) I’d like to have my pieces played and cds recorded. I like the idea that one doesn’t have to go back over 100 years to listen to music that is full of melody and traditional harmony.
Featured Image, Paul Halley. In the text, Paul and Kim Halley.
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