Dissertation Index

Author: Nicholson, G. Gordon

Title: The Experience of Successful Contemporary Classical Musical Composition for Non-Computer-Assisted Performance: A Qualitative Study

Institution: Saybrook Institute, San Francisco, CA

Begun: unspecified

Completed: November 1997


In this study, I have articulated the experience of musical composition for contemporary classical composers. The literature pertaining to several areas related to musical composition, as well as the writings of, and interviews with, eminent composers were surveyed as background to the study. There was also metatheoretical consideration of the Zen concept of interbeing and Bohm's theory of the interpenetration of all things, which provided background for understanding the creative experience of composition.

Eight classical composers, participating in open-ended interviews, were asked to describe in detail their personal experiences of the practice of composition. Participants were familiarized with the qualitative interview methods used. The researcher, a composer, assumed the role of coauthor of the interviews, not to influence participants' descriptions, but to assist them in reliving their experiences of composing.

The interview data were transcribed and analyzed into main themes. A narrative model of the experiences of composing, which expands on previous models in the literature, was constructed. It was observed that the compositional process is non-linear in many ways, and that there was a pervasive interrelatedness of the identified themes. The themes include: (a) composers' thoughts during composition, including thoughts about music, and inner critical as well as self- confident thoughts; (b) flow, involving intense concentration, altered awareness, loss of sense of self, and a rush of ideas; (c) motivation, including both external encouragement and internal urgency; (d) influences, including score analysis and listening to other musical works; (e) technique-the development of ideas, personal vocabulary, craft, and intuition; (f) conception-the envisioning of structures, and the incubation and clarification of musical forms; (g) generation-the creation of musical ideas by improvisation, intuition, exploration, and sketching; (h) choices, including consideration of various possibilities, aesthetics, and editing; (i) composers' voice-nonverbal vocabulary, style, and self-expression; (j) play-letting go, improvisation, and discovery; and (k) artistic development, including both technical and personal dimensions. Intuition emerged as a pervasive secondary theme. The model of compositional experience was then discussed in the context of metatheoretical considerations, particularly noting the absence of Cartesian elements in the artistic experience, theoretical models of consciousness, and the Zen notion of interbeing. The model was used to expand upon and dialogue with the broad areas of literature surveyed. Questions concerning the validity, coherence, and practical applications of this research were raised and addressed.

Keywords: musical, composition, composers, interviews, qualitative methodology, model, compositional process, creativity


Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Metatheoretical Considerations
Chapter 3. Literature Review, Part 1: Overview
Chapter 4. Literature Review, Part 2: Eminent Composers' Writings on Compositional Practice and Experience
Chapter 5. Research Methods
Chapter 6. Summary of Interviews
Chapter 7. Results of Data Analysis
Chapter 8. A Narrative Model of Compositional Experience
Chapter 9. Discussion of the Narrative Model: Validation and Summary
Appendix A. Consent to Participate in Research
Appendix B. Data Sheet for Interview Subjects
Appendix C. First Interview: Questionnaire and Interview Guide for Researcher
Appendix D. Interview Protocol (for Interview 2)
Appendix E. Second Interview Guide (for the Data-gathering Interview)
Appendix F. "Probe" Questions
Appendix G. Third Interview Guide (for Researcher-Interviewer)

List of Figures


Chemin du Pèlerin 8
1801 Le Mont-Pèlerin, Switzerland

Tel. (+41) (0)21 921 6163
Email: crescendo21@bluewin.ch

     Return to dissertations