How long does it take to compose a piece?

Composition can be a long and sometimes tiring process. The pieces I have just completed, my Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis have taken me four years! That’s a slight exaggeration though – to be precise, the Magnificat took a period of two intensive months to complete in 2009, and since then I have recently spent another 3 months arranging it for SATB and adding a setting of the Nunc Dimittis.

All in all though, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the entire process took in excess of 200 hours.

If I had spent that time teaching piano I could have made a very handy £6000!

Most of the time was spent initially working out how to fit a melody and structure around the somewhat difficult¬†texts of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. (I found the Nunc particularly difficult to set to music, as the structure of the text is less symmetrical and the rhythm of the text is less fluent). Once that was accomplished I suppose the most time consuming thing was finding a way to expand the melody and harmony into four parts so that every part has a singable melody yet the whole chorus fulfils it’s harmonic role. It’s a bit like filling out a cryptic crossword, except the answers to each question influence the subsequent (and sometimes precedent) questions! If you know any physics then I suppose an analogy would be the ‘Three body problem’¬†! You sometimes feel that there is always a better solution, but approaching it requires altering so much that it’s impractical.

Anyway, the next step is to get a few performances of the piece. Thomas’s Battersea are going to perform it for their Evensong in March, and I’m going to try and get some Oxford and Cambridge colleges to have a look at it too. One major advantage of setting the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis is that it is a staple of the Evensong services of Anglican church services, so there should be quite a few opportunities for it to be performed!