the presence of original, idiosyncratic elements on the other which still remain within the spirit of the epoch. I may add that, as historical keyboard music was often written with the composer's idiomatic playing at its source, my keyboard music also certainly bears my signature in that it is a reflection of myself as a player.

How important have any personal inspirations been - 'Anna', for example?

I compose everything for my Anna, she is my muse and beloved wife. She got me started in 1993, with her endearing encouragement and I owe my work to her.

Often while composing I have a specific colleague in mind. When my colleague plays the score through for the first time, their interpretation musical personality; their performance of the piece proves to be, as expected, perfectly suited to their play and character.

I wrote two compositions for Simon Standage after we got together for the Bate's Memorial Recital in 2008: a violin concerto in baroque style, and a classical sonata for violin and fortepiano. The concerto has been recorded on the CD '5 Baroque Concertos for Anna'. For the Italian cellist Walter Vestidello (Sonatori de Gioiosa Marca) I composed a late baroque sonata, a concerto and a solo suite which he uses as teaching material in the Castelfranco Conservatory.

How do audiences react?

Very appreciative. Honestly, lots of listeners have no prejudice to begin with, as long as the music is beautiful. There is a particular quality of beauty and sublimity in music before the French Revolution - probably because the ego of the composer was reined in by the call to service, duty, worship etc. - which attracts in our days again a certain audience.

As I try to attain a similar spirit with my music, the audience has no trouble embracing the novelty. Occasionally somebody finds my music even better than some of the old pieces on the programme. Also, compared to a CD recording a concert is an event, and the people appreciate that the composer not only is present but also participates in the performance, and they enjoy witnessing a world premiere in an understandable musical language.

Why exactly do musicians commission you?

I received a commission for a composition for strings to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Dutch baroque violinist Lucy van Dael. The organisers wanted to mark the occasion with some live period music, but could not make a choice among the wealth of historical repertoire. So, they approached me, why? - "because you make so beautiful string music and Lucy van Dael will be remembered in posterity also in this manner".

Which composers of the past especially influence your work?

Very many, some great and others maybe less prominent. Professor Bach, the ultimate music architect, often looks over my bass parts, but sometimes I have to ask him to stand back when it does not concern his style. I admire Scarlatti for his isolated originality, all rolling out of pure playing and teaching practice, hands-on caprice. Vivaldi is to me particularly intriguing: spontaneous, without any obvious sophistication, over a simple bass line and often with repetitive harmonies, he knows how to evoke a world in front of my eyes, with sounds of incredible lightness and vibrancy - the magic of Italy. On the other hand there is Rameau, precisely for his french sophistication, his design, at once grand and highly detailed, and his gorgeous orchestral colours. And then I have a soft spot for Haydn; for me he is the greatest story teller through music; you see things happening, people coming and going, interacting, gesticulating, arguing or courting; there is always movement, not much architecture. And Mozart for his serenity and beauty. Those are the great ones, but I also learned lots from the ones who have stayed more or less in the shadow, because they bathed in the same music universe.


Why did you start writing music in the style of a previous period?

I love improvising, something I have done from a young age. It is like music-making 'from the inside out'. I liked 'making up' music in a specific style. Also I like to 'listen' while playing what a specific instrument asks for, what it wants, something particularly helpful when playing authentic museum instruments. Still, it took a lot of persuasion on my wife's part to actually get me writing music down. I was as much under the influence of the stigma on composing in an 'anachronistic' way, as so many others. But, once having started I saw how rewarding it could be to actually create a composition in a formal structure which I could reproduce time and again. I found it fascinating to experience first hand that intimate link between performing and composing. I made it my aim to find within my memory the characteristics of a particular style, a particular form, and express those in new music; like in a self-imposed test almost, I saw if I had gained over the years sufficient understanding of, for instance, a baroque trio sonata to make one myself. Thereby I never felt like writing in styles I did not feel at home with, just for the sake of the challenge.The musical languages of the 17th and 18th centuries are those I think in, dream in, breathe in, and 'hum'.

What reaction do you get from musicians to your work?

Initially some of my colleagues may have raised an eyebrow behind my back, I am speaking fifteen, twenty years ago, but now they write me that they are looking forward to my newest work. They find that my writing is idiomatic, and first readings of a new score are always filled with smiles, expressions of surprise, excitement, utter engagement, and an occasional "What does the composer think?"

Is it fair or unfair to call it pastiche??

Unfair. Originally the term 'Pastiche' stood for a musical product coming from a collaboration of several composers. Now the same term is generally used for an arrangement consisting of pre-existing elements literally thrown together, and carries a pejorative connotation.

The working in or through a traditional medium will always provoke criticism about the use of familiar elements. The 19th century Danish artist Thorvaldsen created sculptures that seem to come straight from antiquity, yet he choose his own themes and expression. The point for me is not to copy, but to play with a known language, while catching the Zeitgeist [lit. time spirit] of a past era, and invent anew within that medium; you could compare me in that sense with an actor.

How would you answer people who would say that you are betraying the time in which you live by reverting to styles that have had their day?

I think that I am nurturing a tradition and a heritage in an 'authentic' way. The fact that there is an audience for Baroque music in our time, means that music of that vein still has something to say, finds a resonance, and so becomes a modern, contemporary phenomenon. I don't believe that the early music concert goer has only an interest in the museum value of the historical repertoire. That is the magic of music; style is not locked up in time.

How does your own personality show through the works you write, would you say?

I think that in composing, as in any artistic activity, we reveal our affinities. I compose in these period styles because of what I love in that music, its spirit, its movement, its sonorities. My compositions reveal my predilection for beauty; I have a marked tendency for playing with rhythms, a focus on the bass line, autonomous voice-leading, and I like to give my music a sense of direction. My composing is not at all a mental game or puzzle. There are many choices and decisions one makes while composing, which are being steered by inner motives, one embraces this, one rejects that. I dislike gratuitous virtuosity. Generally speaking I aim at striking a harmonious balance between that which typifies a specific historical style on the one hand, and

Composer / Compositeur

Performer / Interprète


Professor / Professeur



        ON COMPOSING IN PERIOD STYLES - Interview,  Oxford 2012