To the inside of the musical event
[t]akte: You work with colour, density and harmony at a particular point in time. What approach do you adopt to shaping the drama of a composition? How do you assimilate the individual parameters? Are there some which interest you more than others?
Čekovská: As far as possible, I always start to compose on the basis of a musical impulse, an idea, sometimes even an extra-musical inspiration. I work for a long time with this idea, on all its possibilities for variation; I see it as a cell with its complete DNA information, and hence I seldom separate the harmony from the rhythm and from the form. I always try to work “with all parameters at the same time as with an individual parameter”. As regards time and form, I prefer shorter compositions making full use of the period of time, in which I stop being physically aware of actual minutes and my whole attention is devoted to the musical action. If I suddenly come “off the tracks”, either because of an unsuccessful form or because of musical “events” which are unclear for me, I again immerse myself in the difficulties. But of course it can be forgiven if the music reveals to me at the end of the composition why it arrived there...
Therefore, my task in composing is to concentrate continuously on what is going on, both without and within. For me, musical form is a composite of all the parameters which concern time. My creed is: it isn’t the form which makes the music, rather the music which makes the form.
Your compositions conceal quite private messages behind an abstract title. What are these messages? Are performers and listeners intended to recognise them?
I don’t see any need to reveal what takes place in the composition in its name. I don’t want to reveal too much of myself, perhaps because I don’t want to force upon the listener where the ‘key’ to the solution of the musical problems lies. S/he should make the effort him/herself. They are my personal messages. When I began working on the composition "Adorations", the title only came to me at the end. I knew that the piece would somehow reflect the situation in which I received the invitation to write an orchestral work, that it would express something about my new motherhood or about people close to me who had died recently, about the celebration of life and death, about mourning and joy. Yet, in spite of everything, for me the title is almost just a metaphor, almost an “inspiration from outside”, transferred into the “inside” of the musical event, where I allow myself to be led exclusively by the musical attributes of the composition itself.
Your music generally leads to a moment of reconciliation, of comfort. Is it the same as what Martinu called a “little window to heaven”?
I’ve never regarded a composition of mine in that way. When I prepare the building blocks at the beginning, I start from the old principle of the arch – “exposition – development – conclusion”. In the exposition I challenge the music, in the development I struggle with it and in the conclusion I leave it. And that’s perhaps also a self-reflection, as I dislike going away without reconciliation when I begin a struggle with someone. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” But for me, that is of course only a metaphorical parallel to my own “musical consensus”.
You’re a jazz musician. What do jazz and contemporary music have in common – also at the deepest level of thinking, feeling and creating? And another question: what do all types of music have in common?
No, I’m not a jazz musician. I think that engagement with jazz demands a different way of musical thinking. I play in the Bratislava Hot Serenaders orchestra, which is devoted to the authentic interpretation of New Orleans jazz. For me, this represents a “departure in genre”, just like writing for film and theatre, but in no way do I combine this with my composition of serious music. These are two opposing musical principles for me. Jazz is a “closed circle” for me, a “carousel with one theme”, and in comparison, a piece of serious music represents an “intentional line” which leads somewhere, into a new and unknown world. It is a fundamentally different way on an adventurous musical creative path. The difference between jazz and modern classical music lies clearly in their different functions. In his essay “Die Musik und das Schöne”, Eggebrecht distinguishes between art and popular music. The first kind is exists for itself, its inner being not influenced by functionalism or purpose, it is autonomous, free. The other has its clearly evident configurations. Although I dislike reducing these two worlds to a common denominator, they are linked by the magical ability to lead people into their “captivating period of time”. That’s the fascinating thing about music, despite its different messages.
How was it, returning to Slovakia from your course in England and building up a career as a composer there?
I feel the return as a leap into a more comfortable and slower tempo and into a somewhat different musical atmosphere, for after a period in London I realized that it is not at all easy to compose in a relaxed way and at the same time to be constantly looking for a job. I think that these two years, with full-time study at the Royal Academy of Music and frequent concert-going, made a subsequent “tacet” necessary, at least to have some peace for a while and to assimilate the whole range of information, study material, experiences and impressions which I brought home with me from England. And there were many more reasons to return home. But a composer absolutely needs contact with the big wide world in order to establish where s/he actually is.
Interview by Miroslav Srnka and Jana Urbanová