wind ensemble

Artistic Intentions

Once of my most recent works is a new wind ensemble piece for Mark Scatterday and the Eastman Wind Ensemble.

Distant Moons is a work inspired by the photography of Ansel Adams. As I was sketching out the piece, I wanted to learn more about Adams, his life, and his work. I have been an admirer of his photography for some time, although I have never known all that much about him. (One fascinating tidbit - Adams was actually a very gifted pianist and for much of his youth, planned to become a professional musician.)

So, a few months ago I decided I would read a biography of the great American artist.

I walked down the street to my town library, but unfortunately the only two "Ansel Adams" records they had on the shelves were a book of his color photographs and a DVD about his life. So, I asked if I could request a biography from another library. Indeed, a few nearby libraries had biographies, and through a inter-library loan agreement, they "ordered" the Mary Street Alinder biography of Ansel Adams. It arrived a couple of weeks later and I began reading a chunk of pages each night before bed.

One night, I was reading steadily through page 153 and suddenly came upon a sentence that stopped me dead in my tracks. I literally read it about 10 times, finding it profound and refreshing:

"Ansel, in contrast, felt that art must be created free from any intention other than the creation of beauty."

The "in contrast" refers to the work of László Moholy-Nagy, a European contemporary of Adams who was a leader in the avant-garde movement. Moholy-Nagy believed that "art should be used for social change." Adams disagreed, professing that the creation of beauty should be the only artistic intention - the sole reason for creating a work of art.

As a composer, I have always felt like I am on a quest to find beauty, and reading this quote over and over solidifies that idea in my mind. Surely what I am searching for most when writing music is beauty - bringing beauty to life and sharing it with others. Many intentions get in the way - what we "want" the piece to do, how we want it to unfold, how we want others to react to it.

There are undoubtedly many intentions and considerations floating around in our heads as we attempt to create a work of art. What I think I love so much about Adams' idea is that it reassures my desire to wipe all that excess intention and clutter away and simply create beauty.

Thanks, Ansel.