Taking 5 with Melody Eötvös
Melody Eötvös (with Beethoven), conductor Alexander Prior and Principal Tuba Thomas Allely
Her new work 'Hidden Wiring' made its world premiere at our Power and Glory concert earlier this year and she’s composed for the likes of Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Duo Atlas and more. We sat down with Melody to talk her musical upbringing, where she finds inspiration and teaching the art of composition to the next generation.
You have a musically inspired first name - did your parents always want you to be involved in music? Do you come from a musical family?
Absolutely yes, to all of those questions! Both of my parents are music teachers and there wasn’t a moment without music when I was growing up. As for my first name, my parents weren’t anticipating having a second girl so they hadn’t prepared a girl’s name (Michael, my brother, now has the name they had intended to give me), and when I arrived they very spontaneously decided Melody was a suitably musical name for me.
How did your upbringing influence your compositional trajectory? What was your journey to becoming a composer like?
Well, I started learning piano at the age of five and I think it was always assumed I would follow in my sister’s footsteps and be a fabulous, rock-solid performer. Alas, as the middle-child and very much an introvert, it became clear early on that the nerves I suffered from performing were going to be an issue (I had decided that, not my parents). When I was eight I was given a cello for Christmas and within a few months I’d started composing a piece for piano and cello… I can’t really remember why I did, but the piece was a fantastically dissonant thing called ‘The Haunted Grandfather Clock’. After that I didn’t compose again until I was 14, and that was the year that I also stopped performing in competitions as a pianist reading someone else’s music. Instead I composed a ten-minute solo piece for piano, all from memory, and entered it in a composition competition (now known as the MTAQ Gold Coast Composition Competition) which I played in. I remember being shocked at how I didn’t get nervous playing in front of people and I think deep down I knew it didn’t matter anymore if I made a mistake, because I was no longer being judged for accuracy or interpretation; if I made a mistake no one would actually know that I had. The next incredible thing to happen that day was the judge’s response to the ending of my piano piece. My parents had been lecturing me that my ending didn’t sound finished, as in it didn’t have a nice tidy cadence to wrap it all up. I very rebelliously refused to change it and to my amazement I was completely validated by the response and reason the adjudicator awarded me first place – my ending had a lot to do with that result. From that day on I knew I wanted to be a composer and the rest is history.
How would you describe your compositional style? Both in the writing process and in the final presentation of your music.
This is a tricky one, as I have to rely more on what people have told me about my music, than me trying to figure out what my sound is. My favourite response and interpretation of my ‘sound’ at this point though is Steven Mackey’s, “a modern composer of ancient music: old pagan flavours, but new in mindset and expression”. My writing process, on the other hand, I can speak to. Ideally I like to begin with a title, topic, inspiration, or knowledge of what I’m writing ‘about’. Most of the time this is a clear concept like ‘Tardigrades’, or ‘The Saqqara Bird’, which are quite literally about a thing. Sometimes it’s a little more broad and I’m composing a sonic interpretation of something like a riddle or a feeling. Either way, the composition process is a great deal easier if I begin writing with this knowledge beforehand. If I’m under the pump and have to get started on a piece without having done the research first, I have to just stay aware of the character of the music and eventually decide what it represents out in the world.
You started lecturing in 2018 at the Melbourne Conservatorium, what’s it like teaching composition? Is there a focus on creative development or technical skills?
While I’ve taught composition at a tertiary level before, I haven’t been involved so closely in a composition department as united and strong as our one at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. It’s quite remarkable actually. The undergraduate program is really well designed and structured around a series of projects designed to guide the students in technique and instrumentation, while allowing their creativity to still freely develop. So, I’m loving my work at the university and it’s such a joy to be involved in the development of these talented young composers.
Tell us about a composer who inspires you, and what you love about their work.
At the moment I’m completely obsessed with Jos Jongen’s Symphony Concertante. While I was in Philadelphia last year, Peter Conte shared this amazing work with me while we were workshopping the Fred J Cooper Memorial organ ahead of my commission with the orchestra next year. I had been a little worried about the somewhat limited repertoire available to study for organ and orchestra and when I heard the Jongen, I finally felt like a had some grounding in the sound world, especially in bringing the organ into the colour and texture of the orchestral sound rather than just having it stand out as a solo instrument. There are of course many other brilliant works to refer to, but for the moment the Jongen is absolute gold to me.