Composition Portfolio

Gavin Higgins

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis consists of a portfolio of compositions, a written commentary, and links to audio-visual recordings of the works submitted. The portfolio comprises four works: a string quintet, a work for brass band, an orchestral piece, and an opera. The works presented in the portfolio draw inspiration from photography, art, socio-political events, and myth.

In this project, I seek to address questions around the relationship between: i.) the composer, the musicians and audience; and ii.) the composer and collaborator, by broadly examining the development of key compositional techniques and creative processes at play in my work. Specifically, I look at:

1. The use of tonality and melody in my music as common-ground access points, and how, by drawing on musical conventions and a diverse range of influences, I create a musical language that is both accessible and unique;

2. new approaches to orchestration, looking specifically at how texture and timbre can be used to highlight dramatic narratives and demystify abstract musical ideas. I also provide insight into the creative art of orchestration from the composer’s viewpoint which is currently lacking in substantial academic research;

3. the role extramusical inspiration plays on musical material, and how non-musical ideas can shape every aspect of the work, including harmony, instrumentation, orchestration, and structure;

4. how collaborative approaches to creativity can inform one’s practice and broaden the scope and potential of the work. I look specifically at the creation of an opera —The Monstrous Child — and how, through intimate collaboration with multiple cross-disciplinary creative practitioners, the music is transformed and developed.

These discussions are contextualised with references to a range of composers who have proved influential on my work including John Adams, John McCabe, Harrison Birtwistle, Jonathan Harvey, and Leonard Bernstein, looking at the application of tonality, melody, and orchestration in these composers’ work and drawing conclusions on their continued use in my own music.

I also draw conclusions on how extramusical inspiration informs my musical language and how collaborating with trusted practitioners, embracing alternative perspectives, and drawing inspiration and knowledge from others, has enhanced and informed my creative process, making collaboration a necessary and integral part of my creative practice.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bowden, Mark, Supervisor
Award date1 Dec 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • Composition
  • music
  • collaboration
  • brass bands
  • inspiration
  • Opera

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