AMK: How did you get into composing?
JH: I was inspired by the music of the composers I studied on piano, especially Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin. My first compositions were short pieces for piano. I would often start out practicing my assigned lesson music, but before long I would find myself improvising my own work.
Why do you compose? What drives you?
To ask someone the meaning of life is not often considered a reasonable question, however––I think most people could make a better effort of telling you what it sounds like. I know what it sounds like for me, and I search for that sound in my composing.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I keep writing and rewriting sections of the piece until I believe it is as great as possible. My standard for a work, in a given medium, is that there is no work I would prefer to my own.
What is the hardest/most challenging aspect of composing and what is the most enjoyable aspect?
Composition is enjoyable because it is challenging. In order to keep getting better, composing needs to always get harder––if it gets easier, then one has stopped thinking, and has fallen into using the same formula. Every new piece must be my best piece yet.
Your voices are very intricate. What's your process for putting them all together?
Counterpoint is integral to my compositional thought process, especially when I am writing for multiple instrumentalists. I want each player to have an important part––I don’t like the idea of accompaniment. My compositional strategy usually involves balancing a conscious intellectual process against my musical intuition. The intellectual process is driven by a set of generative limitations, like specific intervals, harmonies, or timbres. By writing within these limits, I maintain continuity in the work despite the fact that many decisions are based on feel. The goal is that the music is organically generated by consistent principles both as a whole, and in each individual voice.
What do you hope listeners take away from hearing your music?
I hope that the listener can identify with the music in his or her own way, and find personal meaning in it. I hope they feel the sense of drama, beauty, and intensity that is not a reflection of what is, but a striving for what could be.
For more information on Hennecken's work and to listen to his compositions, visit http://johnhennecken.com