Composer Profile: Gráinne Mulvey

Gráinne Mulvey
Gráinne Mulvey


Gráinne Mulvey’s music has been performed and broadcast across the globe. She has been the recipient of many awards, commissions and honours, including the “RTE Young musician of the Future Competition”, Ireland (Composers Class) in 1994, the Macaulay Fellowship (Arts Council Of Ireland), Arklow Music Festival, New Music for Sligo in 1999 and St. John’s University Memorial Award, Newfoundland in 2003.  She has received commissions from the Concorde Ensemble, the ACME Ensemble, Chicago, RTE NSOI, Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra and The Northern Sinfonia. Her orchestral work has also been performed by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Hradec Králové Philharmonic and the Orchestre De Lorraine. She has represented Ireland twice at the ISCM World Music Days in 2008, and 2009 and at the International Rostrum of Composers in 1994 and 2006. Soloists such as Joe O’Farrell (flute), Elizabeth Hilliard (soprano), David Bremner, (Organist & pianist), Martin Johnson (cello), Annette Cleary (cello), Therese Fahy (pianist), Slawomir  Zubrzycki (pianist),  Matthew Schellhorn, (pianist) Paul Roe (clarinettist), Dermot Dunne (accordionist) and Mary Dullea (pianist) have also championed her music regularly. 

The RTE NSOI has commissioned a cello concerto to be premiered in 2015 and The Dublin International Piano Competition has commissioned a test piece for 2015.  She is also commissioned for other projects during 2015 and 2016. 

Her research interests focus on contemporary composition: acoustic, electro-acoustic real/live electronics and the harmonic series. She is a member of the Association of Irish Composers, Irish Music Rights Organization, the IAWM, Donne In Musica and Aosdána, Ireland’s organization of creative artists. Her music is represented by The Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland and soon to be published by BabelScores – Contemporary Music Online. 


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer? 

My earliest memory is singing into an old Telefunken microphone at a very early age, in my cot and not being able to stand long. Singing was a huge factor in my life and my father encouraged it, along with listening to early, classical and 20th century music. My mother loved to sing and she had music playing on the record player or the radio all the time My three brothers play guitar and I learned to work out chords of songs by ear so all this probably had a significance in my development as a composer. It wasn’t until second level education that I learned theory and piano and then I knew that music was the career path for me to follow. Much later on during my college years as a third year music undergraduate at Waterford Institute Of Technology, Ireland, I realised that composition was what I wanted to do. 

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time? 

There are lots of composers – too many to mention and I find that I appreciate their work more as time passes. Firstly, there are my great tutors: Professor Nicola LeFanu, Professor Agustin Fernandez, Dr. Eric Sweeney, Professor Farhat, and Professor Boguslaw Schaeffer. 

Next are a list of composers that have been hugely influential: Professor David Lumsdaine, Professor Marek  Choloniewski, Kaija Saariaho,  György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, Gerard Grisey, Daniel Börtz, Magnus Lindberg, Professor Anthony Gilbert, Peter Sculthorpe,  Karlheinz Stockhausen, Joe O’Farrell, Peter Ablinger, Luciano Berio, Brian Ferneyhough, Jean Claude Vivier, Dr. Jane O’Leary, Igor Stravinsky, Rebecca Saunders, Liza Lim, Paul Hayes, Morton Feldman, Witold Lutosławski, Steve Reich, Professor Ben Dwyer, Krzysztof Penderecki, Sungji Hong, Raymond Deane, Martin O’Leary, Siobhan Cleary. David Bremner, Fergal Dowling, Rob Canning, Judith Ring, Luigi Nono, Arne Nordheim, Helmut Lachenmann, John McLachlan, Peter Moran, Bernard Clarke, Hans Abrahamsen, Louis Andriessen, Jim Wilson, John Buckley, Marian Ingoldsby, Rhona Clarke, Roger Doyle, Gordon Delap, Victor Lazzarini, and there are many, many more. 

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use? 

 I usually write three to four days a week unless I have a specific deadline. The rest of my time is taken up with teaching at the Dublin Institute Of Technology’s Conservatory Of Music & Drama where I teach composition at undergraduate and postgraduate level. I have administrative duties also. 

Generally, I use paper and pen to compose, unless I’m writing purely a fixed tape piece or doing a live processing electronic piece with instruments, where I have to use the computer for synthesis. I like the tactility of the blank page, especially if I’m writing just for instruments. I usually put down sketches and fragments of ideas until I sort out the elements that work. Processes change from piece to piece depending on the line up and the external influences, if that is relevant. I like sounds made in the natural world and I am heavily involved in using pre-recorded, or music concrete materials as sources either for direct or indirect use for electronic and acoustic pieces. If I’m writing for instruments only, usually I meet with the player or players involved, to see what other aspects of orchestration can be explored and this always proves to be very fruitful. 

Technology I use: Csound, Audacity, ProTools. I have my scores copied in Finale which frees me up to take on more projects. 

Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip. 

Akanos Orchestra 

The Greek word “akanos” means a barb or spine, such as may be found on animals or plants such as a cactus—and of course gives us the name of the acanthus. This piece explores contrasts between steady organic growth and “spiky,” jagged interjections. 

Akanos reflects this idea by the juxtaposition of polar opposites: in the opening bars, extremes of register, dynamics, timbres and tempi are presented in apparent conflict. As the piece develops, it gradually becomes clear that the contrasting characteristics of the initial material are simply different aspects of a fundamental unity: the material is all derived from the harmonic series, the ultimate unifying principle of all music. 

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