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This article originally appeared in the Welsh Music - Cerddoriaeth Cymru Journal, 1967, Vol. 3, No. 1.

It appears here courtesy of the Welsh Music Guild who were the original publishers.

Articles can be accessed via their site as well as part of our Welsh Music Collection.


by A.F. Leighton Thomas

“Can Psychology say anything useful on that central problem which baffles musicians, defies philosophers, disconcerts educationists and fascinates the plain man?” (Thus Frank Howes in The Borderland of Music and Psychology, a book published in the late 1920s but now, I believe, no longer in print.)

            This question it was that impelled the late L. Dunton Green, some forty years ago, to conduct an inquiry into the nature of musical inspiration by placing the “central problem” fairly and squarely before several of the most eminent composers of his time. The response to his referendum made it possible for him to publish, in the pages of The Chesterian, more than twenty replies which, taken collectively, disclose a variety of attitudes towards one of the most impenetrable of all mysteries.

            Some of those to whom Dunton Green addressed himself – Roussel, Koechlin and Bliss, for example – replied at some length; other such as Holst, Schreker and Cyril Scott, were content to confine themselves to a single paragraph; while a few declined to make any observations at all. One of these last was Elgar. Another such was Pfitzner, who, a few years later, was to refuse to co-operate with Julius Bahle when that eminent psychologist undertook his own inquiry into the processes of musical creation. (The composer of Palestrina, of course, would have been amongst the last to deny the validity of the inspired state: did there not come from his pen – 1940, I believe – an essay entitled Die musikalische Inspiration?)

            It was a perusal of Dunton Green’s pages that first suggested to me the possibility of attempting to elicit the views of several composers who are currently practising their craft in Wales. The idea underlying this present symposium is not, therefore, an original one; but no apology, I feel, is needed on this account, such is the endlessly interesting nature of this particular line of inquiry. Except in so far as they were asked not to exceed a certain number of words, contributors to the symposium have been given carte blanche. And though, almost at once, some marked differences of opinion will be evident, it is, perhaps, more remarkable to observe, at a time when man’s pretension to omniscience was never more arrogant and when – as a natural corollary – spiritual values are greatly at a discount, that in each of the memoranda here published – a further number will appear in the next issue of this journal – there is an implied concurrence, at least, in the famous dictum that was Leibnitz’s: “Musica est exercitum occultum descentis se numerare animi”.



“Hindemith likens inspiration to a flash of lightning on a dark night. After it has gone, the observant onlooker can, with much effort, recall in detail the scene around him.

“So, too, with the composer. There comes a time in the germination of a work, when the mind takes a great step forward. The composer may be the type of man who works painstakingly and slowly towards the moment when all this piecemeal activity is over. Some of his gropings are seen to have more vitality and more potential than others, and at this moment, when the inherent potential value of the basic material is realised, a new work is born. At that instant, however dim the details, the whole conception of the work is apparent and all that remains – a very big “all” – is to complete the work in every detail.

“The lucky composer – a Schubert or a Mozart – is able to bypass, to a large extent, the initial groping, but there must surely be the one illuminating moment when the pieces fall into place. This Mozart had above all others, as he could keep a work in ‘cold storage’ in his mind until such time as he could write it down.

“What, then, is technique, the complement of inspiration? Is it the ability to fill in the gaps which a faulty memory has missed out from the original conception of the work? Or is it the way in which the original musical germ grows in the mind – maybe deep in the subconscious, until it erupts complete in every detail? Or is it, in fact, both of these things?”



“It is first necessary to define Inspiration, and I find myself content with the dictionary definition of ‘that which animates, that which infuses thought or feeling into something’.

“For me, inspiration is a very necessary part of the business of creating music, but nevertheless a small part – almost pre-compositional. In other words, I would regard inspiration as the starting-point of a work, which must be followed by the more technical process of composing or constructing.

“What it is that actually inspires a composer to create a musical work must be an essentially personal matter, varying with each individual. For me, it could be a musical experience, such as the impression made by the work of another – usually contemporary – composer, but it is more likely to derive from another art – generally poetry. It could be a more human matter – a snatch of conversation, an argument, an intimate relationship, a child’s glance. It frequently derives from working as a performer, particularly in chamber music. But in each case it is likely to be an experience remembered rather than one currently enjoyed