Henrique F. Morais

Composer, Writer and student of law




I, Henrique F. Morais, was born on the 18th of October, 2000 in São Paulo, Brazil, where I have lived for most of my life.. I have studied the piano, and composed, since 2013. My introduction to classical music was through Chopin, Bach and Beethoven, which remain sources of inspiration to the day, although my taste has grown much broader. Furthermore, I am also interested in Jazz, Rock, Brazilian music and Opera. I am an undergraduate student in Law and Philosophy, and an occasional writer.




What does music mean to you personally?

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said that music is the most powerful of all arts, because it’s the language of the world itself, and the closest we come to experiencing the essence of things as they are. While I don’t think it’s all that metaphysical, music is certainly what rings truest to me. It translates something which is at the same time universal, and common to every human being (maybe beings in general, since my dog lies down under the piano and listens when I play!), and also deeply intimate, that others can’t understand. The same melody, even if it sounds the same, means something completely different to distinct people; in a sense, music is at the same time an incredibly solitary affair, but also unifying. When people are under the spell of music, and moved by it, they cannot help but to feel a very deep communion with each other, but always in their own introspective personal terms.

Music is just sound; though some pieces have lyrics set to them, I think it’s secondary. It’s older than language, and very primitive, but at the same time, intelligent and civilized. It gives various layers of complex meaning to something that is elementary, basic to us, by taking these elements and arranging them according to a sophisticated, and very human, imagination. That’s the meaning of music to me - placing us face to face with the human condition, and its paradoxes. It combines solitude and communion, primitiveness and civilization.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

I think the day-to-day life, and its prosaic existence, definitely has no place in art in general. Even when its represented in an artwork, whatever the medium or a genre within that medium, its cast in a strange light that makes the familiar unfamiliar. The best example is Sylvia Plath’s poetry, which featured something called the “domestic surreal”; using common elements as vessels for very complicated, intensely personal feelings. In one of her poems, the curved smiles in a family photograph become “Little hooks” carving the skin. They become a manifestation of the pain of the author. The common and gentle becomes surreal and brutal.

But even if art always transports us to outside of ordinary reality, I don’t think “fantasy” is the kind of transportation that happens. It’s a “hyper-reality”, instead of an “unreality”, which is why political art isn’t propaganda. It can take us so close to our condition that it becomes unrecognizable, unbearingly real even, and that’s how it moves us. This “hyper-reality”, I think, appears when we come in contact with death, love, religion too, for example. Maybe even when art is complete fiction, the most “fantasy” possible, it’s actually a hint at this uncomfortably-close reality, rather than totally removed from it.

Naturally, music follows this example set by art in general. When we hear, interpret and compose, we don’t need to imagine any story or image or language set to that music; just sounds moving in your ear. Inevitably, sometimes, we re-experience certain anecdotes of our life, or even invent scenarios, but I think we should strive to experience music as something pure, when it’s not part of a greater work of art, like a movie or a ballet, in which case the primary experience is of film and dance.

But then again, as I said with the Plath example, this doesn’t at all mean, to me, that music, in its purest form, is fantasy, something removed from the world, but is that which places us nearer to it than everyday life. It ties back to what I said previously, about the paradoxes of humanity that music exposes us to: making solitude a communion. The primitive, something sophisticated. And you can add to that; I think music also blurs the lines between our fantasies and the deeper reality that we don’t touch upon most of the time.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

Maybe a writer. I currently study philosophy in my university, and that requires a lot of reading and writing. But even before that, literature, both in prose and poetry, followed me a lot, and, I think, it’s like a sibling to music. It has the same effect on me, but in a completely different way. If music is making the primitive civilized, I think literature (especially in poetry), being the art of language whereas music is the art of sound, is making the civilized primitive. It strips language of its practical function. The same word, read in a poem or set to a story, “dissolves”, and loses its bureaucratic meanings, becomes an integral part of the whole, not at all up for substitution. So yes, a writer, because out of all the arts, writing speaks to me the most, along with music. I don’t know if a writer as an artist or a philosopher, for example, but definitely that.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

I worry about the future in general, not just in regards to classical music. A lot of the problems that make it repel younger people, I think, can be traced back to our stranger Modernity in general; the accelerating pace of things, the focus on practical and productive rather than aesthetic/spiritual value of a process, the general sense of frivolity and rejection of serious and emotional matters. These are problems that arise out of a failed system and its ideology.

But I think that there are other issues exclusive to the world of art and art music that scares off young people. The focus on “technique”, for starters. Even young classical musicians are introduced to the music not because of its aesthetic, but because of rigor. And that’s what distinguishes art from sport, which is pure technique and showmanship; music is supposed to organically involve the listener, composer and interpreter into a single process. Nobody owns or has the truth about music, simply because it’s constructed as the music itself unfolds, and is created in real time. It’s not frozen anywhere and then brought down, but rather, actively built.

Which brings us to the main problem of the world of classical music; in my opinion, it’s austerity. There’s certainly a dimension to classical music that requires reflection, and quiet solemnity. But there are so many pieces that make you want to cry, and dance, and be joyful, and I think that’s an obvious contradiction that scares outsiders of it: how can you join and enjoy something which is meant to stir emotions in you but also set to an environment, like the concert hall, that forbids any display of it? I think that just as non-classical music is lacking in this introspection, so classical music has to learn fun again.

Classical music is made up of classics; music which is so universal, so extraordinary, that never gets old. If it were to die out in the next generations, we could surely expect a revival. True art is immortal. But it would be a shame, a loss for these generations, and so I’m more worried about them, not music in itself, and I think that without correction, the problems I listed above can indeed lead to this temporary vanishing of the art.

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of that role?

There is something in art, and therefore art music, that is eternal, of course, and the role of which never changes unless the human condition itself changes drastically. As the poet Billy Collins said, the underlying theme in all Western art is mortality, which is why plastic flowers don’t seem as beautiful to us as their wilting counterparts. It seems to me that we can extend that hypothesis to human art in general, simply because our condition is that of mortality, and being conscious of it. I think what changes with time in art, however, is its function as a tool of Enlightenment, in bringing forth a society that teaches its members how to think critically, and living a more authentic existence. Why? Because critical thought and authenticity unfold precisely when we face our condition.

What changes drastically, in the 21st century, is, of course, the problems I listed in another question: the exhausting speed of things, the neglect of the depth of spirit and reflection etc. Classical music, being an art, has a special role in helping solve these problems, and emancipating society. Music that is at the same time accessible and universal (otherwise it wouldn’t be capable of solving these problems precisely because of their nature) but also not at all superficial is at an all time-needed in a world that more and more empties itself of meaning and enchantment. There is music of that quality in every genre, of course, but I think it’s best represented in classical. Attempts to industrialize it, to “pop-ify it”, make it absolutely accessible at the cost of depth usually fail, I think, and serious classical music persists.

At the same time, I think the 21st century is one big enigma for all of us. Future is always mysterious, but because of the speed at which things change and evolve today, it’s in our doorstep. At the next moment, things could change. I don’t think that ever happened in History before, this degree of uncertainty. Maybe even the fundamental human condition will reverse, with all the talk of transhumanism and singularities. Maybe it’s the end through an environmental catastrophe.

Music, in any case, must be ready to adapt itself to whatever is to come, and so we must strip ourselves of preconceptions about what is and isn’t art. At the same time, we must cherish our classics even more; while we should refrain from elevating them to the status of something sacred (as we so often see with more fervorous admirers of Bach), we should constantly remind ourselves that they are very real works of genius. So I think classical music in the 21st century is about learning from our predecessors while not trying to imitate them; being ready for imminent change.

Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative? What is the role of creativity in music for you?

Creativity is the blood of any art, including music. Even the listener can’t be passive, but should, rather be in constant internal dialogue with the music; reacting to it, wishing to hear passages again, upset about something that they didn’t pay attention to, relating it to other pieces and references etc. Of the role of the composer, which is the creator of music, it’s obvious how much creativity is needed.

The musician, the interpreter, however, is interesting. It seems clear that interpreting, while not as a creative task as composing, certainly exercises the same faculty to some degree. However, I think the role of pure “technique”; of the aesthetic principles of clarity, symmetry and moderation; the written score and a perhaps fictitious idea of the “composer’s intentions” have been privileged to a limit, and taken its toll in classical music. It’s part of the austerity, the unnecessary rigour that scares of new listeners, and contaminates the music world today. It’s not even Apollonian in the sense that Nietzsche envisioned some ages of History; of focusing in the rational aspects of art, but rather of imposing so much rationality that it ceases to be an artistic activity at all, and more of a sport.

I my opinion, I think we should seek a new culture of classic musicianship that focuses on returning to the creative aspects of the art of interpretation. Perhaps we could focus on idiosyncratic takes on the more established works of the repertoire. Maybe we could borrow the jazz take on the score, which transforms it into a baseline and demands the composer to improvise upon it. Something which I am very eager about is the “cadenza” in concertos, where the soloist was once expected to improvise completely in a virtuoso style. It saddens me to see this art of improvisation, composing and interpreting on the spot, to have died out in classical music, and is the most obvious hint of a general disregard to creativity in the field.

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

Throughout other questions I answered this sufficiently, but it’s scattered, so I will condensate it here, and develop further. The younger audience is not present due to certain problems that are bigger than music itself, and not at all to blame in the way things are done in this field. They arise from our time. There are, of course, other issues that appeared only because of traditions exclusive to classical music. In neither of those cases, I think classical music as a field finds itself paralysed to act. Of the first kind, things like a quickened pace of everything, which makes careful and dedicated hearing inconsistent with our lifestyle. How could we expect someone younger to listen to a four hour Wagner opera when they are overworked, and if not, “overstudying” to achieve a career where they will overwork? But art, as a fundamentally human activity, always has had an emancipatory dimension; an aspect of social transformation. I think music can help with these problems by being accessible but not compromising in depth in order to do so. Otherwise, it would be the opposite of Enlightenment; Industrialization, which is the root of the problems of that first kind. Accessibility over depth, whereas it should be accessibility and depth, together. Art should elevate all spectators, instead of sacrificing its highness, and turn itself into something “easy” and digestible. However, Enlightenment is not Elitism, is depth without accessibility, and this is the current state of classical music in itself. We could even say it’s a kind of Elitism that sacrifices depth too; by upholding a tradition of rigour, austerity and repression of the musician’s creativity, there is now a culture in classical music which limits its range of aesthetic and emotional output, even. Fortunately, I think both those species of problems can be solved through the same measures, which would be variations on the common theme of creativity. We should strive to reinsert creativity in the role of the musician interpreter, by allowing them to input their own original takes and ideas into a work, instead of only making an exception for established names in the field. We should also invite the listener to exercise their own creativity by being open to demonstrations of emotion, of their own internal states when listening to a work, of their perspectives. While some may be content in upholding a tradition of rigour and “collected” attitude in classical music, I think it’s a disservice to it both as an art form, and by literally being the reason why it’s currently heading to die out amongst younger audiences.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

As a composer, I definitely have a rather unstable workflow. Getting started is easy for me, and I rarely depend on bolts of inspiration to begin a new piece. Continuing, however, is the issue for me. I have to force myself to start developing material, explore fully a theme before putting it aside etc. I also re-write a lot. Coming back to an older piece, maybe I slightly change a single passage, or even add whole new sections. I even refrain myself from visiting older works too much, as I sometimes realise that it was better before my changing it. In fact, I will sometimes alter a piece entirely only for it to turn out exactly as it was when I began revision. I think I compose too eagerly sometimes; the artistic vision gets a bit out of hand, and I don’t have the patience and caution to translate it from my imagination to paper in a manner that preserves what I originally conceived of. My favorite piece is a fantasy for solo piano, a work based on improvisatory technique, called Fantasia. It has a duration of about 15-20 minutes, which is quite long for a one-instrument work. The piece is essentially variations on a theme, interspaced, however, with entirely new sections. In a sense, it’s almost an alteration of the rondeau form. I began working on it in January 2017, and finished on October. As the title implies, every section began as an improvisation, and was later developed properly, although I attempted to retain the “free” character of it. Some artistic choices I made were done precisely to preserve it. It remains my favorite creation because it’s a success in the face of my obstacles, which are development and exploration, not the creation “ex nihilo” of material. I think a 17-minute work comprised of variations is surely a victory any day for me. Plus, I’m very satisfied with the result, and it’s one of the only pieces which hasn’t suffered revision after publication.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

Classical music is so diverse, and if you like one style, there’s not guarantee others will satisfy you too. My advice is to seek out someone is already well-versed in classical music and also understands your own musical taste. For listeners of rock, for example, I think Romanticism and Baroque are good options, because they are similarly very emotionally charged styles. For listeners of more mellow and tranquil stuff, perhaps something such as Chopin, Ravel or the Classicists, like Mozart and Haydn. The thing with classical music is that it explores the full range of the human condition, and every emotion can be translated in it. Nothing is off-limits. Although there is a strong preoccupation with taste and inheriting certain legacies from the past, there is a lot of innovation in the genre. My cautionary advice, however, is that classical music is serious business, and usually requires a closer relationship to music. If someone listens to music in general only as background noise, or in brief periods of time, they may find themselves in discomfort with a genre that demands great attention and extended durations of it. Some pieces, like the more Modern and Contemporary stuff, are very difficult to follow without understanding written score or a sufficient degree of music theory. We should all recognize that there are pieces which probably require a more developed ear, capable of listening to complex sounds. I finish, however, this advice on a lighter note; because of how seriously classical music takes itself, it’s so diverse. Serious listeners of any genre will eventually find someone which shares common aesthetic and artistic ground with their musical origins in the classical world. All professional musicians, as far as I know, from rap to pop and jazz, are familiar in some way with classical. From there, you can begin your journey through the world, and eventually find yourself in musical places and contexts far from where you started off.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

I think the audience is really important because they are fresh listeners. I try not to compose to please, and don’t find myself looking for a target audience. However, I also understand that the composer is conscious of his artistic vision, which sometimes becomes blurred, in their mind, with what he actually produced. We hear our own work (and sometimes, even that of others) as what it could be, rather than what it is. Therefore, I admit that it sounds much better to us than to a fresh listener. So I keep in mind the perspective of the audience, in an effort to distinguish between the music in my head and the one I’m actually hearing.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

Currently, I am working in a Fugue for a string orchestra. I was inspired by a Brazilian composer called Heitor Villa-Lobos. His work called Bachianas are a splendid synthesis of baroque counterpoint, especially Bach’s vision of it, and Brazilian folk music. I am also making my own set of twenty-four preludes and fugues, in each major and minor scale. In regards to experimentation, there are aspects which I change all the time, like melody and harmony and rhythm. I am always incorporating new sounds I have heard, even from other genres. I noticed, however, that in regards to instrumentation, I restrict myself to strings and piano, and should begin to look for new ways of employing timbre. The work of Icelandic pop-art singer/songwriter Björk, for example, is proving to be a new source of inspiration to me, given that she finds music anywhere, and incorporates fascinating and brilliant choices into her instrumentation.