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Hooray! We are celebrating our 10-year anniversary in 2023! The celebrations will be themed around the future of arts.

“My best compositions have been the ones that didn’t work”, says visiting teacher, composer Clara Iannotta

Iannotta is one of the esteemed guests at the ongoing Musica Nova festival in Helsinki. During her visit, she is giving a master class to the Sibelius Academy composing students and two open lectures to the public.

Photo: Manu Theobald

Iannotta has a distinctive relationship to sound – partly thanks to her father, an architect.

“Instead of buying us toys, he taught us how to make them ourselves. He basically would showed us how things were built together. We would take it all apart to see all the pieces that created the initial object. Then he would teach us how either to recreate the thing or to create something else out of this material. I learned to see objects as not connected to their function but actually trough the potential that they carry, what we could do with the pieces of these objects.” 

This approach has carried on to Iannotta’s music: in her compositions her method has been pretty much the same.

“Instead of the actual instruments I think about the sound: I try to create a sonic image in my head that is not related to the instruments but can be completely disconnected. Once it is clear, I take the instruments and shape and modify them, use other objects or sometimes build completely new instruments that can produce that sound and the sonic image I want.”

For Iannotta, music is a tool to get to know more about herself. She sees of her music as a mirror of her inner self and she doesn’t want to be labeled or confined to any one kind of music. She tries to find challenges, new sounds and concepts that keep her excited about writing music and about working with people.

“The relationship that I have with my music is very intimate: there are parts of myself that words cannot reach but sound can. I like to experiment a lot and for me, there is no distinction between noise and sound. My mother had a problem with her speech and in order to communicate with her I had to change the way I listen. So sound was not just about the ears, it was about looking at how my mother moved. Sound became also visual for me and this really shaped the way I thought about music. I wanted the listening experience to also be physical; that people could listen with their entire body.”

Iannotta wants to encourage everybody to make mistakes. The turning points of her career have been the pieces that haven’t worked so well – they have helped her to understand what didn’t work and what I could fix. For her, composition inspiration can come from just about everything – from nature, poems and also from the cancer treatments she went trough a couple of years ago. 

“I think a lot about the craziness that I see in the world. I haven’t yet found a place in my music for political activism, although it’s something that is extremely important for me.”

Let the students be wild and make mistakes

This month Iannotta is also starting as professor in composition at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Also a teacher she wants to celebrate failure and risk-taking. Her aim is to take the pressure of succeeding off the students and give them a chance to grow, to give them tools for their individual voices to develop. She also wants to convey a message that the students and professionals could have community in which they can talk and share opinions. In the end, being a professional composer should be just like being a student but just with more experience.

“I try to give the students techniques that will help them to have a starting point. Then I can start to understand their unique voices and how they can bend these techniques so that they can actually create new ways that will allow their voices to come out. I can teach them not to confine themselves in any particular sound or aesthetic – that they could go wild and stay crazy. I wish that their ideas would not be beaten down by strict academics. Let them yell and be insane, go against the structures and create new ones.”

Equality is about choices

Women in the composition field has been a hot topic for quite a while and the discussion keeps going on. Also Iannotta has experienced discrimination, despite her good starting points.  

“Due to ignorance there is a lack of female representation in the field. If we look at the institutonal orchestras, most of the works that are performed every year are by male composers. If the artistic directors do not do the research in order to change this, nothing changes. There are many female composers to be acknowledged but also non-binary composers – gender is much more than female and male.”

If you change the jury you will change the result – and this applies to the teaching positions, too. Iannotta sees that equality is an issue we have to acknowledge.

“Many times you hear the statement that ‘music has no gender.’ I am sorry but that is not true. Music has gender and the gender is male – it has been for centuries. It needs time and work to change this. But I see that we are already going somewhere.”

Equality and accessibility in the composition field is a huge topic and should also include questions of race. 

“These are curatorial choices that each of us make. If someone asks me who are your favourite composers my answer is a choice. And when a professor decides to bring certain scores to the class that is a curatorial choice. When an institution decides to appoint a certain professor that is a choice and so on. As a professor I have an enormous possibility to have an impact: I can choose the people that are coming inside the school.”

Teaching is a long-term commitment that Iannotta sees as a big responsibility. 

“We are not just giving the students a commission when we choose them to study. This means that we should choose them based on the potential and on the possibility to create a relationship. It’s a marathon but a balanced environment will also benefit the school, the whole community and the whole scene.”