Can you shed some light on how composers like Mozart, Beethoven etc composed symphonies. They didn’t have the composition software that we do. So how did they understand which notes would need to be played by piano, flute, violin etc. Was it just down to their genius or did they have a method of listening to what they wrote?
Composers such as Beethoven and Mozart had highly developed abilities to hear what they were writing in their heads without the aid of software. This skill is called audiation and is valuable for any composer to develop. Each composer had their own working methods. Less is known about Mozart’s working methods, which I believe is a deliberate act by his wife, who wanted to push the idea that Mozart had the ability to compose completely in his head, and then set it down on paper without mistake. This is not actually true, and Mozart did sketch.
Beethoven on the other hand has several preserved sketch books, and you can see his process of working out ideas.
From these sketches, they would piece together entire Symphonies. But they also had the benefit of much more first hand practical experience with instruments. Mozart would often play in his own string quartets, and piano concertos. Both Beethoven and Mozart were virtuoso piano players, and so could approximate whatever they were writing on the piano as well, in order to get a feel for the flow of their pieces.
Not to say this is an easy task, but definitely worthwhile as an endeavor.
I have done a little research into this. There is a really great paper, called Aural Skills Pedagogy. It goes into detail about the science behind a lot of it, and how it should be taught in classrooms. But if you are just on your own, it comes down to ear training. The best way to develop ear training is through transcription. When you listen to music, and then have to determine what is being played, and then write that down – you are really working out the mental pathways used in audiation while composing.
Another thing you can do, is practice composing without the aid of an instrument. Try to write a piece walking in a park or just sitting in a comfortable chair. Imagine the intervals, and the timbre of the notes being played – the more you can imagine the better.
There are some good exercises in this book, The Mind’s Ear.
It is not easy, but it is worthwhile.
Is there any method to develop audiation?
To add to what John said..I think that its important to also LISTEN to all kinds of music too. Classical, Jazz..the more you hear the more ideas you will get! There’s no substitute for studying the music of those that came before you:) Mountains are built on the backs of Giants or something to that effect 🙂