Eric Moe discusses composing and his work SUPERHERO

by Yi Yiing Chen


Yi Yiing Chen: How did you become a composer?

Eric Moe: After some unsuccessful attempts to teach myself, I took a course with Paul Lansky when I was an undergraduate at Princeton. He was a wonderful and encouraging teacher.

Chen: What do you remember about the first piece you wrote? Did you know at that point that you would want to make this your profession?

Moe: I don’t remember whether it was the first, but I remember writing a piano piece modeled on Chopin’s Thirds and Sixths Etude. For Seconds and Sevenths. Not such a great piece, probably, but it was fun.


Is there a specific time of day that you like to compose? Do you have a fixed schedule for when you compose? How long do you spend for each composing session?

Whenever I have some free time. Artist colonies and residency programs are great, since they offer the opportunity to work whenever for however long is productive and they tend to be in beautiful or interesting natural settings. I probably do my best work in the mornings, though, work until I get stuck, take a break, repeat until exhaustion.

What is your composition process? Is every time different, or do you follow a pattern? (E.g. Do you construct the melody first, or do you think about the overall structure first?)

It's very dependent on the nature of the piece. Some consistent things are that I prefer an improvisatory work method and avoid pre-compositional schemata. I tend to start at the beginning and keep adding to it.


How do you balance being a composer and a performer?

As best as I can. I tend to not pursue performance opportunities but let them come to me. I’m more proactive with compositional projects.

What do you love most about your career?

I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. It’s all great - making something out of thin air (literally: pressure waves of air molecules); working with performers or as a performer myself; seeing it make a difference to a listener.

What do you like to do other than composing, performing and teaching? How much do you think your keyboard training has influenced you?

It's hard to imagine a musical life without a keyboard, since it’s been with me in my earliest memories. But I’ve written plenty of pieces where keyboard skills are useless - works for unpitched percussion, electroacoustic pieces. Outside music, I like scrambling up mountains.


What’s the initiation of the work? Did you choose the theme heroic narrative theme for SUPERHERO on your own? Are you interested in the comic book genre?

I came up with the idea on my own. At some early point in the process I was considering the superbly skilled performers who would be playing the piece and was thinking of them as a league of superheroes.

I’ve been consciously interested in and inspired by a variety of "universal" narratives for some time, but the superheroic narrative is particularly resonant. I was fascinated by mythology as a youngster and read comic books avidly. My favorites were ones that explicitly combined them, and as an adult I can appreciate that the same myths inspire Götterdämmerung and Thor, that both high- and low-brow art can drink from the same stream.  

Have you found any other universal narratives to be as suggestive as the heroic narrative?

A number of narratives have musical analogues - the voyage and return, a stranger comes to town, spaghetti can talk. Common to all is the element of surprise - when will the voyager return? How will the mysterious stranger affect the lives of the townspeople? What’s on the spaghetti’s mind?

What have been your major influences (as a musician)? Are there places in SUPERHERO we might hear any of these influences? Are there any influences coming from any heroic narrative works by other composers?

Sure, I’m indebted to earlier composers and like to acknowledge that in the pieces themselves. I don’t think there are any literal quotations in SUPERHERO itself, but the idea of the piece is directly inspired by Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. And the “theme as hero” idea can of course be found all over the place - Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie, the Liszt Eb Piano Concerto, etc.

Do you mind listeners or performers have different literary interpretations of your work?

Certainly not. My own interpretations of pieces are subject to change and modification. If I wanted the meaning to be fixed verbally, I’d be an essayist rather than a composer!

Do you have any advice for a musician who would like to pursue a career as a composer?

It's tough economically, but rewarding in every other way. Except for the untold bucketfuls of rejection letters that you will accumulate throughout your career.