Born in Hastings in 1973, Morgan Hayes studied at the Guildhall School of Music, where his teachers included Simon Bainbridge, Robert Saxton and Michael Finnissy. Since early recognition of his abundant composing and piano playing talent there he has made his home in central London, producing an impressive body of work while making a day-to-day living as a resourceful ballet pianist and teaching composition at the Royal Academy of Music.
A natural city dweller, Morgan Hayes drinks deeply of all that London has to offer, culturally and socially. Unassuming but quietly gregarious , he enjoys parties (his own are legendary) and the company of others, and thinks well of people if at all possible.
Aside from that of his teachers, he cites particularly the music of Milton Babbitt as an influence, not for its complexities but for the poetry in it. for those fleeting moments when the music throws out something familiar, lyrical, even tonal. Other important figures are Gerald Barry, Iannis Xenakis, Alban Berg, Georges Aperghis, James Dillon, and his close friends Simon Holt and Andrew Toovey.
Very often Hayes composes with particular performers in mind. One special ally is the pianist and composer Jonathan Powell, who has commented on the fact that much of his music seems to derive from a sense of the purely physical, of how fingers naturally cluster on keyboard, for instance. He is practical rather than outwardly aspirational, a craftsman. But what results is as far from the merely functional as it is possible to be.
His largest-scale work to date is the full orchestral piece Strip, commissioned for the 2005 BBC Promenade Concerts, whose itle refers both to its layer-like structure and to a certain paring down from the ultra-complex textures for which he had hitherto shown a predilection. Perhaps an even finer achievement is the highly personal single movement of the Violin Concerto (2006) where he explores in an entirely original way the notion of the traditional Romantic concerto.
The essence of Hayes’s art is contrast. Something simple and spare – single lines, heterophonic decorations, static harmonic fields – might be pitched against something else of great complexity and violence. There’s the contrast of linear and vertical. Singularities somehow come together as compound wholes. And there is reference to a past in all sorts of ways, to baroque music and jazz, for instance, in Strides I and II, the two ongoing piano collections.
Inspiration really does come from anywhere and everywhere. Two contrasting solo violin pieces, Lucky’s Speech and Lucky’s Dream, for instance, derive from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The title of The Unrest Cure (2014) is taken from a Saki short story, though its first inspiration was a visit to the Flak Towers in Vienna, those enormous Nazi concrete edifices built as anti-aircraft defences. Its sequel is the piano piece Elemental (2015), whose name was appropriated from a furniture shop in Shoreditch, London. His recent work for piano duet, The Black Cap, is a pithy, light-hearted and nostalgic reaction to the recent closure of an eponymous North London gay pub, renowned for its drag shows. Here the aesthetic owes something to the triumvirate of Satie, Poulenc and Stravinsky at their most light-hearted.
And so on. Whatever the mood and mein, one constant in Hayes’s music is his mastery of striking, satisfying shape and form. If architecture is frozen music, then his music is liquid architecture, never outstaying its welcome and indeed, like the man himself, full of abundant charm.
©Stephen Pettitt 2016