Music Theory and Composition
New York City
A composer, contrary to popular belief, has the mind not of a mathematician but an engineer. There’s the conceptual thinking that conceives a piece of music, followed by methodical construction, then the airtight logic that binds it all together. Just like engineering, composing piece requires an original vision. Violin Performance major and composer Ericsson Hatfield knows this best. Although he grew up aspiring to be an engineer, Ericsson just released his debut album with award-winning pianist Dr. Petra Matejova, his professor abroad at NYU Prague. Their collaboration stems from Ericsson’s ability to craft intricate Baroque pieces that still sound fresh to modern ears. It’s no easy feat for a 20-year-old, but with Ericsson’s measured mind, it’s just the beginning.
Although Ericsson’s been playing violin since the age of 5, his music education sparked an interest in an era that began much earlier than that, over 300 years ago to be exact, in the Baroque period of classical music. “I started to compose in high school, but I only had my ear to guide me,” says Ericsson. “To grasp the foundations of Western music, I decided to rent some books and teach myself.” That’s how Ericsson turned to counterpoint, the device commonly used by Baroque composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, where several lines of music are arranged together. “It’s a fundamental part of a composer’s toolbox,” he says. “I come from a family of engineers and accountants, so I appreciate learning these basic concepts methodically, the way you might master algebra before tackling calculus.” That disciplined work ethic would come with a payoff: the release of his debut album while studying at NYU.
In Steinhardt’s Music Theory and Composition program, Ericsson began to rigorously train while picking up industry tips as a Music Business minor. But spending his sophomore year in NYU Prague’s music program opened the way for a life-changing collaboration with Matejova. As a specialist in historical music, Matejova was so impressed with the craft of Ericsson’s preludes and fugues that she offered to play one at the spring student gala. As Ericsson explains, “This would almost never happen in the United States. Professors feel divided professionally from their students, but in Prague, they see it as an opportunity for discussion and creativity.”
After Ericsson returned to the States, the pair stayed in contact with a new resolution: Ericsson would write more pieces, Matejova would play them, and they’d assemble an album together. “I tried to compose pieces where Petra could improvise and show off her skills, making the relationship between composer and performer more communal,” he says. “As a specialist in early music, she has informed opinions about how to interpret pieces, and she does so brilliantly.” All in all, it took months of planning, a GoFundMe campaign, and studio recordings conducted back in Prague in early 2017. But the album was a success, launching on iTunes and streaming services across the web in June of 2017.
Ericsson looks back at NYU Prague as one of the happiest times in his life, but in terms of his work, he’s tuned to new ideas. “These days, I no longer compose in the style I wrote for Petra,” Ericsson says. Instead, he’s working with his professors to compile a portfolio of more modern compositions for grad school, like an orchestral piece where every instrument mimics a character in Aesop’s Fables. It’s simply the next step in his musical blueprint: “My time at NYU Prague was a chance to collaborate with conservatory-caliber teachers and performers. Now I’m ready to become a more versatile composer and create classical music for the future.”