Sunday, January 02, 2005

Beginning a Symphony

The Living Composer presently attempts to begin a symphony to be premiered in October with a wonderful orchestra in California. There is something terribly absurd about a symphony, isn’t there? Take this sort of quip that a person might make: “it isn’t like you’re trying to write a symphony, right?” Well, in this case, I am, and yes, it is daunting. But this suffering at the beginning is nothing new to me whether it is a symphony or a smaller project.

Many colleagues with whom I have discussed this have fewer to no problems with starting works. EC always has a dramatic idea, fitting the music into the drama comes naturally. JB has full sketchbooks and ideas floating around. CP and WB write piece after piece.

For me, it is a struggle to enter into the world that I will explore for months on end. I call it, "finding the window into the piece." And, my past compositions have gone in abundantly different directions from one another so there isn’t a clear path there. Besides, I desire to make every piece a new exploration so looking at past accomplishments would be misguided from my perspective. It is the question, not the answer, which is most important to me. Forming the right question is the greater challenge.

Maybe it is a neurotic tic or maybe it is the over rich variety of possibilities that cause me to stumble out of the gate? For whatever reason, it is a challenge. Usually, once I have a start, the tribulations are diminished. So for now, I sit at the blank page waiting for the drop of blood to form on my forehead then fall to the paper forming perhaps a quarter-note. Then, maybe more drops turning into more notes, and then the decision whether to go with them or search on. That’s how it goes lately.

On the good side? At the least, I know the tensions and themes that my work typically takes. The ideas have to come into play with these tensions or something will be missing. Tensions are important and I’ll write more about them in future posts.

In the process of trying to start the symphony, ideas for other pieces have come along. I have a good start on a sonata for viola and piano that came out of the sketches that I’ve produced. I’ve wanted to write one for KF, and I will enjoy coming back to it, but it unfortunately isn’t the task at hand. I also got a start on a set of songs that I’ll be doing for DM’s group. So there is some hope. It isn’t like the well is dry; the muse just isn’t following orders. What do you expect from a muse? Obedience? Doing as told? Following orders like a soldier? Of course not!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

CP here, posting as "anon." I'll venture to say that if Brahms were still alive this Blog would be his home page! Why do today's composers of concert music still write Symphonies and String Quartets?! Aren't these modes dead? Haven't they been worked to death on the clay wheel, spurning several masterpieces already? I don't ask these questions in order to dampen my own desire to write in these forms...I simply want to know myself what it is that makes us believe we have something worth saying within these tattered archetypes.

Back to Brahms. Imagine you're him. You've got some friends in high musical places (Joachim, etc.). People will clamor to play your string quartets, orchestras will program your symphonic works. There's something nagging you in the small of your back, though. That something is Ludwig Van... To write serious music on the heels of the immortal Beethoven (employing the same archetypes) requires not only a healthy, perhaps over-sized dose of an ego, but also a significant amount of humility. This dichotomy, this balance in the form of Brahms enabled him to continue on with the string quartets -- to finally take to writing a few symphonies later in life. And can you imagine a world now without those works?!

The great wheel rolls forward and KB finds himself about to take a ride in its tread for a while. As the inclusive (not exclusive) composer he is, creating a symphony should be right up his alley! I don't want to imagine a world without it next year.

I must mention something logistical, however. An October deadline to some would be "just enough" time for this task. I believe for KB this is like lounging around in a fur coatful of time. The task for him is not whether or not he can write such a work in such amount of's more a matter of breaking the habit of waiting until a month before the deadline and then conjuring a miracle (which I've seen happen firsthand several times). It is surprisingly difficult to change a routine that seems to work for us over and over I don't know if this will be any different (I only hope --as a friend who helps out with the copying... oiy!).

The flipside has its downside as well. I have a "symphony" in the cooker as well. It's not a commissioned piece, so I'm indulging in it over time. When it's done it could be well into 2006, who knows? ...and who knows if it'll be programmed. Who cares? I know I don't...I just want to write it!

That's why symphonies still happen.

5:51 PM  

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