Today is the day that Through The Fair will spring into life in new colours. Like Frankenstein’s creation it will be assembled from different constituent parts, both of which will be rehearsed today. In the morning an unofficial SBS (for they are officially between orchestras) will run the orchestral parts, hopefully without much drama, while the choir will polish the vocal writing tonight. Tomorrow there is only a short rehearsal period in which to get the two working together, so it’s good that I didn’t overcomplicate, anticipating pressure for rehearsal time.
Some composers can make life terribly difficult for their performers, and I have never understood why they feel the need to do so. Perhaps those writers who have not performed do not quite understand the needs of performers, or maybe they need to exude the otherworldly insouciance of the composer whose mind is on higher things, but it can place people in terribly awkward spots. I have more than once, I think, scored a commission because the initial writer has failed to produce a work on time and to the appropriate specification. There was one case in particular when I secured a large scale commission because the intended writer simply felt, a month into writing their piece, that they had run out of ideas. In the end I produced something moderately impressive (I think) in a very short time, with individual sections of the piece produced according to who was involved in the next rehearsal. It was quite stressful at the time, and coincided with jury service, but it was a fascinating way to work, and I bought myself this very netbook as a treat from the fee. As it happens, the original composer and I are now very good colleagues and work together often. He is an intelligent and highly musical chap, inspirational in his field, but, like many of us, can be worn down by the grind. We speak about composing often, and have talked about that commission – he felt he was writing to order and would not be able to produce anything of quality, which was why he pulled out, and that seems fair enough.
On a similar topic, I have recently been involved with two pieces of widely differing styles which have highlighted the differences between good and bad writers, in my opinion. The one work, written in a style which was emphatically not my musical cup of tea, was, as it happens, well put together and soundly constructed. Had the composer concerned been a composition pupil of mine I would have whipped out my red pencil in a couple of areas, but, style apart, it was written with – here’s that word again – craft. The other work aspires to be more modern, but, if it were a comedian, would be the equivalent of somebody bustling with energy on the stage to cover up the fact that they are not funny. It Is written in a modern idiom, but one which has no logical consistency in its language. Ironically it is at its strongest when most traditional but, perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the sections which have been revised and modernised the most over the course of its rehearsal. My red pen would be very busy with this work, for where the former had logic this is merely so much sound and fury, and we all know what that signifies.
I may be a traditionalist in my musical structure, if not my language, but I believe that a piece must make sense, whatever idiom it adopts. Beethoven adopted the concept of subtle unity throughout a work, and I still believe that is the best way to write a piece, the most successful of mine being the ones where a theme is born out of another, for example, but disguised so that the unity is felt as contrast. Unfortunately it Is very difficult to go writing in this way, and that insidious idea of ‘first thought best thought’ has permeated many areas of art, making people too lazy to refine or self-criticise. Many writers say ‘well, of course, structure is dead’, but those same writers wouldn’t know how to build an edifice if their lives depended upon it. So much rot is talked about why people write that only marginal attention is really paid to what they write, and heaven forfend that somebody should say that it’s not very good. We are scared of being seen as ignorant, but I have always urged my students to have the courage not just to say whether they like a piece or not, especially modern music, but to put their fingers on exactly why this might be the case.
It appears that lame Kitty has something of a following, so here’s the latest – he is putting some weight on his leg and off the drugs, but still looking a bit sorry for himself and not entirely recovered. More anon.