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My weekend, transport woes aside, brought a typical organist’s Sunday, with a service at either end and a gaping hole in the middle. Rather than surf the internet idly and waste time I actually filled that hole with a decent amount of work, getting some more Anghiari introductions written and tidying up some technical areas to do with Everyone Sang.

With regard to this nascent piece it has been interesting to realise how the technique will often follow the idea, but only obliquely. What I mean is that very often I will sit down and select my materials for a piece before it starts – I will decide to write a piece using bold gestures in the Lydian mode but using predominantly quartal harmony, for example, pretentious though it sounds. This normally ensures that the piece will be terribly stilted and sound as if it has been written to a preconceived formula. At the other end of the experience is when an idea arrives and takes care of itself, and only later do I gather up the materials and work out what I have written.

The latter process is what is happening with Everyone Sang, and the working out of what I had written occurred because there was a section which was not quite right and I needed to find out why. When I sat down to analyse the music in an attempt to get to the root of the problem I realised that the majority of the material in the first half is pentatonic (written using a five note scale), even though I had not set out to do that, and that the weak section suddenly switched back to standard triadic harmony. The two areas did not sit comfortably side by side, but the process of finding out exactly how I had written my material meant that I could now recast this section with relative ease. It now fits much better with what is going on around it.

I have written before about the brain being a wondrous machine, and I am always surprised by its processes. In a way it makes composition frustrating at times because there is no one-size-fits-all way to go about it, but I have found that my ‘idea first, technique second’ pieces tend to be better all round than the pieces which are written to a set of guidelines. These, unsurprisingly, often sound like academic exercises and ironically lack the kind of unity the freer pieces have. Strange.

It forms part of the whole inspiration/perspiration divide. The craft of writing is essential and, I believe, often overlooked in this day and age, but the bold and original idea is at least as valuable. Even Beethoven had to learn his craft and, having decided that Haydn was not the right teacher for him, went to study with Albrechtsberger, one of the finest technicians of his day. That neither you nor I have ever heard anything by Albrechtsberger tells us all we need to know about his writing, however, for Beethoven is important for his ideas as well as his execution of those ideas. Like the chicken and the egg, though, it can be confusing trying to work out which one comes first.

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