My loose compositional end has sorted itself out over the past couple of days. I had set to work on a new piece recently, sketching ideas for a competition without a text to hand, but another, more pertinent competition has caught my eye, and I have gone a-writing on that instead. It carries with it the advantages of having a text attached (one which I have chosen) and a tight deadline, which means that rather than flailing around musically I shall have to get my hands muddied and write the piece in relatively short order.
I am taking the approach that this is a piece for commission rather than competition. In other words, I am trying to pretend that I have been asked to write this piece by a specific organisation and for a specific occasion. I believe that this is a good idea, and also that I will finish up with a piece which is practical and performable without trying to be too horribly clever, something which might well come in useful when – as is likely – it does not win. To have a new piece at the end which fills a hole in my catalogue as this one will do is good news.
I have already managed to sketch out a couple of minutes of material this morning alone, having taken yesterday off. Although I am enjoying my more rigorous work schedule at the moment, I still think that it is important to take time off at least once a week, especially as my weekends tend to be busy. The plan was to go and see Hitchcock at the cinema, but, in the end, we stayed at home and cracked open a new board game, Ignacy Trzewiczek’s fearsome Stronghold. After a couple of hours pushing cubes around a board and getting pretty much nowhere we decided to cut our losses, learning the lesson that, while undoubtedly a great game, its length and complexity were not for us.
As if to ram that lesson home, we then dug out Reiner Knizia’s Battle Line, a card game, despite what the title might lead you to believe, and played it an extraordinary fourteen times in a row. Having sat on the edge of my collection for nearly a year, with only two plays in 2012, it has now found its way right back to the centre, and its low price and simple play-a-card-draw-a-card mechanic should hopefully lure some interested people in. Make no mistake, this is a great game, the simple rules camouflaging its greatness, and I would quite happily play another fourteen rounds today, given half the chance.
Work calls instead, of course, but it is interesting to muse that, in music as in games, the simple ideas can often be much more involving in the final reckoning. I think in particular of Britten’s writing for choirs, so economical and so precise and yet generating magnificent structures and sounds. I have tried to take that lesson to this new piece, for I am working with some musical source material which needs to be recast, and I would like some very basic decisions to underpin the whole work.
There can be a real tendency in the modern age to equate complexity with greatness, and while it is not true that nothing complex is great, it is certainly wide of the mark to say that there is no greatness without complexity. It is, as always, down to the way it is applied.