Today I have been in a firmly tonal world, beginning an arrangement for a private commission, something which needs to be written within the next few weeks or so. In the spirit of everything informing everything else, I have set to work on this using lessons I have learned from the viola piece, approaching the arrangement in the same spirit and generating new motifs and ideas which provide new material while simultaneously binding the piece together. My muse (mews?) is next to me on his cushion, once more, checking that I really am at work and not idly surfing the interweb.
I shall probably carry on with the viola piece alongside this arrangement, as the bulk of the ground has been broken on that and now it is merely a case of using the material I already have before I knuckle down to some serious revision and honing. As is my preferred method, deadlines permitting, I am working on paper first and then transferring to computer, partially because writing by hand is still quicker for me than working on a screen, and also because I do not want my initial ideas to be shaped by what I hear. Any half-decent composer can create the kind of sound world they want (consonant, dissonant, aggressive, calm, for example), but I would prefer the specifics to take shape without being moulded by acquired habits of listening. The very act of putting pencil to paper is also physically creative in itself, and I wonder if those who write directly to computer are in danger of losing that tangible element of creativity, to say nothing of that deathly reliance many students have on cut and paste.
Talking of listening I have, at long last, got back to the trek through my CD collection, still stuck on the letter ‘B’, and thoroughly enjoying getting to grips with some thrilling Bartok, especially realising how close it is to Lutoslawski’s later language. It articulates so strongly as well, moments of climax and repose brilliantly expressed so that the listener still understands the gesture, even if the language within which that gesture is expressed may be new. As it happens, I had lunch in South Kensington yesterday, passing Bartok’s statue on my way to and from the station. He had disappeared for a while when the road was being redone, and I had worried that he had gone the same way of Elgar on the £20 note, but he had merely moved across the road. It was good to see him, but it is even better to hear him.