A young and respected composer once said that writing music was, for him, like a holiday. I often wish that it could be the same for me, but I find that it usually slips over the line into work as I try to make the notes do what I want them to do, or at least try to discern what they should be doing. This morning, however, filling in some gaps in the second movement of the string piece, certain moments of the compositional process actually felt dangerously close to fun, a rarity for me. This may well be a by-product of a slightly more relaxed attitude to the first sketch, more of a “I wonder what happens if I do this” thought process, but it would be useful to have this feeling all the time.
I stepped back from the canvas of this piece yesterday and viewed the whole thing from top to tail, and it seems to hang together nicely. The last movement (the third) is the least convincing, but it is also the one on which I have done the least tidying. The first two, on the other hand, are at last doing what I more or less want them to do, and the slow-fast-slow ten minute span is becoming clearer and clearer in its details as the days roll past.
The usual outline for a three-movement work, let’s say a classical concerto, is fast-slow-fast, but here I have done the opposite, and the central span acts not only as a link between the first and last pillars, but also as a modifier for the material which has come before it, before that material emerges changed and brightened at the end of the work. It is hustly and bustly and like a distant scherzo in some ways, although hidden in a shade. This movement, like the other two, struggles out of silence, expending its energy as it grows, before the sound gradually dies away once again. It is only at the end of the third movement, I hope, that the ending sounds like a repose, that the notes remain as trace elements, like the lights in the photographs on this blog.
I was meant to have been dealing with that third movement today, but am running just a touch behind, although I will have opportunities over the weekend to hammer it into shape before I begin final revision on this piece and put the Exeter piece on the top of my “filling in the gaps” pile. The Exeter piece will then, according to my master plan, be finished by the end of next week, at which point I will turn to the orchestration of the string work again. It is all very exciting indeed.
I was at the Duke of York’s Theatre last night to watch their current production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, one of my favourite plays. The darkness takes over gradually, as in a film by von Trier, as Ibsen peels the layers from the characters and their secrets are laid bare, and I felt that some of the audience, chuckling away at many points, had not quite grasped what lay beneath the surface. Still, great art means different things to different people, but what struck me most about Ibsen’s masterwork is that, were it passed off as a brand new play, written in the past year, people probably would not bat an eyelid. You have to keep reminding yourself that it was written in 1879.
My string piece is about the struggle to maintain sound against silence, to place permanent light against the dark, and I hope that, at the end of the ten minutes, there will be the sensation of something bright having emerged, however fragile and temporary. Ibsen’s characters go the other way, from the brightness of the Christmas festivities to the darkness of their own individual fates. I wonder how he felt as he wrote it, for I cannot see it as having been much of a holiday.