Is the Missa Sancti Nicolai a good piece? Certain parts of it sounded beautiful at Hampstead this morning, but, much as I like the writing in the piece, I think it inhabits its style too wholly, could possibly do with a little more variation as it progresses. The other side of the coin, of course, is that it does mean that the piece is unified, but I am not sure that it is a piece I would write again as 2014-version me.
In many ways it is a good thing to find fault with what one has done in the past, especially when one works in a field where seeking constant improvement is a matter of supreme importance – sport, creative arts, for example. Indulging in another of my hobbies over the weekend I realised that, while I was not fulfilling the assigned task perfectly, and thus mildly dissatisfied with myself, that was probably a better thing than rolling along thinking that everything was perfect, something which would mean that I did not think that I could improve.
There is an interesting phenomenon, described in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology back in 1999, wherein the less skilled people are, the less aware they are of their limitations, also that “improving the skills of the participants…helped them recognise the limitations of their abilities”. Strangely, if you subscribe to the veracity of this theory, it means that the more skilled one is in a certain field, the less likely one is to be satisfied with what one does. This can, in extremis, be a dangerous thing, as it could eventually lead to the kind of crisis which might make somebody – Sibelius, for example – lay down their pen. It also goes a little way to explaining that bearpit phenomenon of the TV talent show, wherein some hapless contestants simply cannot believe that their efforts have been rejected – in short, they are not skilled enough in their field to know that they are not good enough.
A constant quest for self-improvement is surely at the heart of the human condition, the minute one stops moving forward a little death, and I remain flabberghasted at the celebration of the mediocre in today’s world, the idea that if you sit tight something should come and seek you out, rather than consistent and intense effort being rewarded. Whatever happened to the 20-year overnight success, the idea of get-rich-slow? Too much trouble, probably, and why bother when a film/fashion/music agent is just around the next corner, no, really, they are just there..?
Much, therefore, as I enjoy the Missa Sancti Nicolai, it is not what I would write tomorrow, and I believe that I would write not only differently, but also better. It might also be that eventually I would even look more askance on the result, having learned new skills since 2008, but I have always assumed that writing the perfect piece would leave me with no remaining compositional purpose. It is a good job that the better I get, the more holes I will find in my writing, and I take constant encouragement from it.