The more I work on Belshazzar’s Feast the more I find elements that have fallen out of Walton’s music and fallen into mine. Coming back to this piece after many years I was slightly taken aback to see quite how many of his stylistic fingerprints had rubbed off onto my earlier choral pieces, although I think I have forged on and moved further away. What is so intriguing is that I am aware that I used to fall back into these techniques as a kind of insurance policy, as a way of getting myself out of compositional corners, almost as short cuts. Is it too harsh to say that Walton developed a language within which he was able to express various concepts with a set vocabulary? And if so, was Belshazzar the start of it or merely its grandest manifestation up to that point?
I tick on meanwhile with the organ piece, starting at the end to get a better idea of where that material might come from. Elgar, so I have heard, would often begin writing by scribbling out the climax of the work, and it is a trick that I have used in the past. After all, while there is fun in just tramping around, the best journeys normally involve some kind of destination. Midweek, though, I realised that I had written myself into a corner, so I returned to my beloved library of composition books to study, reread and perhaps to come out the better for it. A very established composer recently said on the radio that writing music was difficult even if the ideas came easily, and that that was probably how it should be, and I think I agree. The ideas are usually the easy bit, but the execution of the language and the expression of the subject can be very tricky indeed. As with so many things, though, the more the craft is assimilated the easier it becomes to identify and use the technique most appropriate to the expression. It is very easy for a composer to muddle their own way along, I think, especially since writing is seen so often as a kind of looking-out-to-sea-for-inspiration thing, but the craft, the skill is integral to it, of that I am sure.