From Berlioz on Monday morning I was cleansed by the purifying notes of the St. John Passion in the evening as I rehearsed the recitatives for a performance of Bach’s masterwork – a term that could be applied to so many of his pieces – in preparation for a performance in a couple of weeks.
Between the Bach and the other pieces with which I am spending my time I am surrounded by some very fine notes indeed, but sometimes they work their ways into my head and make it impossible to sleep. A few weeks ago I found myself trapped in the final chorale of Bach’s Komm, Jesu komm, attempting to unravel all those delicious unprepared dissonances, while over the weekend it was the central section of Belshazzar’s Feast as my brain, oblivious to the arrival of BST, set about understanding the progressions that brighten the cadences of so many phrases.
The unconscious mind does strange things anyway, of course, working away on problems and assimilating information as we sleep, and the Periodic Table is but a single example of what must have been many, many solutions that have arrived in the dead of night through history. In Rose Tremain’s Music And Silence one of the characters dreams of music so wonderful and so beautiful that they are driven near to madness by the desire to recreate it in their waking hours.
I learned a long time ago that there are times when it is best to put the composing pencil down and find something else to do, and I gave similar advice to my piano students once upon a time, though I doubt they all returned to the keyboard the next day. Often, when up against an insurmountable problem, the solution is only to be seen when you take a step back and gain some perspective.
That solution can often be inspired by the music of other writers, and that is part of the reason why I believe that everything I do in music is interconnected. When I sit down this afternoon to continue work on the orchestral piece I am, I hope, going to be surprised by what my mind is going to suggest for the day that I could not have imagined yesterday.