Had there been a live commentary on my compositional activities yesterday it would probably have been similar to something like Test Match Special, which I imagine is largely about filling the gaps in between two unexciting things happening. For this composer there are large periods of thinking, the occasional trip to the cafetière and then – contain your excitement – the briefest of pencil scratchings on manuscript.
Sometimes – no – Often I wish that I wrote “easier” music, material that was simpler to forge, more able to be scribbled out in abundance and with ease, rather than fighting over every single bar and each individual note. At least in this respect I am more of a Beethoven than a Mozart, a Sibelius rather than Shostakovich.
There is and needs to be a dividing line between sketching and refinement, that point at which critical appraisal kicks in. Before crossing that artistic Rubicon, however, it can be difficult just to run with things and see how they turn out, and I need practically to force myself to improvise onto the paper, to write and see what happens.
This new orchestral piece has strong elements of pastiche, but I want it to hint at things before they become obvious, for the quotations to nudge at memories before recognition kicks in. It can be done and it will be done, but this starting stage is very much stop/start.
It is also involving large periods of mulling over various concepts, and that means that the making of coffee, the wanderings upstairs and down, are not necessarily displacement activities but also opportunities for ideas to ferment in the back of my brain. While the sitting at the desk tends to happen in the morning, the writing is actually going on all day long.