So often it is the thought of a certain task that prevents one from getting to it, and the simple trick, oft forgotten, is to break it up into progressively smaller chunks until you get to the stage where you think that you can tackle them. Thus it has been with this vast, sprawling mess of sketches, around half an hour’s worth at the last count, that always in my head but only recently in public has gone under the title of Symphony or, perhaps more optimistically, Symphony No.1.
Yesterday, for the very first time, I changed the title of the saved file from Introduction to scherzo to Symphony No.1, a declaration of intent at the very least, and I have even added a subtitle, although that will remain private for now. Having broken the sketches down into four sections, the remains of what one might think of as the standard symphonic outline though, as Morecambe and Wise would have it, not necessarily in the right order, I have assigned myself a couple of weeks to each, a move in the right direction at least, even though I know that some areas of the piece will require substantially more work.
Thus, with some trepidation, I took my compositional tools in hand and went paring and pruning on the first section, around seven and a half minutes of music, and I know that I have said this before, but the atmosphere is dark. I had always intended this piece, long hanging there in my mind as some kind of project for the future, to have some kind of trajectory from darkness to light, but perhaps the events of this year have thrown more shadows over the music, changed certain decisions towards a more tenebral hue.
At the end of the stint – a little bit of dovetailing here, some strong ideas on orchestration there – I listened to that first span (I currently have an embargo on the rest until I get to it) and, although it only lives in piano score, I think that it works. It may not be great music quite yet – it may never end up being great music – but certain moments of it certainly feel strong, and I like that it has a real sense of threat and structural inevitability about it.
I know how the whole piece ends, of course, because that bit is already written, and the light does conquer the darkness in the final reckoning, though only after a struggle, but that journey is the impetus behind the work, that fight through oppression, doubt and anxiety to brightness, and not in a Shostakovich 5 “You must rejoice! You must rejoice!” kind of way, but born of its own material struggles. As for the subtitle, well, it could stay or I could do the Mahler thing and strip that scaffolding away once the work is done. It will depend on whether I want the piece to be approached as something abstract or as something programmatic, but my hope is that if I have done my job right then it will be both, but without necessarily saying so out loud. Exciting stuff.