I tapped away little by little on the new cantata yesterday afternoon, solid and decidedly unglamorous work in a piece that is currently full of holes. The intention is for it to be a seven-movement work, a mixture of solo and chorus, and it is the choir sections that I am working on first.
At the moment all of the text that I need to set has something musical attached to it, often merely a single line but sometimes with more – perhaps a little bit of harmony or a countermelody. Little by little these things begin to add up until the point arrives at which one has a piece of music, and that is when the work really begins.
It is, if I am honest, pretty dull and ploddy work at this stage, for the decent writer knows that you cannot simply sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. Instead you need to provide the raw material with which to work, which, in turn, can help to trigger those moments when inspiration (if that is what you want to call it) strikes. The image that springs to mind most often in these early days of work on a piece, especially when setting text, is of squeezing a toothpaste tube.
At least there were a couple of moments yesterday when I jotted something down that I thought had potential, although at this early stage it can be difficult to be accurate about which ideas will yield most fruit. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned so far as a composer has been to suspend that critical approach in the early stages of a work. Merely getting things onto the stave is the most valuable goal here.
Rather nicely, last night I did dream about being back in Leipzig, so clearly something Bachian was going on in the back of my mind, maybe echoes of Monday’s rehearsal. I was at the Thomaskirche, taking it all in once more. It was only 2018 when I was there but it seems an entirely different lifetime, as if it were a world of brighter hues.