Friday, June 24, 2011

Essays before a composition (4)

The complete consort dancing together by petemaskreplica

The last time I wrote a piece for a symphony orchestra was in 2005: a small piece with a long title to celebrate Kensington Symphony Orchestra's 50th season. The last time I wrote for orchestra before that was in 2001, a work which got a play through in rehearsal but has never been publicly performed. When you're 20 years old and filled with energy and idealism you think nothing of churning out enormous pieces of music without a thought for who's going to play them, but as I get older it seems a waste of time and energy to slave over an orchestral score with no prospect of it being heard. It's so easy now and so satisfying to produce something large scale in my own living room, and immediately get it uploaded and out there; why sweat over something as arcane as an orchestra when I'll probably never hear the result?

As a result of this ideas stew in my brain for years. I've had the idea for the piece I'm about to begin work on for a long time. In fact, when I wrote The complete consort I had it in mind that it might be in part a preparatory sketch for the bigger work I wanted to write but couldn't at that time justify spending time on.

Over time ideas get half buried, maybe rethought for more realistic projects. Meanwhile new influences continually change my ideas of how to make music, and what sort of music to make. These new ideas and strategies sink into those half-buried seeds and mutate them. You'd think having had the germ of a piece fermenting in my mind for the best part of a decade would make it easy to produce when the chance finally comes. In fact it's hard: I and my music have changed in so many ways I couldn't have foreseen that the idea itself has begun to change, and many of the aspects that I thought were most fixed turn out now not to fit in with how I currently do things. It's not impossible that I'll raid the older music for elements I can use in the new piece, but it seems unlikely that it'll be as straightforward a relationship as I once thought it would be. Music's always on the move; any particular piece that's set down in a definable form is only a snapshot of a moment that's already gone.

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