I know, I kept promising myself that I was going to post something every day; or, at least nearly every day. Well, it hasn’t worked out quite, has it. I suppose a lot of the issues of which I have strong feelings are ones that potentially get me into trouble. And then there’s the general malaise of me getting in my own way. I want to express my thoughts, but they’re constantly being crowded out by the other things I feel compelled to do. I’m easily distracted, that’s a certainty; living with what I sure is undiagnosed ADD doesn’t help. Moreover, writing words is almost as difficult — maybe even harder — as writing music. Making sure that I find the right word for the right phrase in a properly constructed, albeit Jamesianly complex sentence, can be quite a challenge. The last thing I want is for someone to misunderstand my thinking because I didn’t take the time to make fully clear and complete my thought. Too many writers, especially bloggers and columnists (I’m sure with journalists time constraints via deadlines have much to do with it) often times write things that are not complete, or perfectly clear living themselves open to misinterpretation or misunderstanding. With my writing I look at it as: if you misunderstood me you 1) didn’t read everything I wrote, or 2) you are not very bright. In any event I’ll try to do better.
So today, I found myself concentrating on the piano and the 2nd movement to my piano quintet. I returned to the quintet mainly as a diversion from the choral piece with which I’ve been stalled. It’s taken me a few days to “get back into the groove” since it’s been a few months since I’ve even looked at the quintet. But, after playing it through it a few times to remind me what I’ve actually done, and then getting passed the intimidation of trying to live up to what I have written, the ideas gradually began to emanate. My problem, that is, what makes composing such a chore for me, is I write almost exclusively in a contrapuntal style. Although I love rich, sumptuous harmonies (I was listening and swooning to Granville Bantock’s harmonically sybaritic song cycle Sappho yesterday on RBTF’s Musiq3), and though I strive for my counterpoint to achieve that level of sensuality, I find it difficult to write notes that aren’t in some way some form of development or statement, full or partial, of the thematic material with which I’ve introduced the piece. I guess, I look at “writing chords” (either as simultaneities or as arpeggios) as a kind of copout. If I can’t come up with a line that derives directly from the initial thematic material then I’m just being lazy. I’ve gotten a little better; my opening to the second movement to the quintet actually is a tune over repeated, ever chromatically changing, chords; but, then after that, when the four strings appear its counterpoint all the way. Again, not just a melody with countermelodies, but each line is in some form use of the “tune.” It’s not as simple as one might assume, especially since I compose tonally. That means all this linear chromaticism and counterpoint has to fit together in such a way so as to not sound, as Ralph Vaughan Williams once said, like “one of those wrong note boys.” Notwithstanding, I have actually made some serious progress, not allowing myself to be overly distracted.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. I did find myself going back and forth between my desk and the piano, finding one to be a pleasant distraction from the other. Primarily, I found playing the piano as a “break” as it were, from composing, sort of clearing my head a little before returning to the task.
As to the piano, it’s not my favourite instrument. The organ is. Anyone who knows me knows that I love the organ with an unbridled passion. Yet, my relationship with instrument has always been somewhat tumultuous. Not so much the instrument as with organ “world” (without needless repetition allow me to refer those readers unfamiliar with my thoughts on the organ to my earlier columns here). Nevertheless, being without an organ on which to practise since I moved up to New England, I’m stuck playing the piano. Fortunately I’ve had the satisfaction of practising accompaniments to art songs which I find most rewarding. However, today was little different. Today was sight-reading day. Something at which I can safely say am woefully substandard. I’ve never been a good sight-reader; but, years of inadequate practise has definitely left me found wanting in this area. So, I’ve anew on a campaign to start going through my library and just read through some of this stuff. Today I started with the complete song cycle by Kathleen Lockhart Manning Sketches of Paris, from which comes her most noted song “In the Luxembourg Gardens.” I love this music and all the other songs from that group of women from the turn of the 20th Century I like to refer to as Women Composers with Three Names. So, I read through them a few times and definitely plan to include them with my other songs by Mildred Lund Tyson, Elinor Remick Warren, Mary Turner Salter, and Teresa del Riego. Now all I have to do is find a singer (preferably high voice since those are usually the original keys) to do these things. If you singers out there don’t know these composers and their songs, you would be wise to look them up (among others e.g., Clara Edwards, Lily Strickland, Alice Barnett, etc.). They wrote eminently singable songs with a truly sympathetic ear for the voice.
Then I actually read through some Schubert Moments Musicaux D.780 (Op. 94 #’s 1,2,3 & 5) and #1 from Drei Klavierstücke D.946 (Bärenreiter Edition of course). Actual piano music! And guess what? It was not a displeasurable experience. They’re easier than I had anticipated. I might even enjoy some of this stuff if I’m not careful.
Of course a day can’t go by without something to despond me. And lo it was, of course, an organ work. Again for the second year now, because of my current circumstances (i.e., without an organ on which to play), I found myself relearning what I think is Jean Langlais’ finest work, La Nativité. It is a work of such sublime elegance and beauty I find it beyond the dreams of inspiration. I wish I could describe how its sheer unaffected, delicate beauty moves me. It is because of that inexplicable beauty I used play it every year on Christmas Eve. I loved sharing this precious gem of a piece. So, as I was looking through it again sans pedale, in a futile preparation of the upcoming season, I became quite depressed when I came to the realisation that, yet, another year will pass without my being able to share this exquisite little masterpiece. It breaks my heart. It is times like this I wish I had never, NEVER become an organist. It’s as if you’ve had the love of your life, since you were 12, taken from you and no one — no one who can — will help bring her back to you.