Creating Classical Music: A Composer’s Journal

November 21st, 2012

The composer continues sketching out the music to the chamber cycle “Unsung Songs: Songs of the Earth” for piano, flute, violin, viola and cello, to poems written by William Hurley. A Composer’s Journal: August 6-9, 2012.

Monday, August 6

Woke up today to a cool day and a light blue sky. Went downstairs and played through my original sketch for Haiku X. Added a few notes and stems and put Haiku X in the manilla folder reserved for finished sketches. William’s poem is:

Season travels throughTo distances beyond us…Quester wanders far.

I decided on solo flute, possibly unaccompanied – a solo Quester traveling on the Path, we are all alone on the Quest. Flute, for me, always signals hope. Tonight I will try to finish my sketch of XXVI. Three of the sketches are still unfinished and two I haven’t even started. But the stack of finished sketches continues to augment, slowly filling its manilla folder – so all is well.

XXVI is one of my favorite poems and images –

Dry, stilled air speeds songsSwiftly through ringing gorges…Crying earth to sleep.

There are many gorges in Ithaca, all sizes and depths and widths – one is a block from our house, with high cliffs, a narrow forest and two waterfalls. In summer people swim there and sunbathe on the rocks, sit under the falls and let the sun and water drench them. A truly magical place. But in fall and winter the feeling of the gorges changes – yes, winds and ringing, without the sweet songs of the birds; instead the songs of the winds, the spent leaves, the snows and rains… To capture all this in music is a pleasurable yet a difficult task. I have already scribbled down some ideas, seen the music in my mind and feel it in my Heart… The rest should follow fairly easily, although it might take time, and more than one attempt. Often the best cure is to put the piece away and let it percolate on its own for a while. New eyes, new ears, new thoughts… Meanwhile, I hold the image deep in my being until more notes and ideas begin to manifest.

1 a.m.

Worked on XXVI tonight, and covered pages of manuscript paper with new motives for the strings, piano and flute. It is starting to take shape.

Tuesday, August 7

Counted up and there will be fifteen haiku, not fourteen.

Worked on XXVI earlier in the day, found more piano effects, wrote more flute melodies.

Tonight watered the gardens and then started VIII. Started with a few sheets of blank manuscript paper and ended up with a few pages of motives and melodies; at the moment I am sketching out inner lines and melodies. VIII is easily as complicated as XXVI, and I suspect these two haiku will take many more days to sketch out – and then I will return to some of the earlier unfinished movements of this cycle, to finish my sketches before plunging in, i.e. before writing the finished score and all the myriad decisions that entails. Not to mention the long painstaking hours of copying notes into the score – page after page of small, black noteheads and stems, dynamics and metronome markings, meters and bar lines, all lined up on the page like little soldiers waiting to go into battle. Undoubtedly, at some point during the scoring and copying process, as in the past, I will question my decision to become a composer.

Wednesday, August 8

Woke to a blue sky and a scorching hot day. Went to the piano and suddenly saw the missing pieces to the overall form of VIII. Will use the eighth note chordal motive of the opening piano bass that I wrote last night, in the last pages – woven through the new eighth note motive I wrote this morning, a rhythmic motive which will alternate between the piano and the strings – i.e a strong and easily discernible continuation of the spirited debate of William’s wonderful poem. Structurally this will work very well – and also serve to tie the entire piece together. My main task today is to find the melody that will hold it all together. Now that the overall form is secure, the rest should be easy. Notes and rhythms and harmonies eventually fall into place once I can visualize the overall form. Decided to also stay with my original idea of overlapping the various sections.

VIII is on one hand finished – and on the other hand, there is much work still ahead, many days worth.

2 p.m.

Did household chores, swept, washed, tidied; caught up on some e-mails. Went back to the piano and within a few minutes wrote the main melody for VIII. It is several lines of manuscript long, at least as I scribbled it down – and I can fragment it or augment it later, as needed. My entire body feels a long, deep sigh of relief; the sunlight on the leaves out of my window only a pale reflection of the creative anticipation I feel. The more notes I write, the more ideas and sounds, and notes emerge from wherever they emerge from – and it has always been this way. By the end of writing a new piece or cycle – it is a flood, a beautiful sunlit flood of sounds and images…

Thursday, August 9

Sketched out most of VII last night, although I will need to try out effects when I am working with the musicians. In this poem William speaks of drumming rain on leaves and stone, and I need to write in rhythms as well as pitches for the rain. But the overall form and idea are sketched out.

Sat down at the piano and sketched in the end to VIII, and more motives to use later on when I go back to complete the piece. Also some written instructions to myself. VIII is essentially written.

All fifteen of William’s poems are now sketched out, at least in my mind. Now to fill them in.

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