Working on the Musical Score: A Composer’s Journal

February 22nd, 2013

The composer continues sketching out the chamber cycle “Unsung Songs: Songs of the Earth” for flute, piano, violin, viola and cello to poems written by violinist William Hurley. A Composer’s Journal October 7 – November 3, 2012.

Image: A page of the copied out main score.

Sunday, October 7

Have been working steadily on XXVI, and sketched out to the end. The last pages are still not written down on the page, but I have them in my head. Started working on the final sketch of VIII yesterday, starting with basically a stack of manuscript paper covered with themes and motives, all held together with a paper clip. Wrote first page or so last night, and inwardly am hearing the piece unfold. This one begins dreamily, in the piano – but I want it to sparkle and gain in intensity to the end.

After I have completed the final sketch to VIII I will return to V. These last pieces are the most complicated and difficult to write, but for the first time I am beginning to see an end in sight.

Monday, October 8

Almost made it to the end of the final sketch for VIII, but kept the last few pages in my head, to write out later. Started putting together V, but after a brief scan of the original sketch began to write new piano motives instead. As a pianist – well, I want to enjoy playing this piece… Decided to make the piano part technically difficult, i.e. fast notes speeding along with the wind. Am trying to find patterns that are new, untried – ones I still cannot imagine. Have been using the whole tone scale in V, and will most likely stay with it. Now to discover what I am searching for – it is there, I just have not consciously found it…

This is what the artist lives for: standing on the edge of something almost conscious, almost Known… To face the blank page or canvas, and help the soul reveal itself.

Tuesday, October 9

Worked on V, wrote several new pages; began sketching out a piano cadenza. This piece is finally starting to fall into place; am writing very quickly again, effortlessly. And once again I feel an inner excitement difficult to describe, because it is so pure and transparent; the air crystalline in that inner space… As the piece unfolds and manifests I, as the listener, the audience, can wonder at its Beauty, the Beauty of Sound in time and space. In this piece I am trying to allow the piano to sing in a new way. And possibly I will achieve that… And so, at least for tonight, I am filled with a joy that generally resides deep and hidden within my being. That Joy, and the music I am writing, both emanate from the same inner place, deep within the spiritual Heart – and words cannot describe the indescribable. I think the joy of artist during creation is one of meeting the soul and it’s exquisite Beauty in the moment of creation. Later, possibly I will tire of these measures because they are no longer immediately connected to the soul. But tonight they are still intertwined, the music and the soul, and the lingering Beauty and Wonder connected with meeting the soul head-on is still palpable, still all around me.

Friday, October 12

Leaves are falling from the trees and it is beginning to feel like autumn: cold, clear nights with a hint of frost. The sun, although now smaller and paler, still warms the days. The colors are more muted this year, due to the lack of summer rain – but there are some oranges and reds and yellows here and there. The leaves are falling earlier and more quickly than usual, and there are many rust-brown hues scattered along the streets and forests and hills. All in all not the glorious, vivid colors we are used to here in Ithaca – although I must admit there is a restfulness to this earthy palate that we usually come to only in late autumn.

Have worked sporadically on V; added on many pages and abandoned most of my original sketches. Hopefully will have more time for composing over the weekend. Still have not decided how it will begin.

Sunday, October 21

Away at Windgarth House for some days last week, without my score, taking a rest from the Unsung Songs’ cycle. The trees are shedding their leaves in the wind, leaves are everywhere now. Soon I will gather them together and put them in the gardens. V, Winter Wind, is almost entirely sketched out, the final sketch. I wrote almost from nothing for this final sketch, only saved a motive here and there from my original sketches. The overall form will be a rough AB, and the piece will gather momentum as it goes. V is one of the most complicated pieces in the cycle, and I have enjoyed writing it. These last pieces, V, VIII, XXVII, XVII, are all complicated, and multilayered – and require more skill technically and compositionally. After these last are completed there is only one more to write, the shorter and simpler VII.

Copying out the final sketches to these last few pieces of the cycle will take quite some time – for one, many pages of music still remain in my mind, I have not had the time or patience to write them down. My efforts to find new sounds in the piano and new compositional techniques in general have taken time, and these things cannot be rushed.

Tuesday, October 23

Wrote a short introduction to VIII and started copying my sketch of VIII into the final score. The sketch is not complete, especially the final pages which are still only existing in my mind, so I will be writing as I go. A beautiful rainy day, the colors of the leaves and branches and few remaining flowers vivid, almost startling. I could gaze out the windows endlessly. This house has an inordinate number of windows; downstairs the windows are spaced every few feet along the north and south walls of the house. In a way, it is as close as I can come to living outside. If I look behind me while seated at the computer, I see the autumn grapevine from above and the back garden, as well as the ground and the quickly turning orange and yellow tree leaves even two streets away. Leaves are falling in the rain, lazily wafting down everywhere… playful and thin, almost weightless. Another perfect day for composing.

Tuesday, October 30

Wrote music and copied all but a few pages of VIII into the main score. Began copying out XXVI yesterday. I will again leave the last pages, which are still a bare sketch – and instead start copying out V. I have never worked this way, in bits and pieces here and there, and everywhere – and hope I never do again.

Friday, November 2

V is progressing nicely, the first nine pages copied into the main score. William (Hurley) came by briefly today, with his violin. Asked him about pizz. effects for VII, to symbolize the rain. William played examples of different sorts of pizzicato and suggested how to notate them in the score. What I mainly learned during our meeting is that I need to wait until all three string players are here in my living room with me – violin, viola and cello – so I can hear the total effect. Meanwhile will continue on copying out V, and then try to finish writing the last few pages.

Laura Campbell, who has been the flutist for both the Visions and Images’ CDs, has agreed to play the flute part. Diana has already designed the CD cover and is working on the insert. All that remains is finding a cellist and violist – and my finishing the score.

Saturday, November 3

My singer’s (Louise McConnell) niece Ursula is staying with me for a few days while M. is out of town. (I still call Louise my singer, in spite of the fact that she died of cancer eighteen or so years ago. I have not worked with a soprano since then: thus the title Unsung Songs.) Ursula sat on the living room couch and listened intently as I wrote the ending of V and found some new sounds and effects in the piano to represent the icy, winter wind of William’s poem. Decided to end V softly, instead of the roar of sound I had originally envisioned. The music leading to the final measures, of its own accord, became quieter and more gentle, more resolved – which left no option for the roar I had intended to end this piece with. Sometimes the music leads the composer; in spite of our best efforts, the music has a being and life of its own… In this ending to V, the wind will either have died down, or be heard from a distance. The poem would support either, for William’s last line of V is: “Cold, the winter road”. The “Winds hands and frost teeth” of this poem are in the first line… So by the end of the poem our attention is drawn to the winter road – not the wind. I will see how I feel tomorrow, but for tonight – the ending will stay as I wrote it.

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