11 June 2014

Rather long, rather slow, and rather quiet

Mind you, I am not after The Historical Thoreau, The Man Thoreau, or What Was Thoreau Really Like? There is a place for that, I am sure; but I am largely content with the Thoreau of General Consumption. All this, simply so that you, Gentle Reader, will not expect me to be getting down to the brass tacks. The brass tacks wait there for another.

The Thoreau who wearied of society, so he settled at Walden Pond, and tarried at the pace of the woods. The Thoreau who was content to be remanded to jail, rather than allow his Loyal Opposition to be crushed beneath the Irresistible Wave of imperialism. This is whom I had in mind when writing my piece: music which is economical of materials, and feels no want for more; music which does not take time, but inhabits it.

In fact, the goal is the same which I had when I set to composing the Studies in Impermanence, a 20-minute piece for unaccompanied clarinet; but for the Studies, I did not remain firm to that purpose. The piece which I wrote (the Studies) is one I stand behind completely; only, as I say, I shifted from that initial impulse, to a musical mission which was more in line with music as I generally compose it: its degree of activity, its several sharply contrasting sections, remove it from the original Mission. Although the musical desire was there, as a composer I suppose I was not fully prepared to pursue that desire, at that time.

If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.

The renewed attempt found me, more than (I might say that) I resumed the quest deliberately. I had a concert to program, and where I thought I had a performer for a 15-minute piece, what had at first been an acceptance morphed into a refusal. That's all right. If this is how he operates, I would not perform in that man's company. But notice of the change came to me at too late a date, that I should be able to find another performer, other performers. I had to act quickly, and I had to supply 25 minutes of music.

It is official: Plan B is required for King's Chapel. (29 Jan 2013)

I am seriously thinking of a new clarinet unaccompanied piece, and there is ample time to get the chops back in fighting trim. (2 Feb 2013)

My thoughts turned to the Studies in Impermanence, and to the notion of a fresh attempt upon the goal from which the Studies wound up diverging.

More work, while riding this morning's train, on Thoreau in Concord Jail. Part of the discipline in this piece, is to resist the tendency to be too lavish with ideas . . . instead, to find ways to "reduce, re-use, recycle" a contained repertory of ideas. (6 Feb 2013)

At the beginning of March, I interrupted Thoreau in order to write Misapprehension, the clarinet choir piece.

Sunday, 10 March: I announced that Thoreau was done.

Monday, 11 March: Practicing at last, I played Thoreau through twice.

Tuesday, 12 March: Performance.

In hindsight, though I certainly did not lack for nerve in playing the piece under those circumstances, no wonder I was a bit nervous about the duration and pace of the piece, as I played it in public having only run it through twice, and the ink still wet on the page, as it were. Nor did I even have a good bead on just how rushed a job I had made of it, thinking that I had played it at about 23 minutes' worth, where the fact was about 19 minutes.

To recap quickly: When I first tried to write the piece, another piece (the Studies in Impermanence) came out, instead. Then, when I do manage to write the piece, I don't manage to perform it in harmony with its goals, with (in fact) its nature. Still, the audience was receptive.

Once I had reviewed that première recording, I knew immediately that I wanted to attempt the piece again, to perform it "properly." But not for a little while, certainly.

So, after the concerts of The 9th Ear this past Jan/Feb, I booked a date with the Nave Music Series in Somerville. At first, this was going to be a k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble concert, and whatever else was going to be on the program, my first thought was Thoreau. Thoreau was always the life of this party. I did not, as I see now, specifically remember the astonishing rush with which I took the piece to its inaugural audience; but I certainly knew that what I wanted to do was, play it every day for about a week (I mean, for two weeks would not have been a bad idea, but the week before had been occupied with preparation of the Christmas music), and to establish a habit of feeling the piece at its proper pace.

From my perspective as The Guy Playing (as well as The Composer), I felt that the 6 June performance was purt near an unqualified success: I had stamina enough, and again, I did not need to draw things to a halt in order to swab out the bore or anything; and if at 24 minutes, it was still arguably on the "fast" side, the performance was much more nearly in line with the conception.

Two things that were different: at King's Chapel, I played at lunchtime, for an audience many of whom were seeking a sonic oasis away from the office; last week, I was playing on a Friday evening, when most of us in the space had already had something of a full day. At King's Chapel, Thoreau was the entire program; where this month, it was the first piece after intermission, and the start of what proved a second half exceeding the first half in duration. And the audience were seated on quite unforgiving wooden benches. So for those who with some degree of tact told me that the piece might have been a little too long, I apologize (belatedly) for any discomfort, I certainly see where this viewpoint originates, and I can agree in hindsight that conditions were not as audience-friendly as the composer might have wished. Still, with Thoreauvian firmness, I must quietly insist that I believe the piece not longer than it need or should be.

And someday, there will be audience to agree with me.


jochanaan said...

I suspect that, if you keep playing it, eventually there will be audience.

Karl Henning said...

Thanks! Will probably wait till next year, but perhaps a revival at King's Chapel.