05 November 2008

An Introduction to White Nights

Five years ago I decided that it was high time I write something substantial for large ensemble. It’s what I’ve always wanted and hoped to do, it is what my musical training has equipped me to do, although it is something which my own musical circumstances of the past twelve years have not, shall we say, asked of me. In the hope, though, that there may be some future occasion for such a piece, I was determined to write something large-scale, determined to have acquired that experience on my own initiative, since there has been no external occasion. I had written a respectable volume of smallish occasional pieces over several years, but it was high time that I apply myself to writing a large-scale work.

Before setting myself to this most deliberate of projects, which appears from the outset destined to rest on the shelf and cure for a bit, I had begun sketches for a symphony. I should almost say “a first symphony,” since I believe I have it in me to write some dozen respectable symphonies, given opportunity and time to write them. For this project, though, I did not want to ‘settle’ for a symphony; I wanted instead to write something on such a scale that, having once completed this score, I will never after think such a thing as a symphony (or concerto) any such improbably grand a piece to write.

I wanted, you might say, to write a piece so grand as would put a symphony in its place. I had already written a piece or two for orchestra, but minor pieces, and of such technical restrictions that the piece would not exceed the musical abilities (or rehearsal dedication) of the odd local community orchestra.

In this new piece, though, I wanted to write a big piece, and a piece which would demand the technical resources of a professional orchestra. A piece which, either a professional orchestra takes it up, or it just sits unperformed (and having already a backlog of pieces composed which have never yet seen performance, this prospect no longer holds any terror for me).

So I decided to write a ballet, and not your bite-sized Dyagilevish ballet, either (not that there's anything wrong with that) but a full evening’s ballet on the scale of Swan Lake, or Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet. Which is to say, I embraced the challenge of conceiving, organizing & writing so enormous a musical project, around a non-musical full-time job, plus a non-musical part-time job, plus serving as a chorister in Boston’s Episcopal Cathedral. And so I set out to compose a full evening's ballet based on the Dostoyevsky novella White Nights.

I began writing the Overture to the ballet in October of 2003. I will remove some of the suspense from this post, by revealing that I have not finished the ballet yet (though the Overture, for instance, has long been complete); I do think, however, that I can repel charges of dawdling. I have made substantial progress on the piece in the past five years (an hour and three quarters of the music is composed now), and apart from the mundane work ‘distractions’, I have actually composed a good deal of other, occasional music in that time, as well (I’ve assigned White Nights the opus number 75, and the recent wedding-music commission was Opus 93).

In a sense, I have dawdled, though. If I’ve written all this other music in this time, in theory I could have been finished with the ballet some little time before today, I suppose. But I’ve had to live (and do creative work) practically, and not in the shelter of any nice pristine theory.

At any rate, the music I’ve written for the ballet I am very pleased with, in its quality and character; and the other music I’ve written when placing the ballet ‘on hold’, I am also very pleased with. I should like, by all means, to be writing more music, wish that I had more time to dedicate to musical activity; but considering the music I’ve actually written, I have rather more occasion (I believe) for contentment than for complaint.

Again, then, I am determined to complete this ballet.

I’m not setting any deadline, though. As the Russian proverb says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”


Anonymous said...

A BALLET?? I can't wait to hear more updates. And stop dawdling!

Anonymous said...

N-pov: if you ask nicely, you might get a midi file of the Overture. :-)