31 July 2017

Approaching Night the Third

The thing about having started a large-scale project in 2003, and its necessarily changing in many details (and somewhat in scope) during its early gestation, and the project being of interest to not much of anyone other than the composer, so that there is no external demand for (to put it curtly) efficiency and speed of production, so that after getting a chunk of the work done, you leave the project on the shelf (if an electronic folder on your hard drive is a “shelf”), and returning to work after a loooooong interval . . . you take or leave the old scraps of ideas on a case-by-case basis.

Witness the breakdown of Night the Third in the I-forget-just-when-I-drew-it-up outline:

Probably out of a default inclination to give it ‘weight’ roughly equal to the second, we see Night the Third divided into four Scenes, running a combined duration of 20 minutes.  It is so long since my thinking ran this wise, that (again) it is only the testimony of the document which reminds me of the fact.  I abandoned this sketch for a number of reasons:

  1. There are not four Scenes – it is one Scene, and this outline mistakes a change in tone or principal character for a scene-change.
  2. Each change in tone has here been amplified into a full, discrete ‘aria’ . . . why is that a problem here?
  3. Unlike the dramatic opportunities afforded by the flashbacks of Night the Second, in this Scene we have only Nastenka and the Dreamer.  These two dancers already have a full evening’s work, as it is;  dragging this Night out to 20 minutes will make the composer liable to accusations of abuse.
Reducing the Scene to a single through-composed number, playing out a series of contrasting moods and running less than seven minutes, is good for the dancers, good for the audience.

(And, incidentally, good for the composer.)

30 July 2017

For October, a Scarecrow

Today saw excellent progress on the wind quartet “glosses” upon that remix &c. I made of my handbell choir piece, Memories of Packanack Lake. The “combined” work will be called Kurosawa’s Scarecrow (Memories of Packanack Lake). I’ve composed two of the four phrases, which will come in at spontaneous intervals. Probably I shall compose a final cadence, as well. The overall idea is that the two elements are definite/fixed (the fixed media, and the live quartet phrases) but that the way they combine is indefinite, improvisatory.

29 July 2017

henningmusick: Intermezzo makeover

henningmusick: Intermezzo makeover

This morning saw the successful execution of this “to-do” list. My on-the-fly-ish modifications at [J] struck me, at the last, as unsuitably over-engineered. Judicious application of the Less Is More principle carried me into the solution's waiting musical arms.  Intermezzo II is substantially as I “finished” it in 2006 (which predates the launch of this blog);  all the changes are organic, yet transformative;  the piece is recognizable, but also recognizably improved.

Night the Second is now complete!

There is time now to rest from White Nights, as I need to apply myself to the wind parts for Memories of Packanack Lake.

28 July 2017

Three tasks

Nothing creeps by so slowly as the week when you are waiting for something you need. Nothing flits by so rapidly as the week when you are trying to accomplish something.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)
Last night, a good, productive meeting of the Triad Repertory Committee;  we have a tentative program for our November concerts.

Although not finished just yet, I've tinkered further with a few of the “problem spots” in Intermezzo II. Chances are good that we shall finish in the morning.

And I've prepared three arrangements for brass quartet, three different scorings: 2 tp & 2 tn; 2 tp, hn, tn; and tp/hn/tn/ta.

27 July 2017

Wagner on the Charles

“Start smaller:  Carpe meridiem.”
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

It is all too seldom that I spend a pleasant summer’s evening on the banks of the Charles.  So last night’s concert at the Hatch Shell by the Mercury Orchestra was a welcome occasion.  The lion’s share of the program was a kind of concert suite ‘condensation’ of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  I have what is very likely an excellent recording of the full opera, but I have not yet sat down to a proper listen.  Back in my school days, the Rutherford Community Band (IIRC) played a band transcription, not of the Prelude per se, but of a medley of the best-known tunes which might serve as a “poor man’s Overture”;  so I’ve mostly been positively inclined to the work.  The performance last night was thus enlightening – we might almost say, in hindsight, that it was just the experience I have been waiting for, as any opportunity to hear the music live is almost invariably a plus, for me – as well as thoroughly enjoyable.  During the Preislied there was the additional counterpoint of a siren screaming, as an ambulance hurried along Storrow Drive;  and my heart deeply sympathized with my fellow musicians.  Up in heaven, John Cage was smiling.

This morning’s shuffle in the car while I drove in to work:

  1. Fats Waller, “Hand Me Down My Walking-Cane”
  2. Jethro Tull, “Weathercock”
  3. Dvořák, Symphony #9 „Z nového světa” mvt iii. Molto vivace

26 July 2017

Intermezzo makeover

So the question arose: was I going to need to “clean up” the rest of the Intermezzo, in a similarly heavy-handed manner?

No matter. I’ll do whatever is necessary

For all the second-guessing and repairs on the string choir opening, when the woodwinds have an “answering fugato” later, I felt that the quintuplets are just right.

I made very slight local adjustments here and there as I brought the new Sibelius file up to date; I have found the Ur-text largely satisfactory withal.

My notes on Sunday’s draught of Intermezzo II:
  1. mm.15-18 are exactly what the original showed.  I feel strongly that I need to do something here.
  2. mm.19-27 – Apart from the suspended cymbal stroke (m.21), this is literal from 2006.  I rather think something is needed here, too.
  3. mm.28-34 are a slight elaboration upon the original.  I think it works fine.
  4. mm.35-45 – Some minor additions (the piccolo & flute 2 lines, most notably).  I really like this.
  5. [ D ] I feel that the seam requires some touch-up;  otherwise, I am 80% sure I pretty much like it as is.
  6. [ E ] through [ G ] the picc is a new addition (so, yes:  previously this was all straight timpani cadenza – which was quite possibly insane).
  7. [ G ] through [ H ] is literal from 2006, and I like it just fine.
  8. [ H ] through [ J ] – The only new touch is the English horn; I think all this good.
  9. [ J ] – Once this gets going, it’s just what I wish. mm. 114-115 are a recent modification; but I feel that the seam needs some further work.

25 July 2017

henningmusick: Reserving the right to shake things up

henningmusick: Reserving the right to shake things up:

Mind you, when I wrote on Wednesday that the question of the text is completely settled, I might have written instead, I have a text I like, so there is no pressure.
Leafing through Leaves of Grass yesterday, I found a favorite passage in Song of Myself which might serve just as well, or even better. Or perhaps (since Whitman's lines can be wilful in their variable lengths, not that I consider that at all a bad thing, as a reader) I may toss a salad of suitable ingredients, from the two passages I have this week been perusing.
Meanwhile, Lee has come through with a complete verse rendering of The Mysterious Fruit, will give that a close read today. As I am not sure when the Song of the Open Road project may actually materialize, I am reassigning Op.123 to The Mysterious Fruit.

Thus, three years ago today marks the official start of work on The Mysterious Fruit (although it wound up as the Op.124).

24 July 2017

The ongoing Star Trek survey

As was the case with the Twilight Zone and Monty Python, I did not much watch Star Trek as I was growing up, but I was aware of it mostly through the enthusiasm of certain schoolmates.  Between what I was told, and the occasional excerpt which I did see (did I see the entire episode with the Horta? I am not certain that I did), I knew the characters, was inclined (by virtue of resonant enthusiasm) to feel benevolently about them, but – I wasn’t emotionally invested in the show.

I was not a Fan.  Nor do I think it really possible at this point to determine whether the Snobbery Divide came from my side (which I doubt, for that time) or from the genuine Fans, of whose club I could not be an initiate.

It is possible that I watched the first Star Trek movie, but it made no impression greater than as a kind of 2001 Lite.  I do not remember anything in particular about it, now.

I certainly watched The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock on the big screen, back at the time of their release, and I liked them very much, right off.

Since then, the two or three times when I watched an episode from the show (generally on a b&w small screen) I was mostly aware of quarrels to pick.  My fondness for the recent movies notwithstanding, I had become something of a Star Trek skeptic.  (This is mere reportage, not defense.)

My roommate in Buffalo was a fan of the new show (the Next Generation).  Worth pointing out for the record that, not while I was a student, nor anytime since, have I ever been a regular viewer of any TV show as it has initially rolled out.  I knew students who were as diligent as I and more, but who were dedicatees of one show or another (The Simpsons were a regular ritual at the house in Rochester, which was large enough that I could pursue my own activities undisturbed in another room).  So I did not join Tim in his devotion to the new Star Trek, but I did indeed enjoy the occasional episode (or part thereof) which we watched together.

This is not Star Trek Confessions;  I am only marshalling all the pertinent facts.

(Well, all right, I’ll skip ahead a bit.)

At last (50 years after their original airdate) I am watching my way through the first season of Star Trek.  And, even though I have enjoyed the occasional quibble, after the eighth or ninth episode, I found myself converted into fandom.  I am even verging upon . . . bingewatching.  But only when I have downed tools for composing.

There are spoilers hereon out.  Because, like myself, maybe there are some for whom the viewing is fresh, and I have appreciated watching them without already knowing how they play out.

“Miri”:  I had watched this one on DVD not long ago.  Made an even better impression this second time.  In general, I may not be crazy about the occasional flirtsipoo Captain-&-Yeoman subplot, but I suppose that is an artifact from the era.

“Dagger of the Mind”:  Especially strong, I think, and the strength is underpinned by guest James Gregory.  The “mind meld” is an effective plot device here.

“The Corbonite Maneuver”:  I had actually seen this once on a time, but I had forgotten just how it plays out (apart from a suspicion that the alien as first viewed was, well, obviously a dummy, even by production values of the time).  Very good;  short of great, perhaps, because I am doubtful of the artistic satisfaction of the “Oh, I was only pulling your chain” conclusion.

“The Menagerie”:  Very strange to say that I had never seen this before, even though I remember repeatedly in the past seeing the invalid Capt Pike on a TV screen.  Great story, if arguably flawed (if Commodore Mendez is an illusion courtesy of the Talosians, why does the illusion threaten to shut Spock up?)

“The Conscience of the King”:  I almost want to upbraid a script whose title comes from Hamlet, but which opens with a scene from Macbeth.  Could the perp really have set a phaser to overload, secret it in Kirk’s cabin, and be gone, all in time for it to be a threat to the Captain?  Lucky thing there was that dumbwaiter, too.  In spite of all these (and the show’s apparent ongoing mission to have Kirk be “Mister Lovey-Dovey,” and the villain’s lost mind at the end) I’d call it a success.

“Balance of Terror”:  Possibly the first ‘perfect script’ I have come to watch.  I had only the night before re-watched The Search for Spock, so imagine my pleasure upon seeing Mark Lenard playing the Romulan commander.

“Shore Leave”:  Overall enjoyable, but I think it’s a half-hour show which was padded out to the full hour.

“The Galileo Seven”:  The hermetic separation of logic and feeling in the character of Spock, while inherently interesting and a key driver of so many plot elements, is of itself essentially problematic.  Spock is in danger of being something of a wooden caricature in this one (a pity, as it is his first command);  and I am not sure that Kirk is able to drag his heels past the deadline (when Commissioner Farris had been so ready to remind him, with annoying frequency, how little time he had) in order to save his crewmembers.  Best Scottie/Spock relationship building to date.

“The Squire of Gothos”:  Of course, I love the Scarlatti.  As with “Charlie X,” the deus ex machine ending is an amateurish disappointment.  One completely understands how William Campbell found it a thoroughly fun role to create.

This weekend, I also revisited the two abovementioned movies.  In The Wrath of Khan, I may never understand how it was that Chekov survived having that vile creature in his head.

And while my enjoyment of both Khan and The Search is confirmed, I found myself annoyed with Horner’s music in both soundtracks, which in more than one cue feels unseemly close to a John Williams pastiche.

Horner’s music did not bother me (i.e., I did not feel otherwise than that it ‘belonged’) when I first watched the two movies, which would have been while I was at Wooster.  The source of my recent problem, as it were, is that I am finally watching the series itself.  The show’s atmosphere is very well enhanced by Alexander Courage’s score;  in contrast, Horner serves up what strikes me as boilerplate space-swashbuckling music.

The discussion is apt to veer towards ethics when the subject is Horner’s work, but neither are we in the position to disentangle the composer’s role and choices, from the demands of the production (“Give us something just like Star Wars...”)  There is a well-loved tune in Star Wars (itself related interestingly to a Leitmotiv from The Ring) which Horner manages to echo in The Wrath of Khan, and, why yes, he brings it back at a key dramatic moment in The Search for Spock.

Mind you, while the springboard here has been my expression a degree of disappointment at the artistic effect of the character of Horner’s score, I am not (presently) concerned with the ethics angle.  The broader question of reference/appropriation has been uppermost in my mind as I have continued work on White Nights—though to be sure, all the material is my own—as I find use in these later scenes for material already exposed.

In Praise of Artistic Dissatisfaction

In the electronic folders, I have a PDF of the ancient Finale file (2006) of Intermezzo II for White Nights.  And what if it’s rubbish? I found myself asking. I hadnt really planned to work on it Friday evening, yet I proceeded to set up the score in Sibelius; and since the number begins with a string fugato, I went ahead and plugged those notes in.  But I was not much pleased with the music.

Was I just tired? Or does that passage really need to change or even to be discarded?

Of course, I left the question until Saturday morning, and watched some Star Trek instead.

Gentle Reader, let me not shrink from reporting that I was a bit annoyed with this experience ... for more than 10 years now, in the back of my mind Intermezzo II was “more or less done,” a complete composition of 127 measures, needing mostly finishing (dynamics, especially).  And I thought I remembered liking the opening string fugato back when I composed it.  (Is that trivial?  Of course I did not write it so that I should not like it.)  Friday night, though, looking and listening attentively again at last, I was disappointed.  It would perhaps be overstating it to say “severely disappointed,” but there was indeed an element of severity just in the disappointment.

Saturday morning, after a night’s rest, though, I thought the fugato recoverable.  The character which I require of the music found interference in the rhythmic ambiguity of the quintuplets, and I believed that if I simply recast that rhythm, the passage would do exactly what I require of it.

In context, then, it might not be the “age” of the Henningmusick which was the difficulty, but a bit of cabin fever.  At the time, I had a critical mass of the ballet already composed, and the ballet had (what is artistically the good thing) established its own soundworld.  Compositionally at the time, I was eager to explore somewhat wilder pitch worlds and textures (2006 was the year of the Studies in Impermanence, Out in the Sun, and the Evening Service in D with its at-times abstract writing not only for the trombone duo interludes, but in e.g. the Magnificat).

So I think that what I found objectionable to this fugato which opened the White Nights Intermezzo is, that at the time my writing style wanted to take a contrasting excursion, but that this Intermezzo is not the fit destination for it.  And perhaps it took this year’s reimmersion into the ballet for me to see it.

So, I took a Good Hard Look.  The composer was morally prepared to scrap the lot and start over, if necessary.  Well?

I found that the pitch-world is fine, just as I wanted.  What was I unhappy with?

As noted above, the quintuplets result in a fuzzy rhythmic profile, exactly the opposite of what I was trying to achieve.  And texturally, the double-bass does not participate in the imitation;  the objection being, the inverse of Goldilocks:  whether the solution is less of it, or more of it, as it is, it’s just wrong.

My initial attempt at a solution took as a premise, that perhaps I got the tempo wrong.  And since what I objected to was the clarity of flow, perhaps the remedy was, a faster pace.

Although the result was indeed an improvement in the rhythmic definition...the ratcheting-up of the passage’s energy level was contrary to my conception of the passage, of the opening of the Intermezzo.  And I felt that the more business-like pace aggravated my dissatisfaction with the double-bass line.  A further discovery:  at this tempo, I learned that I was not at all happy with the three successive quintuplet figures in the first violin.

The solution:

Lose the quintuplets; make the rhythm more (one of my evergreen takeaways from studies with Judith Shatin) specific.   I was therefore not content with just one “replacement rhythm,” but gave my whimsy leave.

Give the double-bass more to play, giving the passage a consistent “bottom.” Have the cello (before its own participation in the imitation) partly double that bottom (at the traditional octave).

Further enrich the texture with new gestures by the second violin and viola.

Result:  In all ways, an improvement, and also a spiritual “restoration”:  the character of the string fugato passage now, is as I had always wished/envisioned it.

21 July 2017

henningmusick: Seems to Have Worked

henningmusick: Seems to Have Worked

This post remains something of a mystery.

Separately, I do really, truly think that Scene 10 is done.

And, as an ongoing method, if it takes me a week to secure unalloyed certainty about three minutes of music ... White Nights will still be completely finished this side of Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow morning, then: Intermezzo II, and some more detailed musical plotting of the 38 minutes of music remaining to be written.

19 July 2017

Love’s Laser-Like Labors (Nearly) Loosed

Last night, Gentle Reader, I worked faithfully on Scene 10 of White Nights, and made the changes which I had planned. And—without sinking into the trap of There must always be changes to consider—this morning, the (genuinely) improved Scene then showed me other imperfections...you strengthen (replace) the "worst" links in the chain, and you then learn which links are the next-weakest.

At 5:10AM, it was a mild predicament.  The artistic anvil had not cooled fully from last night's work, and I felt ready to repair (probably) as needed.  But I would certainly miss the bus which I prefer to take, to be in the office at a certain time.  But, only a mild predicament, because I have other options (beginning with the next bus, half an hour later). So, I went ahead and rolled up my figurative sleeves.

The morning's work was curiously liberating in two ways.

First, I don't really have any "deadline" for the Scene;  I created one, in an admittedly arbitrary manner, based on the ephemeral sense of how long I felt my musical mind "needed" in the discovery of the solution.  (Considering, pace Igor Fyodorovich, each new piece to be a kind of musical 'problem' to be solved–in the present case, a brief collage of four echoes of, or variations upon, musical material already exposed in the course of the ballet.)  But in truth, and especially since there is no external demand for the finished product, the only goal is The Best Whereof I Am Capable.

Second, the various Plans B for the commute in to work are all fully acceptable from the side of the office.  I realized—a very epiphany—that I enjoyed the complete freedom to take 20 minutes, wherewith to avail myself artistically of the yet-hot irons.

The result is, that the Scene is now, I am 99.7% sure, done.

And I am free to let it cure today, and overnight, so as to rest certain.  Therefore is my heart full this morning.

When finished—and now I can use the phrase when finished without fear of hearing a snicker behind my back—White Nights will be, well, monumental in character. But as I know from my long track record of smaller-scale pieces, in art, all of the details matter. So yes, I want to make absolutely certain that I own each and every note of the piece. I want to make certain that each number, great or small, is fully invested with the artistic integrity which has always been my highest aim.

Gentle Reader, I have been puttering with this two-minute piece, each day for almost a week now, and I can report that it has been a labor of laser-like love:  to make sure that each successive echo of music heard earlier in the Grand Piece should fulfill its promise, and should be never even the shadow of a throwaway. And maybe I shall work a bit more still, a few minutes each day, to ensure my own (and only my own) complete artistic certainty, so that it may only be Saturday morning that I truly pronounce the Scene done. The result will vindicate my efforts and the time.

Additionally, I've been "reclaiming" the 2006 score of Intermezzo II, whose composition really has been complete all this while...but that is another story.

18 July 2017

To do, or not to do

“Look, Hamlet! There’s the rub.”

Here are my quarrels with the state in which I left Scene 10 last night (and I already hear the solutions):

       1. The transition into A feels just a little rushed, chaotic. The insertion of one measure will be all the space needed to make it coherent. (That said, the present m.11 is a corrective insert added to Sunday’s halfway score;  that did reduce some of the crowding, but the intersection needs just a little attention more.)

        2. At C, similar objection. All that is needed here, I think, is to give the clarinet and viola some space to sound their D alone for a “beat” before the rhythmic accompaniment begins.  mm.35-40 is a “character variation”;  the original returns mid-phrase in mm.41-44 ... a seam which I think works fine.

          3. At D, it’s close. Unlike 1. and 2., I don’t think that any more time need be added;  just a brief gesture, perhaps the hint of an anticipation in the trombones.

          4. Mm.50-62 are a literal import from Scene 1. I almost think that I want that vibe to run a little longer;  so either I decide that I’m happy with the passage as it is (and make a very slight modification of the cadence), or I may try bringing in an adaptation of another, noncontiguous Scene 1 passage.

In any case, Scene 10 will reach a happy ending early this evening.

Approaching a perfect 10

With my work yester even, I’ve brought Scene 10 up to the final double-bar, and it is very close to genuinely finished;  I do need to improve two of the joints (and, be fair, the final cadence), which are not quite what they ought to be. That is work which will be done at some point today.

17 July 2017

Nights, Memories, the Pit, Awake!

The Opus 75 work of last week was mostly typographic. That work is not yet done, but I am near finishing. Friday night and Saturday, I took a complete break from White Nights. Well, as nearly complete as possible—there do wander, through various cranial corners, thoughts of what to do next. The final scene of Night the Second, a return to the narrative Present as Nastenka has concluded her Story, is brief, and (at first) flighty.  The Outline allots 135 seconds to Scene 10. I began actual work on the scene (considering, for purposes of present discussion, mere thought as something other than actual work) yesterday, and finished (or, close to finished) half—that is, I've composed (subject to refinement) two of the 
four blocks of the scene, and the present trunk of the number runs a bit more than a minute.  Between tonight and Tuesday night, we stand a good chance of finishing it up.

In the electronic folders, I find PDFs of: Intermezzo II, Intermezzo III, and Scene 12—in the case of the last, more accurately, a PDF bearing the title Scene 12...that file consists in fact of a single empty measure. Apparently, I got to a start, and no more.

When Scene 10 is finished, I shall look more closely at Intermezzo II, to discern whether it is completely done, or only substantially done.  At present, the opening section of Intermezzo III is done, and then there is a stretch for which I have composed the rhythmic background; I suppose a foreground is wanted, and I shall discover something suitable.

However, when Night the Second is done (that landmark which, for years, seemed but a pipedream) I need to see to a few other items:

We have an October concert, and there is music for the “live musicians” to add to Memories of Packanack Lake.

I have a date in April, as well, and I must see if that will suit for the long-awaited second performance of From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud.

And, on the chance that a brass quintet may find use for it this coming Christmas, I want to finish my jazzy adaptation of the Wachet auf! Chorale Prelude.

13 July 2017

A bit about the multitudes I contain

“I am not the man I was.”
— Ebenezer Scrooge
As evident from the recently chopped out Scenes 8 & 9, Gentle Reader, the composer is applied unto the completion, by stages, of the ballet White Nights with renewed vigor and purpose.  But there is also an ease and balance in my composerly tread, as I continue this path.

For in the interval, I have (among much music else) finished both the Discreet Erasures (itself, a once-unfinished torso by the working title of Barefoot on the Crowded Road) and the First Symphony, both of them cut from the cloth of a wilder pitch-world. So, we might say, I can now let the White Nights be true to its musical inception, that there is no temptation to torque up its pitch world artificially, for the sake of that side of my musical self seeking expression in the orchestral palette. And because I have the Erasures and the Symphony to shew forth, I can be as patient as a saint with myself, and pursue the ballet on its own terms, and with sonic equanimity.

Two conductors have written to express a good impression of the Symphony, and a third has been gracious to say that he plans on looking at it closely in the near future.  Considering (a) the challenges of a Nameless composer in trying to promote such a piece, and (b) the Symphony is not yet a full six months of age, this degree of engagement with respected fellow musicians is, in fact, an occasion for gratitude.

A Triad meeting tonight.  Not sure yet whether this will be the season for O Gracious Light;  if not, the Gloria it will be.

12 July 2017

henningmusick: An aside, on Night the Second

henningmusick: An aside, on Night the Second

Three years ago today, I taped out the nested narrative of Night the Second. It was partly clarity for the Reader’s sake, partly the Composer reminding himself just where he is.

This year, the long-awaited conclusion of Night the Second is in sight; and, last night I worked on the layout of Scene 5 as part of the White Nights U.F.O. (Uniform Format Operations).  It is the last of “the Old Ten” (those numbers of the ballet which have been finished, not forever, but for the limited ever of the Op.75 timeline. And I learnt something new about Sibelius, which makes this task yet easier. In the Layout ribbon, there is an Optimise button, which I hadn't noticed before. “Optimise” here means something different than it did in Finale, where it is (was?) a matter of hiding empty staves. Here in Sibelius, it  spaces the staves vertically, as evenly as the graphic activity above and below various staves require.

Wish I’d noticed it sooner, but I've discovered it in good time for it to be of service for “the New Ten,” and certainly for future orchestral and opera scores.

10 July 2017

henningmusick: The stock-taking

henningmusick: The stock-taking

Friday at lunchtime, I did my research into Scene 7, and blocked out the progress of Scene 9. Friday evening, I largely did the work of importing, adapting, and recomposing; at the end of the day (to use that tired phrase in a strictly literal sense) I was not sure that I didn't want to throw the whole thing out.

Saturday morning, I refined and expanded upon Fridays child.  As I have frequently found over the years, any day when I think I probably want to chuck the work Ive just done, the music probably just wants a little attention the next day. The work is seldom any major overhaul, nor is the result anything less than completely satisfactory to the composer's ear—it was simply a two-day process. Not as a length of time, but two separate courses of the sun. As far as I can judge, this is simply the nature of my work, and not any inefficiency.

Sunday morning, I finished the scene. I had all the rest of the day to consider and reconsider, and at press time I do feel that Scene 9 is done.

Which means that in the less than three weeks since I have resumed active ownership of the task of completing the White Nights, I have completed two scenes, totaling about 16 minutes of music. Arguably, the work, perhaps, ought to be considered something easier, since all the source material (whether Rossini or Henning) was already available. But active musical intelligence was required, and I consider this to be three weeks of earnest musical effort very well spent.

The present mp3 “playlist” for White Nights runs 1:32:36, and the plan for the remainder of the ballet is for 45 minutes of music (some small portion of which is already composed, in full or in part, whenever I reach the point of those numbers). At last, I think it is fair to say that the piece is two-thirds done.

(I’m not going to get hung up on whether I really finish the piece before 1 January 2018. It’s an entirely realistic goal; but I shall be content if I simply continue to make steady progress.)

While I am thinking of composing (the very short) Scene 10, I am already taking thought for getting all the numbers of the ballet laid out and ready for publication . . . and this is a benefit drawn from the completed Symphony. Thought alone am I not taking, but Action also; I am going back to all the individual Sibelius files, and changing the paper size to 10"x15" and confirming the staff size of 5mm, which is what Lux Nova Press prefer for the conductor’s score of an orchestral piece, so long as the orchestra is not huge; and although my practice has favored “optimizing” the systems, so that instruments which are not playing in a given system of the score are ‘dropped out’, the nature of my music makes such a score an unnecessary burden on the conductor, who will not know from system to system what the fourth staff from the top is (e.g.). So with the exception of an extended passage from which (say) the entire brass choir can be omitted with visual clarity, we’ll have all the staves on every page. That will take a little bit of layout massage for the existing numbers, but it actually simplifies things for all the number here on out (actually, from Scene 8 on, since I took the lesson earlier this year. The White Nights orchestra is large, but not genuinely huge; space only really gets squeezed when I divide the strings much (quite a bit in Scenes 7 & 9).

So the first phase of the work is massaging the Sibelius files on screen; the second phase, printing out and proofing from hard copy – because I know my eye is going to miss things, if I plan on only reading on screen.

There is no reason why this work cannot be concurrent with continuing composition of the further numbers.

09 July 2017

The outline is everything, the outline is nothing

White Nights is unusual for me.  Really, I don’t normally work on anything for such a long period.  (It helps, in this case, that there have been long intervals of inactivity.)  Even allowing for those intervals, though, this piece has been part of my musical activity for so long, that I forget certain facts about the process.  I had forgotten that I made a symphonic band arrangement of the Egyptian Dance, for example.

For so many years, I have thought of the ballet as a full evening’s affair, the music running more than two hours, that I had forgotten it ever being otherwise.  Imagine my surprise upon looking again, years later, at what is probably the first outline of the whole ballet, drawn up in 2003, proposing a complete running time of 64 minutes.

—It is tempting to say, The piece could have been done by now! but of course I must never have written any of the music to that scale.  When I was done writing the Overture, and found that it ran almost 11 minutes, that was reasonably within Plan;  but when the first Scene ran almost 13 minutes, rather than three, and we still had not seen anything of Nastenka . . . some adjustment was clearly needed.

07 July 2017

Truisms for 7-7-17

Not necessarily the harsh sort of irony:  in the empty-ish cubicle of a former co-worker, I find the hand-written exhortation, “You have to accept your journey!” (Including the exclamation point.)

Possibly to be interpreted as contradicting that, and similarly hand-written (so that I cannot supply the source of the Statement of Disinterest):  “I have no interest in being a skydiver who’s successful 95% of the time.”

Separately, in his remarks while accepting the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award, director Frank Capra offered:  “Only the valiant can create.”

For my own part, I consider the work on the ballet thus far, from the oldest numbers which I composed in 2003, to this very week’s labors, entirely successful, musically. The ballet has been an unusual and protracted journey, and I have always accepted that. I formally renew acceptance of the journey, today. There was never any occasion to apologize for “delays” (—not delays: the journey!—) because there was no second party to whom a score or set of parts was due on any date; the only person to whom I have been responsible for the course of the project has always been, myself.  I have had the desire to bring the piece to a conclusion, and I have also trusted both my Muse, and the Time. I have only waited.

Working on Scene 9 this evening.

06 July 2017

The Outline, evolving and expanding

The illustration is from the first full outline of the ballet, which probably dates from 2003.  The bracketed “[ sc. vii ]” and “[ sc. viii ]” were added later (I cannot hazard any good guess when), in different ink.  What on this page is “Scene vii / II.iv” – and because it is [complex] and (episodic) – I later unpacked into:

  • Scene 7: Nastenka’s Story Begun
  • Scene 8: At the Opera, and
  • Scene 9: Nastenka’s Story Concluded

. . . the whole sequence being a nested narrative, Nastenka telling the Dreamer her life’s story . . . and then Night the Second concludes with a return to ‘the present,’ Nastenka speaking to the Dreamer.

My initial 2003 guess that this sequence (Scenes 7-9) would run 20 minutes, is not too bad.  The outline as later modified already expanded that slightly;  and as I get to actual composition, the music’s duration is shaping up to perhaps 26 minutes or so.  Assuming that Scene 9 does not get out of hand . . . .

05 July 2017

2008 Outline

Nine years and five days later, I look closer at some papers in my White Nights folder, and lo! we see the note: Rossiniana; find sketches.

(These notes pre-date the blog, incidentally.)

04 July 2017

Stay of Execution, or, The Piece It Took Me 14 Years to Write

The ballet after White Nights lay dormant many years, Gentle Reader:  I started it in 2003, worked at it in fits, got about 90 minutes of the music written, and then I stalled.

I don’t mean that my composing stalled, for I have written much music else, most of it with more immediate prospects for performance than a big ol’ ballet in which the composer (nearly alone) took any interest.  Still, Scene 8 of the ballet has been my closest encounter with Writer’s Block.  I never actually gave voice to the rhetorical question, Rossini, que me veux-tu?, but at times, it was a near thing.

Getting the Symphony chopped out in good order, though, has helped me get over whatever the block was.  And now the Clarinet Sonata is done, Im bearing down on White Nights until it is absolutely done, by years end.

The scene which I had not written over all the long years is an adaptation of Rossini. In the novella, a young man lodging with Nastenka and her Granny takes them to the opera to see the Barber of Seville. My plan from the beginning was for this scene, musically, to be an extended splice of the Overtures to the Barber, and La gazza ladra. Because the piece would invoke familiar source material, I wanted to be sure to do it just right (by my own lights, granted).

Completing this scene has been my own private Philosophers Stone.  In 2014, the summer of recreating the already-composed numbers of White Nights as Sibelius files, I returned to the scene, in brief earnest, composing a one-minute introduction which stands pat still.

As of today, Independence Day 2017, I have at long last finished composing Scene 8: At the Opera, and my heart exults that I have written it just as I have always wished I might write it.  No, even better, I swear.  It is A. recognizably Rossini;  B. recognizably Henning;  and C. belongs to the White Nights.

There will be challenges to arranging a performance (even a concert performance) of the entire ballet. (And I am writing the music so that it will make an engaging experience even in concert.)  Why, there have been challenges to arranging performances of any of the music from the ballet.  This is not a complaint—I am writing the piece because I want to write the piece.  And Im in it for the long game.

(There is one Scene from Night the Second which I arranged for an ad hoc instance of The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble, which we performed in Woburn perhaps eight years ago.)

I have been thinking of the thin edge of the wedge.  I used to think that the Overture might serve (and it may yet in future, perhaps).  But I have now fancied that the present scene, under the alternate title of Il barbiere ladro, may be more readily saleable. The novel approach to / use of music already familiar to the average concert-goer, and its suitability (I think) for either regular season or Pops festival use should be an argument in its favor.

But, for now, enough speculation about where the piece may or may not go:  today I rejoice that the piece is done, and that it is everything, musically, which I could have wished of it.  Everything, and more.

03 July 2017

henningmusick: Accelerando al fine

henningmusick: Accelerando al fine

Three years ago, I was making progress with new Sibelius files of all the numbers already composed for White Nights.  This was all a refamiliarization process, whose goal eventually was the composition of Scene 8 (and then, the remainder of the ballet).

Here this year, Scene 8 is tonight in the first phase of Being Done;  that is, I have found my way to the final double-bar. I am still stress-testing all the joins, and confirming the pacing.  And I need to go through the horn and trombone lines and add some material. So it will very possibly be completely done tomorrow. Which of itself, is a huge step for this composer, and for the ballet.

02 July 2017

Can just about taste it

Well then Fido got up off the floor an’ he rolled over, an’ he looked me straight in the eye, an’ you know what he said? “Once upon a time, somebody say to me,” (this is a dog talkin’ now) “What is your Conceptual Continuity?”

For a while (and yet, unless I am mistaken, not before 2017—so it may be an argument for not having finished the scene sooner) I realized that I wanted to bind this apparently independent excursion into Rossiniana to the ballet as a whole, by alluding to the opening of the Overture.  It works very easily in terms of instrumentation, adding only the harp to the Rossini orchestra (allowing for a slight revoicing of the initial trichord—in the Overture, three flutes, here readily recast for picc/fl/cl 1).

The incredibly wonderful idea (as I see it) which came to me only yesterday is, to take what in the Overture is apparently a digressive rhythmic invention (a passage I have always loved, and would never have considered alteration or withdrawing) after rehearsal letter S, and likewise plugging it in as an episode other than Rossini, and which likewise strengthens the ties to the ballet.  (Lest a hostile critic—and face it:  If you build it, the hostile critics will come—dismiss the Scene as mere pastiche.)

So my work this morning was essentially to realize this vision, and holy cats, I love it;  I think it one of the most perfect musical touches I’ve brushed onto a musical canvas.

There is nothing second-rate about this belated return to the completion of the ballet;  it will be (as I have always hoped and meant for it to be) one of the works of which I can be proudest.

The most important “repair” I am going to need to apply is:  All of my work this year has assumed (you all probably know the joke) two horns.  (Which was a coin toss:  there are four horns in the Ov. to La gazza ladra, two in the Ov. to Il barbiere.)  Today, as I (ahem) look at the first page of the number (i.e., the introduction which I composed three years ago) I see that, in fact, I was writing for four horns.  It is not going to be a terrible lot of work to give some employment to another pair of horns.

In my old outline (the picture featured on this post) I tentatively set down 8 minutes as the proposed duration of Scene 8;  the number presently clocks in at 08:10, and is rounding into the home stretch.  I have done working for today, will mull overnight, and between tomorrow evening and Independence Day, we will find the final double-bar

In other news, I had a nice chat with Peter H. Bloom Friday, and he is excited to have a flute version of the two movements from the Clarinet Sonata.  Also, we may have a performance of Oxygen Footprint in Vermont this August.

01 July 2017

From the Archive, Canada Day Division

[ 1 July 2010 ]

Some more work on the viola sonata yesterday morning, evening, and this morning. The three movements will bear the titles:

i. Fair Warning
ii. Suspension Bridge
iii. Tango in Boston

In those freewheeling early days, I did not yet realize that the Bridge resided in Dave’s Shed.