- There are not four Scenes – it is one Scene, and this outline mistakes a change in tone or principal character for a scene-change.
- Each change in tone has here been amplified into a full, discrete ‘aria’ . . . why is that a problem here?
- 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.
31 July 2017
30 July 2017
29 July 2017
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
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)
27 July 2017
“Start smaller: Carpe meridiem.”
–Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)
- Fats Waller, “Hand Me Down My Walking-Cane”
- Jethro Tull, “Weathercock”
- Dvořák, Symphony #9 „Z nového světa” mvt iii. Molto vivace
26 July 2017
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:
- mm.15-18 are exactly what the original showed. I feel strongly that I need to do something here.
- mm.19-27 – Apart from the suspended cymbal stroke (m.21), this is literal from 2006. I rather think something is needed here, too.
- mm.28-34 are a slight elaboration upon the original. I think it works fine.
- mm.35-45 – Some minor additions (the piccolo & flute 2 lines, most notably). I really like this.
- [ D ] I feel that the seam requires some touch-up; otherwise, I am 80% sure I pretty much like it as is.
- [ E ] through [ G ] the picc is a new addition (so, yes: previously this was all straight timpani cadenza – which was quite possibly insane).
- [ G ] through [ H ] is literal from 2006, and I like it just fine.
- [ H ] through [ J ] – The only new touch is the English horn; I think all this good.
- [ 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
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
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.
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.
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
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
18 July 2017
“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.
17 July 2017
13 July 2017
“I am not the man I was.”
— Ebenezer Scrooge
12 July 2017
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
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 Friday’s child. As I have frequently found over the years, any day when I think I probably want to chuck the work I’ve 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
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
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
- Scene 7: Nastenka’s Story Begun
- Scene 8: At the Opera, and
- Scene 9: Nastenka’s Story Concluded
05 July 2017
04 July 2017
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.
03 July 2017
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
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.