German names almost always do mean something, and this helps to deceive the student. I translated a passage one day, which said that “the infuriated tigress broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest.” When I was girding up my loins to doubt this, I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was a man’s name.
– Mark Twain, “The Awful German Language”
Altering my countenance, therefore, in a moment, from its bepuffed and distorted appearance, to an expression of arch and coquettish benignity, I gave my lady a pat on the one cheek, and a kiss on the other, and without saying one syllable (Furies! I could not), left her astonished at my drollery, as I pirouetted out of the room in a Pas de Zephyr.
– Edgar Allan Poe, “Loss of Breath”
And, five years ago today:
Wound up talking a bit about White Nights with Marc, and a customer overhead me. Excited, she said she'd post about it on Facebook.
It appears (we might say) that this is the time of year, even for speaking of White Nights. It is a near-certainty that I was not actually engaged in work on the ballet five years ago July. I was wrapping up Mysterious Trumpeter–whew, was Mysterious Trumpeter just five years ago?–and getting a start on just what everyone was expecting. It must have been my last summer in the Museum shop, which was an era in my composing life when to concentrate on resuming control of the ballet was powerfully contraindicated. It may well have been one of numerous moments from ca. 2006 to 2015 when the wishful thought resurfaced, that I should finally tease out the solution to Scene 8, but the thought did not bud into action.
Again, this is all mere reportage, and nothing of regret. This year, I am finishing White Nights in (for want of a better phrase) its appointed time–that is, I am now getting the work done, both in as efficient a manner of production as I have known, and to just as high an artistic standard as I have always wished for it. It is pointless to wish I had finished it ten years ago, in the first place because there hasn't been any orchestra waiting on the piece, but more to the point, because I am now writing it to my complete satisfaction, and, well, I suppose this was exactly the process in which the composer had to walk.
The whole experience has been a little reminiscent of the chicken and the egg. I set out to write the ballet (in 2003), because I had not to that point had any opportunity to write a large work for orchestra. Therefore, I felt I should get working on one, without waiting upon Opportunity. For what if Opportunity continued not to arise for years? Or, at all?
Or, if the opportunity came at long last, but I had never yet written a substantial orchestral piece, maybe I should find my ‘compositional muscles’ atrophied, unsuitable any longer for that range of activity.
So I planned a major stage work. And, indeed, set immediately to writing what is possibly too long an Overture for a full evening’s ballet. But reflection upon that potential ‘overengineering’ is the topic of another blog post.
So much for the chicken. What of the egg?
The egg is the Symphony. Much less ambitious than the plan for the ballet, but nevertheless much heartier than any other instrumental work I had yet assayed, the Symphony was a bid to compose a major work, within a narrow time-frame. The key element which could not be planned for was, in October of 2016, I was ready–I felt strongly that this was the piece I should now write, and felt a quiet, grounded confidence that I should see it through, with reasonable dispatch.
And lo! it was so.
In October of 2016, I began the first movement; and I completed the third movement in January 2017. What does that have to do with White Nights?
I learnt how eminently possible I find it, to write new orchestral music in good order (both temporal, and compositional). Not only did I know, with every fiber of my musical being, that to complete the ballet was in my power–I felt the power. It was an enormous, mystical watershed.