Symphony No. 1 – Realizing the original intent

I’m in the middle of working on the 2nd movement, I am now, and am going through the standard concern of whether what I’ve done so far, 3 weeks in, matches my formative thoughts of what I wanted this movement to express. Once you’re “inside” the piece, the phrases can sometimes take you in unexpected places. This is good for creativity, but bad if it sacrifices focus and creates more chaos than cohesion. Improvising can be this way but that’s different than what (certain approaches) to composing is.

This reaffirms something I’ve often recognized: If I were to write the same piece twice, they would be considerably different and likely different to the point of unrecognizable were both played together. You can’t walk into the same river twice, and so it’s the process of writing at a very specific time and day that embodies the writing. This raises the relativistic question of what a work really is.

One of my favorite short stories is Borges’s “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote“. In it, the narrator describes the works of a writer named Pierre Menard. Much is said the 12 short pages, but the key fact is that Menard loved Cervantes’s Don Quixote so obsessively that he began learning everything he could about Cervantes, the time period, and the language, and took to writing (not re-writing) Don Quixote himself.

Those who have insinuated that Menard devoted his life to writing a contemporary Quixote besmirch his illustrious memory. Pierre Menard did not want to compose another Quixote, which surely is easy enough–he wanted to compose the Quixote. … His admirable ambition was to produce a number of pages which coincided–word for word and line for line–with those of Miguel de Cervantes.

Borges, Collected Fictions, page 91

The narrator goes on to analyse the differences and difference in quality of the two texts:

It is a revelation to compare the Don Quixote of Pierre Menard with that of Miquel de Cervantes. Cervantes wrote the following:

“… truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor.

This catalog of attributes, written in the seventeenth century is mere rhetorical praise of history. Menard, on the other hand, writes:

“… truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor.

History, the mother of truth!–the idea is staggering. Menard, a contemporary of William James, defines history not as a delving into reality but as the very fount of reality. The final phrases are brazenly pragmatic.

Borges, Collected Fictions, page 94

If I’ve doubted the quality what I’d just written, I’m tempted to look back at what I had done in the sections of earlier studies that I remember as being inventive. But then, having that impulse, I feel guilty for not being able solve current compositional ideas in a new manner. I just finished the book The Language of Modern Music by Donald Mitchell who quotes Picasso on page 106: “To copy others is necessary but to copy oneself is pathetic.”

I’ve deleted quite a bit of music–or at least saved it off to a different file–including fully orchestrated sections. Other sections I’ve kept but re-worked in an attempt (successful TBD) to cohere with the movement. The virtual score is so far a battlefield of fragments and deleted fragments, and this is a piece that I intend to be made of a littering of fragments. There’s a cruel meta-composition about it all that I appreciate but don’t: a piece that was meant to express fractured time is itself fractured as it is being composed.

But still, is the original intent being realized?