April 16, 2013: So, it has come to this. At the age of 35, I am writing my first symphony. Which means, assuming I complete it before I turn 36, I will have beaten Brahms by eight years.
Not that this really matters, of course. Before Brahms came down with his rather famous complex on writing a work titled “Symphony,” he wrote both of his serenades as well as his Variations on a Theme by Haydn. This firmly established his ability to write for the orchestra, regardless of the fact that none of those three works were titled “Symphony.”
We can apply this thought process to many of our current crop of modern orchestra composers, all of whom listed here have written prolifically for the ensemble. John Corigliano has only composed three Symphonies – one of which is for the wind ensemble, and another of which is essentially variations of his Red Violin film score. John Adams has written – at last count – 24 works for orchestra, none of which are titled “Symphony.” Same for Jennifer Higdon, who has composed concertos a plenty, but no “Symphonies.” Christopher Rouse is working on his fourth, Chen Yi has four, and Steven Stucky wrote his first just last year. (I’ll apologize right now if any of these stats are inaccurate – I am using the wonderful interweb as a resource here, which is sometimes not all that reliable – but hey, this is a blog…not a research paper).
My point is that at this point in our history, the term Symphony seems to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is out-dated. The tradition of a four-movement symphony that would imply specific formal practices has long been abandoned. New works for orchestra seek to imply a far greater sense of purpose, often through the exploration of color, texture, and structure. The expansion of 21st century musical language and form has, in effect, made the term a relic.
On the other hand, when a modern composer DOES choose to write a work titled “Symphony,” the whole of music history suddenly comes to bear on the composer. The implication – the weight – of the title seems to imply that this piece is going to be BIG. Massive. Epic. For whatever reason, when the work is suddenly titled “Symphony,” it no longer is simply a work for orchestra. It is something grander, even before the first note is written.
So, with all of this on my mind, I’ve made the (egotistical?) decision to add my name to the list of those before me who have composed a grand “Symphony.”
And I’m frightened to my core.
Excited, yes – but also scared stiff. I think once again of Brahms, and his own paralysis on writing a work titled “Symphony.” Brahms – I feel ya. However, unlike Brahms, I do not wish to take 21 years to write this work. In fact, if all goes well, four or five months should suffice.
So, how do I plan on motivating myself, and not letting fear consume me? That is where this blog comes in. You see, it is my idea – perhaps a narcissistic one – to blog the creation of this work. I plan on documenting every step of this process, from the early sketches, through the short score, and up to the full orchestration of the work itself. I’ll even include photos of sketches and screen shots of the work in progress. Nothing like putting yourself out there for the whole of the internet to critique!
I really don’t know if anyone will read this or not. Heck, I don’t know if I’m going to *proofread* this or not (that’s a lie – I will.). Regardless, I figure if anyone does choose to read up on my progress, it is my hope that they will engage with me on the composition of this project – provide insight, criticism, or simply stroke my ego (which often needs it). Think of it as an interactive “behind the scenes” process.
Besides, this is a big deal, right?