June 24, 2013: The end is near. After a little over ten weeks of almost constant work, composing on average about four hours a day, I can finally hear the entirety of the work in my head from beginning to end. This is a magical point in the composition process – the “Eureka! Moment” where the whole piece comes into focus. From here on out, it is simply a matter of getting the notes out of my head and onto the page.
It cannot be understated what I wonderful moment this is. Typically, the composition process is an arduous exercise of give-and-take, where ideas are hashed out in the mind, sketched out on paper, redesigned, reinterpreted, reorganized, and sometimes scrapped all-together, until a contiguous composition arises from the ashes. This process is maddening, to say the least, but also quite necessary. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post Love, Grief, and the Creative Process, this frustrating, insomnia-inducing, nauseating process of working through one’s ideas is all part of the creative process.
Until the “Eureka! Moment.”
The difference between “pre-Eureka” and “post-Eureka” is immediately noticeable. Rather than every few bars feeling like a chore, the music suddenly flows with little effort. Ideas that have been mangled and wrung dry for every possible permutation now spring forth as if composing themselves. The music takes on a life of its own, and my own role of self-flagellating artist transforms into that of an interpreter that guides the music on what now appears to be an obvious and natural outcome.
Of course, just because the music now seems inevitably engineered towards one conclusion doesn’t mean it always ends up that way. I find it very important to frequently check my progress to make sure that what I am creating isn’t too predictable. The last thing any composer wants is a predictable ending. Consider Tchaikovsky. In order to avoid having his own predictable endings he would frequently end his compositions with a traditional cadence – and then proceed to do it again. And again. Multiple times – sometimes upwards of ten false-conclusions before FINALLY arriving at one last cadence.
Knowing where the music wants to head to provides the composer with quite a bit of power in avoiding specific aspects of that path. Music is at its best when it is set-up to create an expected outcome, and then that outcome is subverted in some way or another. In the early part of the composition process, this give-and-take of expectation is a struggle, as little has been set-up for the listener to expect. Once past the “Eureka! Moment,” this give-and-take is much, much easier to facilitate.
So, what makes this the point at which all of the madness finally comes together? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I would guess that it has something to do with having the principle ideas of the composition worked out to a point where the rest of the piece can be derived from permutations of already existing ideas. However, I have composed enough works where an out-of-character “left-turn” occurs after this point to wonder if that is truly the case. Perhaps it is more about confidence. After all, being able to hear one possible outcome of the work after struggling for weeks is truly inspiring.
Whatever the reason, it is a great feeling to have reached this point. A composer friend of mine once waxed poetically about this moment, stating that if he could simply hold on to this feeling he would never complete another work! Of course, that would complete undermine the whole point of having the “Eureka!” in the first place. The end is near, and I intend to see the Symphony to its happy conclusion.
As a finally note: I will be out of town from Saturday 6/29 through Wednesday 7/10, after which I will be hosting a guest at my home. This will be the last blog post until the full draft is completed, either this week or sometime in mid-July.
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