The art of musical composition is a complex, mysterious undertaking that few laymen fully comprehend. Where do composers seek inspiration? Are they visited by a muse? Is the ability to write music genetic or can it be learned? Many people today still envision a composer locked in some ivory tower like a medieval monk who won’t be released until a certain number of pages of music have been completed. It’s a romanticized view that has little to do with reality.
Yes, composers do toil and often fret over their work, particularly when facing a deadline. Yet, while composition is clearly an artistic endeavor, it’s also a craft. As with most projects, getting started is the toughest obstacle. The rest, one hopes, falls into place without too much agony.
Morton Gould (1913-96) was one of this country’s major talents, having composed a large body of work that includes four symphonies, three ballets, a concerto each for piano and violin, chamber works and music for the stage. His composition “Stringmusic” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. In Peter W. Goodman’s biography, “Morton Gould: American Salute,” the composer shared his views on the compositional process. Gould was known for his sly wit, and this chronicle certainly reveals that. Despite its tongue-in-cheek nature, there’s more truth to these comments than one might suspect.
Day 1: Sign commission agreement. Suspicious but optimistic; full of good intentions and ideas.
Day 2: Ideas gone, but still good intentions.
Day 3: No intentions, regret agreeing to commission.
Day 4: Force feeding — attempt sketches — nothing.
Day 5: A glimmer — one note!
Day 6: Glimmer and note dissolve.
Day 7-10: Suicidal.
Day 11: Read clipping re how facile I am.
Day 12: Moderately suicidal.
Day 13: Aha! Two notes! But no glimmer.
Day 14: Glimmer and three notes!
Day 15: Tentatively optimistic.
Day 16: Another clipping re my “facility” — allergic reaction.
Day 17: Depressed but happily distracted by “head sounds.”
Day 18: More head sounds. More notes — glimmers.
Day 19: Glimmers turn to light — head sounds to notes.
Day 20: Depression ruined! A gusher! More than needed!
Day 21-30: Pruning, deleting — save unused materials for another rainy day.
Days Into Nights: Around the clock until finished — Eureka! Euphoria!
The Day After: The bends — return to “reality” (?)
The Second Day After: Back to “normality” (?) (Depressed, paranoid, suicidal but happy) until the next time!