Saturday, September 26, 2015

Paradigm Shift

I had a little time in the library before meeting with my Medieval/Renaissance ensemble yesterday, so after browsing among the new titles I came across a book by Katelijne Schiltz about riddles in Renaissance music. I did not have my library card with me, so I was only able to read a little bit of it.

Normally, after reading the descriptions and catalog of various riddle canons (you can see some of the catalog here) my mind would have instantly gone in the direction of writing a riddle canon.

Come to think of it, until just a month or two ago nearly everything I read would inspire me (and sometimes even compel me) to express myself musically. But something has changed.

From the time I began writing music seriously about 20 years ago I have always had a composition project going. I don't know where my compulsion to write music came from, and I marvel at the amount of music that I managed to write while doing the other "stuff" of life. I'm very proud of what I have written, and I know I could write something if I were asked to, but I no longer feel compelled to write music.

Now that I have reached a technical level commensurate with the repertoire I want to play, I get a great deal of satisfaction out of playing the viola (and occasionally the violin). After about 25 years to string playing, I finally feel free to really be creative with my playing. When I hear recordings of myself playing I sometimes even like what I hear.

The newest addition to my musical menagerie is the piano. I started practicing the piano for a few reasons, the first being to improve as a composer by studying Bach's Preludes and Fugues in the Well-Tempered Clavier. My second reason was to adequately accompany my students in lessons, and be proficient enough to be able to concentrate on their playing while playing with them.

I am nearly through my third "cycle" of the WTC, and this time around I am spending more time with each prelude and fugue. I consider my daily meeting with Bach sacred time. I am also finding myself feeling expressive when playing the piano. I dabble in other music too: Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, in particular. Approaching this great music with the ear of a composer is a treat. Not trying to produce something of similar quality is, frankly, a relief.

Maybe this current state of affairs comes from reading Nabokov. Michael and I just finished Speak Memory, and are now reading Ada. Even though he was a descendant of Carl Heinrich Graun, and his son grew up to become an opera singer, Vladimir Nabokov didn't care much for music. One of his particular dislikes was "kudos, kudos vy udalilis" from Tchaikovsky's Eugen Onegin. [Here's a translation of the aria.] I find it an interesting idiosyncrasy that anyone could dislike this, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, but Nabokov certainly was a singular human being, and an extraordinary writer. Perhaps he had so much to his life, literary and otherwise, that he didn't have room for music.

Maybe things will change. I'll let you know when we finish Ada.

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