Tuesday, March 20, 2018


For the last 6 months or so I've had an unfinished composition sitting on my desk next to my laptop. The piece is a multi-movement fantasia (of sorts) for solo baroque bassoon. The piece is written in a shorthand which, like a number of my own compositions for solo bassoon, allows me the freedom to explore my musical ideas from one performance to another. The composition hasn't been finished because the inspiration for it comes from a rather dark memory which I've been reluctant to dig up. The reason I write about it today, however, has to do with the title.

While I am no expert in the realm of new music, I can imagine that the variety in stylings which their titles take today are only increasing. Most instrumental works in centuries past were not given a name. We know them by the ways we categorize them; their form, key and, if they were published, by their order of in the collection (e.g. Suite in G major, Op. 3 no. 1). Of course, exceptions to the rule existed - take the instrumental repertoire of the French baroque, for example. Free today are we, however, to break from this tradition.

So I took it upon myself to title the work and its movements hinting to the particular memories they were inspired by. While I'm not bothered by the thought of performing a work born out of a personal experience to a public audience, for some reason I'm fighting the urge to explicitly identify what brought about the work. Funny to me is that, though I am plausibly fearful of ridding myself of a comfortable space between me an my audience, I think my apprehension here stems from the fear that I am effectively creating a work of 'low' art.

Think about it, I'm writing a piece about a woman. Elements of it do have some real sophistication which I spent time working out: it incorporates a notational shorthand which I developed after studying early western musical manuscripts, for example.

It's a puzzling fear to have. I suppose it boils down to an adherence to The Poietic Fallacy. A theory of Richard Taruskin, which points to the hegemony within western classical music of valuing the particularities of a work's construction over its reception or ability to move an audience. While a dedication of a work would fit within the canon, betraying that the compositional process was driven by an emotional response somehow seems to me to be too revealing. Even discussing the topic has been hard: a draft of this post has been sitting in my outbox for two months now.

For the moment I don't know if this circle can be squared.


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