I’m not a huge fan of the music of Arnold Schoenberg, unlike a certain friend of mine who claims to listen to Pierrot Lunaire to relax. Don’t get me wrong–it’s great music, just not for every day.
What I love about Schoenberg is that his music kept changing throughout his career, with the biggest change of all being the one that happened with his move to America in 1933. At this moment, Schoenberg backed away from the “pure” 12-tone works of the ’20s and early ’30s and started to compose in a more eclectic, less dogmatic way. These late works aren’t his best-known, but some of them are wonderful–the Theme and Variations, Op. 43, for example. It was as though after moving away from Vienna, ending up in Los Angeles, Schoenberg could no longer be everything he had been and had to be what he would be next.
This summer, I finished the last piece of my “Oklahoma” period–my Suite for String Orchestra, which will have multiple performances over the next nine months. Reflecting, I’ve written some good music over the last five years–several pieces that I am really proud of and that have gotten some favorable attention: Starry Wanderers, South Africa, Ode, and Moriarty’s Necktie have all had performances in multiple states and get me to thinking that I just might be a good composer when I think about them. My Piano Sonata is also slated for second and third performances this fall, and my concerto for clarinet and band Daytime Drama is slated for a premiere in November. It’s been a good five years.
The Oklahoma pieces are, by-and-large, practically conceived–shortly after arriving in Oklahoma, I decided that I wouldn’t write anything without a commission or at least a promise of a performance. I’m starting to feel able to make more out of less–creating a piece using developmental techniques rather than stringing together sections of music based on different material–Moriarty’s Necktie feels like a leap forward in that respect. My study of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and Mahler’s symphonies a few years ago helped me see this–as a theory teacher, I am often inspired by my teaching, but we don’t always spend a great deal of time on large-scale works. I’ve become less of a vocal composer than I used to think I was–and I’m coming to terms with that, in a way. I don’t think I’ll ever be a songsmith of the likes of Ned Rorem or Roger Quilter, but again, if the right levels of interest come along, that’s fine. Except for a little bit of fiddling with Pure Data, I haven’t done any electronic music since leaving Ohio State in 2007, and I have to say that I don’t miss it.
In Oklahoma, my music became more focused, more diatonic, more image-driven. I saw things and places that were inspiring, and I became a father. There was longing, and there was hardship–as though, like Schoenberg, I was an exile, but like Schoenberg, who played tennis with Gershwin and ran into Stravinsky at the market, there were times of living, as well.
So, what will the Ohio period bring? I hope to have time now to focus on the post-compositional phases of each piece–publication, promotion, building the brand, as it were. For me, this is not the fun part. I spent last weekend composing a new work for clarinet and percussion for Jenny Laubenthal in a white heat, and it was a great time. I had been thinking about the piece for a month, and it was pure joy to see it come together. I want to make a sincere effort to get behind my works and send it out to the world more often. Moriarty’s Necktie is headed to a conference and two awards juries–big awards, the Ostwald and Beeler Prizes, that would put me on the map in a very significant way. There need to be more subsequent performances, more publications. I want to be less distracted by other projects. It was great to write a book in 2010-2011, but it was enormously consuming. I’m glad to be able to say that I did it, but if I do it again, I need a better reason than “It will look good on my CV.”
I’ve been exploring quintuplous meter, and I’m not sure where it’s going to go, or what the potential for it really is. But, just as a composer can’t write everything in 6/8, not every piece will be in quintuplous meter. So far it has been sections of pieces, or short pieces within larger groupings. What would it mean to have an entire symphonic movement in quintuplous meter?
I’ve taken on the orchestra position here at Lakeland, and I one day hope to write for orchestra again. Mahler became a great orchestral composer by being a great orchestral conductor. I have the benefit of being able to learn from Mahler’s scores and recordings, of course, but it’s good to be back in an environment where I will see those instruments on a regular basis! Will there be orchestra music? This has always been a question for me. I have a love-hate relationship with the wind ensemble–bands commission and play my music, but they aren’t orchestras. There is possibly a piano concerto in my future… would it be too much to hope for a symphony?
It will be interesting to read this post again in five years, to see what has actually happened in this part of my life–until then, Keep Fighting Mediocrity!