I woke up early this morning and was productive; I will not make that mistake again.
From 10-12 AM I was occupied, in a quasi-professional capacity, listening to the music of young composers. It is fascinating to see all these different ways of throwing notes on paper. Mostly the music felt brackish, unclear, and when it was clear you wish it weren't. Perhaps I can find a way to blame modern culture (pop music etc.) for all this: but these young "classical" composers seem unable to multitask, to accomplish more than one compositional parameter at once. By parameter, I don't mean the conventional ones of rhythm, melody, harmony, etc., but larger, less literal ones that one might look for in a piece of music:
This is a partial list. Of course, if you just write a great tune, you might be able to avoid worrying about any of the above. But most composers (other than Gershwin and Schubert) probably have to slog along and think about these things. This morning from 10 to 12, I heard a lot of strange and varied omissions: logic without direction; beauty without invention; structure without surprise; absorption without logic... The one element absent most often was "invention"--closely followed by "imagination." How many reworkings of the same phrase rhythms can we really tolerate? Why is everything so rut-bound and modelled? I know there's nothing new under the sun, but do you have to prove it to me?
The thing is, you don't have to write a piece through in one go. You don't have to concentrate on everything at once; you can "gradually multitask," and devote yourself by turns to various elements ... There is this mythic notion that you conceive a piece all in one inspiration, but I think Beethoven's sketches very clearly show a different, gradual process--the fleshing out of a thought, the step-by-step addition of ideas, layers, unforeseen anomalies--the "hewing" of a piece, in the sense of this definition: "To cut something by repeated blows." The different cuts of the mind from different directions, finally creating a 3-dimensional musical object.
So, this afternoon I sat down and played through Stravinsky's Piano Rag-Music. After all those muddy, lukewarm pieces, it was like a cold club soda with lime, sharp and refreshing.