dance of history repeating
|date completed||12/23/2006, 09/28/2016|
As a rule, I don’t enter composition competitions. This is the one exception. In 2006, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra held a “Young Composers Competition” to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Annapolis city charter, and—as my "young" years were rapidly running out (where “young” meant 35 years or younger)—I decided to submit to a competition with the first piece I had ever written for a symphony orchestra. We were to submit a work just to make it to the next round, wherein four finalists would be commissioned to write a piece for the ASO.
Nothing’s wrong with a competition, in theory. My issue with competitions is that they take more than they give. Even if one person’s career is made from a competition win (which rarely happens), there are hundreds of people whose work has been dismissed without feedback – feedback that could be valuable, even pivotal, to a composer’s craft. Considering that most competitions have entry fees, I think some feedback is the least they could give back.
For this, I dusted off one of many melody sketches on my music stand (never throw your sketches out). I wrote music around the clock—taking time out only for work—for about a week, paying careful attention to melody, part-writing, doubling, and voice-leading (and probably not enough attention to counter-melodies and texture). I was pretty happy with it when I was done, having never written something for that scale before. A good friend of mine who is a violinist described it as “sounds like film music” (which is generally an orchestral player’s euphemism for “boring”).
It’s a quirky enough piece. It opens with a wall of notes, stacked open fifths, followed by a mournful theme in the low strings before blossoming into full strings. Then there are three inter-related pastoral themes that separate the main theme statements; they reappear mixed together after the second main theme statement. There is a lot of connective tissue in this piece and of course there’s a pedal part, courtesy of the harp (I love me some pedal parts, I know). The main theme eventually returns and builds heroically to an abbreviated and diminished version of a pastoral theme, before closing with a completely over-wrought main theme (trying its best to sound like Prokofiev) that returns to the wall of notes that opened the piece. I used a sort of reversed grace note rhythmic device in the piano and harp parts for this that makes it particularly effusive.
Looking back, I still like it, but there’s no way in hell it was going to make a dent in a competition. Listening to it, it’s about as anti-celebratory sounding as you could ask for and still be tonal. I guess I just wanted an excuse to write for a symphony orchestra for once.
Hilariously, when I sat down to create this website, I opened the original score and realized that in 2006 I had made notes for edits, but never actually made them. So, ten years later, the piece gets another completion date.