100 Days Redux – BERLIN NIGHTS – Night 1

Welcome to part 2 of my 100 days blog. I’ll only be doing a few entries this time around – one every day for until next Monday, so just under a full week, detailing the completion of the first draft.

I have come to Berlin to complete this work. I had been going to go to Cork, but when the opportunity arose to come somewhere much more foreign to me, where I have fewer distractions, and a new cat to meet, I simply had to take it! I spent much of today walking around beautiful Kreuzberg, investigating the GF situation – there’s a cafe less than 10 minutes away called Glutanada which is very promising, being entirely Gluten Free. I didn’t go there yet as I wanted to make sure I had groceries and so on, so that if I need to be holed up for my entire stay, I can be.

This evening, I got to work on the first complete draft of Amra Choluim Chille. What this entails is going through the work, movement by movement, and checking that all the notation is correct (harp glissandi, string harmonics, multiple stops, divisi etc.) and that all the underlay is correct too. Then I go through it and put in all the expression, which is ironically what I find to be the most tedious part of composition, for 2 reasons.

1) I already know how the expression should go, and on a score that’s 32 pages long (per movement!) thats a whole lot of stuff to write in (and to forget to write in).
2) I’ll change my mind about it as soon as I hear it, and every single time I hear it, until death, or until I’m barred from rehearsals of my own work.

There’s a famous story (who knows if it’s true) about Debussy when rehearsals for La Mer were underway. One day, Debussy came up to Camille Chevillard, the conductor, and told him that he was taking the piece at the wrong tempo.
”But Mr. Debussy,” Chevillard replied “this is the tempo at which you told us it should go yesterday!”
”Ah Mr. Chevillard” Debussy replied “that was the tempo I wanted yesterday.”*

So it is with me and tempos, and expressions, and everything about a piece. There comes a time in the composition process when I simply have to decide that the piece is finished. Usually I change my mind about this during the first performance and make revisions. I have a rule that I don’t make revisions after the second performance, but I’m sure I’ll break that rule some day.

Anyway, today I ‘finished’ the first movement of Amra Choluim Chille in first draft, and I have sent it off to my supervisor, Dr Phillip Cooke. There will inevitably some changes to make after he’s seen it, and I haven’t decided yet if I’ll add a harp part to the final 30 bars. It may or may not need it, but the harpist doesn’t do anything else in this movement after a few decorative swirls in the first 30 bars, and I’d hate for a gifted harpist to have nothing to do but listen to my music for the best part of 10 minutes! There’s quite a lot for harp in movement 2 though, so we’ll see.

I may ‘finish’ 2 more movements tomorrow, depending on how much of the 3rd movement I decide needs re-writing. The harp and string parts certainly need enriching, but it’s basically there already, so it might take 30 minutes and it might take the whole weekend.

*I am paraphrasing