I’m walking around in post-student-composer-concert mode, which means, among other things, that instead of having my current compositional projects floating through my mind, I have my students’ ideas chasing one another across the squishy folds of my brain.

Hours upon hours of rehearsal can do that to you.  Cap it off with a performance, and it’s inevitable.

It all brings to mind a comment one of our guest composers made to my students this year in his visit to our seminar.  He referenced various composers’ relationships with their youthful works, coming to the conclusion that student pieces don’t last, and they shouldn’t be designed to last.

He’s right, of course.  Student work should be focused on learning objectives, trying new things, broadening horizons.   Plenty of time later to focus on creating works of lasting value.  The way I often put it to my students is: Don’t think for a minute that Beethoven’s first symphony (which we tend to regard as his least characteristic) was his first piece for orchestra.  It was the culmination of years of practice in writing for large ensemble.*

More often than not, though, I let students pursue their masterpiece dreams.  There is a wonderful energy in these youthful efforts that can only be channeled so much before it becomes compromised.   Sure, they may reject the results 10-20 years down the line.  But they have a right to fly high in the meantime.

*As Milton Babbitt pointed out, this is one of the things that makes the Symphonie Fantastique so extraordinary: it was truly Berlioz’s second piece for orchestra, and it revolutionized orchestration.

2 Responses to “Early Works”
  1. PT says:

    Berlioz composed a substantial number of orchestral works before the Symphonie, including the Messe solenelle, Les francs-juges, the Waverly Overture, and the four Prix de Rome Cantatas.

  2. Lawrence Dillon says:

    I stand amended, PT: Symphonie Fantastique is his second piece for orchestra without voice. Though, I suppose, your point supports mine: even Berlioz took a number of shots at the medium before coming into his own.

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