Trailing behind all of us is the catalogue of music we’ve already written.   (In my case multiple works in most genres,  with plenty to choose from in several mediums — a fair number also ‘living’ in recordings.)
But the musical universe likes to think of us primarily  as creators of brand-new pieces.  We’re sort of like the TV Western gunman, Paladin,  whose calling card read “Have gun, will travel” –tweaked for composers into ”Have pencil….”
How do we balance serving our attention to future works  with care also for extant works  in their life-after-premiere?
5 Responses to “The Catalogue, or Music-Yet-to-be-born ?”
  1. “But the musical universe likes to think of us primarily as creators of brand-new pieces.”

    Actually, I think it’s a bit more complex and strange than that. Composers (and I think this extends across most genres, popular and classical) get labeled in one of two basic categories: current and classic. Many living composers, mostly older ones, will never write another piece that will become part of the cannon, even if their latest work is just as good. Steve Reich will be remembered primarily for Drumming and Music for 18 Musicians, even though much of his recent work is as good as or better than those pieces. Milton Babbitt will be remembered for pieces he wrote in the 60s and 70s. On the pop side, Def Leppard released a new album a couple of years ago, and as my friend Alex Reed observed at the time “even if it’s the greatest album ever recorded, nobody will listen to it or care” because Def Leppard is officially a has-been band.

    On the other hand, composers and bands which are deemed to currently be in their “classic” period have their latest work focused on to an extent that ignores their earlier work. This is driven in part by the idea that during your “classic” period everything you do is going to be better than the earlier work, so why listen to the earlier stuff. It also sets up anticipation for the fall — and once you fall from your “classic” period those works will be museumized while you continue on in relative obscurity.

  2. andrea says:

    one of the things i like most about having my own band is that we revisit our ‘once-new’ pieces several times a year. no, of course, we can’t get to everything, but we dig into our back catalog a lot. more often than we premiere new stuff, and that’s what we’re known for. we get to make or break our own repertoire.

  3. Anthony Cornicello says:

    I can only balance out things like this: I spend X hours a week on compositional work. Part of that time may include writing or editing a current work, creating Max patches, etc. But, part of that time has to include ‘desk’ work: sending out CDs, trying to drum up performances of older pieces, writing grant proposals, etc.

    The big problem comes, for me, when I’ve had a stylistic break. Most of my pre-1999 pieces are quite different than what I do now; I’m quite selective about the pieces I send around from that time period, as it doesn’t really represent me now.

  4. Bob Jordahl says:

    Sorry to be so academic, Galen, but it’s ” canon”, not “cannon”.

  5. T.D. Lake says:

    Actually, I’m a young composer and I’m already dealing with this issue!

    I have a large group of immature works and some of them have good ideas. I’ve given a lot of thought to taking time off of the “new stuff” and looking at the old stuff to see what might be made of it. It’s all in my filing cabinet just waiting to be looked at. Extensive revision might make these works good works.

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