Starting in the middle

Hm, this is the first time in a while that I started a piece in the middle. I had a habit before (not a rare one, I wager) of starting a piece at the end and writing the last page first. This is usually the part of a piece where you get the big finish — the most concentrated version of the idea that the thing was aiming for from the beginning — so it wasn’t a surprise that it would come to mind first and would also help the writing. It’s easier to get someplace when you know what you’re aiming for.

But with the variations, I’ve been sort of locked to the tracks (which I don’t mind, really) and carried forward, so there was no real problem to starting at the beginning as long as I had a distinct genre in mind. Haendel had already done so much good work, that I could trust that there was a good evolution already in place and just be carried forward.

But “Asturias” has so many precipitous changes in color that there are a lot of questions about which colors to use for which part as I match them up to “Se fiera belva ha cinto.” Which bits in the aria intro work best with which gimmicks in “Asturias?” Where should I use which style? The sudden wide-open sfz crocodile-snap chords seemed to be a natural for the V-of-IV/IV –> V-of-V/V — > V-of-VI/VI part, with the nimble tip-toe up to the top of the keyboard coming on the V7/I resolution. That idea came quickly during one of my habitual “lie in bed waiting to fall asleep and ruminate on music” sessions*.

The start of course I would like to sound like the typical hunt-and-peck gimmick that Albéniz’s piece begins with, but it turns out that I will have to slow it down in order to match it up to the middle part that I’ve already done, so I need to add other things to it to keep it from plodding. And I think I know what I want to do with the ending but still have to plot out where the chords need to fall.

This is really tremendous fun. I know I keep saying that, but it’s true — not just this piece, but this whole business. And I seem to be able to do it more and more quickly, which is very nice because that means I’m learning. I may actually want to record this or spread it around badly enough that I may see whether I can’t put a lid on composing immediately afterwards and try to really get this performance-ready. There’s no guarantee of that; I’m still looking forward to messing with the “Giulio Cesare” arias in ragtime form, and if the ideas come, I will follow them. But I really do like what I’m doing here, and I think these pieces deserve a fair shake.

I also need to stop calling these things “arrangements.” The first version in all cases was sort of a transcription, but after that these are independent compositions. I have to stop this self-effacing bullshit and just call them compositions. Brahms has attribution for his Variations on theme of Haydn, and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini is called Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini. Mozart’s Variations on “Ah, vous dirais-je, maman” are also his. Well then, this shit’s mine, too.

* A great way to compose. I highly recommend it, as long as you can remember what you thought up the next morning.