Sunday, 15 April 2012

Everything fits into place

One of the things that I’ve noticed when writing this opera is that things keep fitting magically into place. I think I’m so inside the music now that my unconscious must be doing some fairly cool stuff. Or maybe I’m just seeing increasingly pertinent connections between things much as one does at the onset of some forms of mental illnesses. I don’t mean this flippantly at all: the research that I sat in on at the Psychiatry Department at Cambridge University when I was a Leverhulme Artist in Residence there a few years ago was looking at precisely this, and we had long discussions about the similarity of very early onset psychosis with particular stages of the creative process.

Anyway, what really struck me was how easy it was to compose a bit at the end, where three voices overlap. Two of these phrases have been heard much earlier in the libretto, and I wanted to keep the original melodies that I had written.

However, it was Amy’s text (that was relatively new, only having been heard in the preceding sections) that I decided to set first, and the idea for an accompaniment, which is a kind of irregular passacaglia (a fixed rhythm and a fixed choral melody, which have different lengths so it takes 5 quasi repetitions for the two to get back in synch again) came fairly easily.

I thought I’d have to alter things a lot to fit the other melodies in, but as it happened they slotted in without any alteration in one part, and only the tiniest changes in another part. This struck me as quite amazing as each of the three melodies had not been composed with the intention of fitting together (a bit of an oversight one might say, since they were layered over each other at the end of the libretto, but hey...)

The thing is a lot of things like this have been happening since I’ve been writing this opera - little snippets of melodies from other sections magically work when layered over each other, motives from other voices slip into other vocal parts when characters are trying to influence each other, or taking on each others characteristics, etc etc. It’s one of the real joys of composing for me - when you are so inside the music that you are writing that these things just work without much effort on your part.

Writing an opera is very tiring I find - just the long-haul-ness of it is psychologically draining, but, the other side of it is that, having lived with the music for five months now, I know it better than I realise, and the ease with which some ideas have come to me has been quite wonderful.

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