Monthly Archives: January 2011

Unfinished Symphonies

A correspondent asks, “Have you ever attempted endings for any of numerous ‘unfinished symphonies’?”

‘Fraid not. Symphonic writing gives me great bother, as I do not think well texturally like that, though not for want of trying (see next ‘graf). Very hard, even for someone who does, to do a good pastiche of a really good orchestrator (Mahler, Elgar, &c.).

As an undergraduate, I wrote a symphony and a half. The first basically sucked — it was pretentious blather, for the most part — and the second, while it showed a little more promise, didn’t seem to be going much of anywhere, so I dropped it. My biggest mistake was in attempting to through-compose both AS symphonies, rather than as, say, scored-up from piano-and-strings quintet (something Schoenberg did very successfully with Brahms’s Op. 26 piano quintet, though the orchestration sounded very unlike Brahms himself, who adopted a lot of his modus operandi in that area from his buddy Schumann).

As it is, I’ll be lucky to squeeze out a sixth string quartet (or seventh, if I ever get around to adding a fourth part to that trio I have had sitting on my desk waiting to be copied out fair since finishing it in the spring of 2004). The occasional bit of choral music or a song with piano accompaniment is the best I’m able to find time for these days, though I hope that my slither towards retirement will free up more.

But I was terribly flattered to be thought capable of such a feat, all the same. What I’d REALLY like to do in an orchestral vein is to compose a plausible Sullivan pastiche to replace the missing all-but-two numbers from the first G&S operetta: Thespis; or, The Gods Grown Old. I got as far as writing one of the songs (the one about the “North-South-West-West Diddlesex Junction” in piano-voice score a while back, but then got distracted from writing any more of them. Still, completing this project would again render accessible a libretto that is by no means Gilbert’s worst play — and Sullivan is relatively easy to fake, both stylistically and in scoring, because he himself was so much of a synthesist and so heavily indebted in flavor to the operatic composers of his day (e.g. Donizetti — compare the famous sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor with Sullivan’s delicious “A Nice Dilemma” quartet in Trial by Jury).

Ah, if only the MacArthur van would stop at my house. (All together now: “Someone Left My Grant Out In the Rain….”)