Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for February 28th, 2016

The composer on the couch

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Leonard Bernstein

Perhaps a good way to begin would be to recall the question I am very often asked about a practical aspect of the creative process which is, perhaps, a superficial question, but which brings up a lot of others. The question is, “Do you compose at the piano, or at a desk, or where?” Well, the answer to that is that I sometimes do compose at the piano, and sometimes at a desk, and sometimes in airports, and sometimes walking along the street; but mostly I compose in bed, lying down, or on a sofa, lying down. I should think that most composing by almost any composer happens lying down. Many a time my wife has walked into the studio and found me lying down and has said, “Oh, I thought you were working, excuse me!” And I was working, but you’d never have known it.

Now this is a kind of trance state, I suppose, which doesn’t exactly sound like a very ideal condition for working, but rather a condition for contemplating, but there is a very strong relation between creative work and contemplation…What is conceived in this trance? Well, at the best, the utmost that can be conceived is a totality, a Gestalt, a work…The next-to-greatest thing that can happen is to conceive an atmosphere…which is not the same as a totality of a work, because that doesn’t involve the formal structure…But if you’re not that lucky, you can still conceive a theme…It can be a basic, pregnant idea or motive which promises great results, great possibilities of development. You know without even trying to fool with it that it’s going to work, upside down and backward, and that it’s going to make marvelous canons and fugues…This is very different from conceiving only a tune. Tunes can’t be developed; themes can.

Leonard Bernstein, The Infinite Variety of Music

Written by nevalalee

February 28, 2016 at 7:30 am

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