Though I do not expect to set every text, I do want to set as much possible to allow for a certain stylistic connection between everything I write.
For me the perfect position for my work is placed with that of others: plainchant, organum, Dufay, De Prez, Bruckner, and so on, since they all complement each other in the context of the liturgy. To be willing to write for any possible section of the liturgy, no matter how small, is essential when among giants.
Here, though, I just wanted to work with a small form to deal with a new script. The larger one ultimately gets in the way, uses more space than necessary, and ends up hurting my hands more. I came to it as a response to what I thought was unworkable with the last script, but now this one is simply too big for not only how I want to work with the page, but also is just too big for the amount of text I have to write without wasting all of my paper and ink!
With writing, as with composition, as with life, everything, by the time you finish it, is insufficient. The flaws are always apparent in the end. So you keep having to rework it, though not in the thing itself, but the concept behind it.
I can pin everything I have written, everything I have done, every note, every phrase, every written word, to a point in my life, and I am, more often than not, always unhappy with it. It is, as I am, always insufficient in retrospect. So I return to the source and rework it. And then I rework that. And then I rework that. And perhaps by the 100th composition it may be perfect... though most likely that too will fail.
Though this might be less of a failure than others, I present it not because it is good or bad, but because it must be done as a step forward towards that goal, and because it is a part of my life, for better or for worse.
Of course, that is the dilemma of the composer. There is something I want, not only in music, but in the total expression, and I work so tirelessly to put it into concrete form only to see it is not what I quite wanted... and the question is, is the work wrong, or am I?
Because it is not enough to write the notes. If that were so then electronic music would be sufficient. What matters is not necessarily what I end up writing, but how I end up articulating it, because what I want to catch out of the aether cannot be expressed so simply in mere words, and I always fail and return to the initial question: how can I articulate what I hear meaningfully?
There is a wonderful interview with Irvine Arditti where he is asked about notation, and, in so many words, he answers that he wishes composers would use Lachenmann's! It really is not a stupid statement, from the point of view of the performer everything has been articulated already, so we should use those tools to better facilitate performance; yet, the problem is not with the means and symbols of articulation, but the necessity of it. A composer who uses Lachenmann's tools is grabbing from a box of tricks without any sort of axiomatic basis for it, whereas for Lachenmann it is part of his compositional practice. You cannot compose from a handbook without revealing you have no ideas!
When you create something, whether or not it is fully realized in the end, whether or not it is good(!), you are responsible to form it properly according to your first principles and your compositional tools, based on your aesthetical perspective. The critics may be the judge, but you yourself are your own executioner. No matter the notation, even if the performer failed, you are implicated in not expressing the music correctly. Notation is a means to this end, but it is not the end in itself; it should engender the possible, act as a map to the expression of it, not act as a pure realization. A score that can be totally read, without needing to be experienced, is not worth writing. That is not why we write music, and it is certainly not why we play it.
I recently was looking at some Marenzio works. A genius. Reading the notation does his music no justice. The actual music is not apparent within the notes; rather, there is something that comes out in the expression of it. Machines can do all of this work for us now, and if you want to write music for machines, where place, experience, expression, context, etc. does not matter, then go ahead, but a machine cannot express jubilation, sorrow, anxiety, etc, no matter how far technology progresses.
We must be willing to, in engaging with music, always be in a state of recreation. The score should... no, it MUST... express the ineffable, something that cannot be quite comprehended until it occurs.
If you are willing, put all of your faith into one note, one harmony, one truth; for, to believe in music you have to at some point take some sort of leap of faith and read into more than just what appears on the page...
Sean Patrick Ignatius Tartaglia
Copyright © Sean Tartaglia 2022