One of the reasons I take so long to write anything is that I frequently pause to listen to something by another composer I admire. I go away thinking, "How do I even dare to imagine myself among these geniuses"? (Just listened to Horowitz playing the Rach 3 - Stopped me cold). Does anybody else have this experience? How do you deal with it?

You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments!

Join Composers' Forum

Email me when people reply –


  • Art said:  It has actually happened on at least one occasion, that after I have gained more experience, upon revisiting an old, abandoned work I have been able to "resurrect it from the dead", so to speak, bringing my newly acquired skills to bear, to mould it into something passable, or perhaps even potentially good, where it was once thought unsalvageable. 

    I couldn't agree more...something I wrote as a competition piece at the end of my degree course (in 1977) was truly awful - it was supposed to be a march for wind band. In 2013 I found the manuscript and re-wrote it, first as a choral piece and immediately afterwards as a horn quartet with piano accompaniment, these have both proved successful as many scores have been sold since.

    The 'Masters' are a constant source of inspiration to me and I will never cease to be amazed by their collective ingenuity - each is indeed a genius and one hopes that some of their magic will rub off and have a positive impact on my own outpourings. But, as I've said previously on this forum, I try to stay true to my own thoughts when allowing (or forcing) my musical developmental ability - it's still very much a case of art for art's sake and, if some members of the informed musical public like what I've done, then that's a bonus for which I'm grateful.

    I believe someone once said: "The only good composers are dead ones" and there used to be much truth in that because it took many years to 'spread the good word' about their abilities - but that was prior to the days of instant communication allowed by the internet where we can all let the whole world know what we're about only moments after completing a composition. Now it's more of a question of identifying the wheat from the chaff because there's too much stuff being peddled too early in its evolution - this instant gratification has led to many underdeveloped works being released (I'm guilty too!) whereas in the days of yore a first performance would entail full rehearsals (leading to polishing and editing) prior to being performed in public.

    Maybe some of us would benefit from being more intellectually demanding of ourselves and subjecting our work to critical analysis prior to release - which is the value of a forum such as this where fine people are willing to spend time listening and making constructive comments about others' outputs.

    Anyhow, whether it turns out to be good, bad or only indifferent, I am spending my 65th year on this earth composing my first symphony...whatever it's outcome I will certainly learn from and enjoy the process and hope it meets eventually with some approval from others (even if it's after I am long gone).

  • And to add to that, each "failed" composition is but a stepping stone of experience toward a future masterpiece. At the very least, it tells you what didn't work, so that next time you wouldn't repeat the same mistakes! And this forum is an extremely helpful resource in getting the necessary feedback, to give us an indication of how release-ready our work is.

    As for Stephen's first symphony, I look forward to hearing it! I've also always wanted to write a grand symphony one day... I still feel it's a long way off, but with each completed work, successful or otherwise, I'm inching closer!

  • Boy, that's a pretty comprehensive couple of responses. I'd like to respond to it all, mostly, "Yeah! Me too" That would stretch this thread out to the length of the Guttenburg Bible. Suffice to say, that all resonates with me. So, I'll pose an additional thought.

    Let's say you began a piece with, say, a piece by Vaughn-Williams running around in your creative machine-brain. You've been at it for quite some time, and you suddenly find that the VW piece has been replaced by something by Rachmaninoff.  You can't find a  trace of Romantic English sounds in your brain. What do you do?

    P.S. Stephen, I also look forward to your first Symphony. I'm currently working on finishing my first full length concert piece. It should be some kind of a milepost.

  • Art Lowell said:

    Any time I hear somebody say, "I just write for myself", my pants-on-fire radar goes off. We post our music, we want people to listen to it and we want people to like it. At least I certainly do. If we lived in isolation with nothing but a instrument or a computer, would we still write?

    People are motivated by many different things. Some are definitely motivated by praise and not much else; they stop when the praise stops. Others enjoy the process enough by itself to keep creating things and sharing them even when repeatedly told to stop. Isolation can be great for writing music, since there's no one around to complain at you for being adventurous. If you feel deflated after listening to the gold standard, why not try the opposite and listen to something bizarre sometimes? Awful messes can still be inspirational while having the added bonus that you'll like whatever you do better.

    I Gotta Question For Other Composers
    One of the reasons I take so long to write anything is that I frequently pause to listen to something by another composer I admire. I go away thinkin…
  • Boy, a couple of responses of the kind I had been hoping for. I'd like to respond to it all (mostly, "Yeah! Me too")  but that would stretch this thread out to the size of the Guttenburg Bible. So, I'll pose another question.

    You've been working for quite a while on a piece with something by Vaughn Williams running around in your head. Suddenly, you find that the VW  spirit has been replaced by something by Prokofiev. You can't find a trace of English Romanticism in your inner creative ear.  What do you do?

  • Hah, if we wanted to go that route, we could get technical and say that since "symphony" technically means "a sounding together", just about any piece qualifies as a "symphony", and therefore I should be labelling my future symphony-to-be as "symphony #83" rather than "symphony #1". Hey, after all, this is an age of "Windows 3.1" leaping to "Windows 95" (instead of, y'know, "Windows 4") to "Windows 2000" and other such inflated version numbers, so why not adopt the practice in music too?

    But anyway, coming back on topic, if the VW spirit transmuted into Prokofiev, or perhaps even Shostakovich in one of his terrifying military marches of horror, I'd just start writing a new piece in that new style, until the English Romanticism comes back to me later, and then I would resume the English romantic piece. Unless you're working under a deadline, this approach tends to work pretty well, IMO. It does no good to try to continue writing a Shostakovich-style march of terror when all you can think of is a newly-wed couple in a flower garden, after all. Unless you're under a pressing deadline, in which case you'd better have tanks suddenly overrun the garden and set the flowerbeds on fire. Musically speaking, that is. :-P

    As for listening to awful messes in order to feel better about one's own work... I dunno, the last time I listened to Mozart's "A Musical Joke", which was supposed to be intentionally bad, I had moments when chills ran down my spine -- because I got that sinking realization that one of the parodied musical blunders coincided with something I actually did before in one of my own pieces. Yikes!! Quick, brain, shut it out before I start getting all self-doubting and insecure again!

  • Hah! I've never have channeled anybody's march of terror. I fact, I don't think I would be able to conjure up anything like that. That's another issue.

    How easy is it to compose something on a prescribed theme or genre if that isn't something you are already "feeling". I once talked with a film composer whose work I admired, and commented on how Thomas Newmanish it sounded to me. He said, "that's what they said they wanted". I don't know if I could do that.

    (BTW, I'm caalling my first full-length piece "A Concert Piece in Three Movements". If I can manage another one, I'm going to call it "Another Concert Piece in Three Movements")

  • Hahaha... maybe I should call my first symphony "A Symphony" and my second "Another Symphony".

    I don't think it's easy for me to compose something on a prescribed theme or genre at all. I blundered into the current fireworks contest, and now I'm having a major struggle with my entry, even though the contest is quite open-ended. I can't imagine composing under even more stringent requirements. But I suppose for some professional composers, this is just part of the job description.

  • I entered it too. Haven't even begun it yet. Haven't a clue how to evoke "fireworks".

  • I had a few ideas... One was to write music for accompanying fireworks, like Handel's Music for Royal Fireworks. Another is to write a character piece (or character pieces) that mimic various firecrackers. Of course, this is all easier said than done, since it's not obvious how to begin writing a piece that would be suitable for accompanying fireworks displays... I listened to a few online, but couldn't come up with anything suitable myself. It's also not clear how one would "mimic" a firecracker with music. I tried sketching out a few possibilities, but it turned out to be a lot harder than I imagined. Currently, I'm working on yet another idea... and not very satisfied with where it's going either. :-(

This reply was deleted.