The stolen theme (Day 7/365)

You may recall my mentioning that I’m borrowing a theme for the 4th movement of the symphony. Years ago I wrote a sonatina for piano four hands which had a rambunctious first theme, a gentler second theme, and for some reason a tremendously lyrical central section. That’s the theme I’m stealing:

Symphony #1, 4th mvt. theme

(You can click on it to hear it.)

Yes, Marc, it’s entirely possible to construct such a theme deliberately, to think ahead of time, “I want a soaring, yearning theme that sounds like Rachmaninov.” That’s what I did with this theme, and that’s what made me think of it when I was on my walk and taking a break from whistling first movement themes. I know what I want to say with this symphony, and the last movement is going to need such a theme. Since I had consciously constructed this theme to be that kind of theme, I was able to remember it in exactly those terms.

It has even syrupier repeat, with sixths beneath, a cheap trick I picked up from listening hard to new age music. But it’s pretty, and that’s what I need.

It gets worse: I can set this up by beginning the movement with minor, crabbed versions of the theme, not allowing it to go anywhere, and then when the moment is right, let it loose in all its major glory, full orchestra soaring, crowd weeping, the whole thing.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I said before that of course our film composers write like this, and I have to assume that all opera composers have had to think like this, how else can we imagine Puccini getting out of bed?, but I do wonder whether Brahms or Beethoven or Dvorak wrote deliberately to evoke specific emotional reactions from their audiences. Surely they did. I think the general public has gotten it into their heads that composers are these Romantic geniuses from whom the music just gushes in an uncontrollable, inspired rush, and that’s a tough concept to shake even when you know it is not true and never was.

2 thoughts on “The stolen theme (Day 7/365)

  1. Interesting that you speak of evoking emotions instead of communicating them. I recently put together a montage video to recollect 4 years of memories with a group of kids I worked with. It’s true that I was working to evoke a reaction, but if I’m honest with myself, I was working to evoke a response that echoed the feelings that I had. So which is it, evoking or expressing?

  2. Evoking. That’s the common failing of teenage poets, believing that the purpose of poetry is to express their emotions. Was Emily Dickinson expressing her feelings in “Because I could not stop for Death”? Not unless she was dead when she wrote it.

    And of course it’s perfectly acceptable to attempt to evoke your own emotional response in your audience. That’s actually what I’ll be doing with my secret program for this work.

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