An interesting aspect of re-jiggering old pieces, as I have done with Christmas Carol at least twice now, is that I have left a trail of modifications and improvements over the last 30 years and I haven’t taken care to go back and update all the previous versions.
This means that even last year’s 11-piece ensemble version is not the same in minor details as the current project. In painting, this would be called pentimento, where the artist made changes and adaptations in the course of work and which can be seen through careful examination or infrared/X-ray/or other technology.
Past novelists of course kept their drafts for the most part, and it’s a cottage business in academia to scour these for the differences in the original artistic impulse, a kind of tracking of Successive Approximation. (Christopher Tolkien has made a career of this.)
Composers, in the past, are the same. Leonard Bernstein famously did an entire program on how long it took Beethoven to get the opening measures of his Fifth Symphony right, based on material from Beethoven’s sketchbooks and papers.
Nowadays, of course, revisions and editing and evidence of crashing and burning evaporate with a shift of the electrons of which everything is made now. This has been a matter of some interest/concern for scholars—and artists themselves: how will the future learn of our creative processes when we leave no trace?
That’s one reason, actually, that I start a Finale file for Abortive Attempts and then transfer things to a “clean papers” file—usually—once I’ve settled on melodies and harmonies. There’s still a lot that evaporates in the process, but I feel as if I have left a little bit of a path to understanding how I did what I did.
That’s it; no grand essay, just a thought.