Conditions of the Tournament

Music history is replete with stories of artists meeting an early demise: Chopin, Django, Dinu Lipatti, William Kapell, and even Scriabin all passed on young.
Perhaps Lipatti and Kapell are less well known, but they are very important musicians in my estimation. Lipatti (1917-1950) was a fantastic composer and pianist who thankfully left us some recordings, though precious few, and many are of poor sound quality. Thanks to someone like Mark Ainley, who manages the Lipatti website, he is not forgotten.
Kapell (1922-1953) was considered by many to be the greatest of all young American pianists at the time of his untimely death in a plane crash. His legacy is also preserved, thankfully, on record.
While it is hard to reckon with the unfortunate nature of these circumstances, it is, none the less, a reminder that life is full of contradictions–like tragedy and success and the noble fight in the face of adversity.
Lipatti, in particular, who fought lymphoma in the late 1940’s when a cure was not yet possible comes to mind. His last recital which is preserved on a memorable concert recording was practically a “cavalry” experience for him. Short of breath and weak, he still persevered and made memorable, strong music. His death at 33 also lends itself to the Christ-like comparison, but perhaps that’s going too far.
This all puts me in mind of how writer Shelby Foote put these kinds of things into some perspective. Foote said that even though these harsh turns of nature were hard to negotiate, they were still “conditions of the tournament.”


In the past month I have written two pieces. Rather, I thought I wrote two pieces of music. At best, new music comes with difficulty in recent years. This wasn’t always so, but as S. J. Perelman said, “with each piece you use up a part of yourself.” And having written about 225 pieces of music in my life so far, that means a lot of used up self.
Still, I forge on because of how much pleasure the act of working and being productive gives me. But back to my original thought…
In the process of writing, I turn over every aspect of the new piece a thousand times trying to make an idea as concise as possible. In so doing, I see that one of these “new pieces” is going to work. It sustains interest throughout and is a fairly original concept.
The other piece, which I liked a lot initially, seems too derivative to my ears now. So even though I put a lot of heart and labor into it, I have to rip it up. And so it goes. The one thing I have learned with time is that you have to be a brutal self editor.
I have never been able to “design” my creativity. For example, I wanted to write a quiet and meditative piece of music. The music I am now discarding is such a piece but, as I said, I have either done something like it before, or it seems too much like someone else has said it before, and probably in a much better way.
The song I am retaining came out of nowhere (or my subconscious) and is a jaunty thing that has comic aspects. Where this is emanating from is beyond me. The best and most original things I have come up with commonly spring out of thin air as if they had always somehow existed and all I needed to do was remember it.
Patience is something that has been a difficult lesson for me, but as a composer of music (if I may be so bold as to apply that lofty term to myself) it is indeed patience that reaps the best results.
I am reminded of the single word Franz Kafka had posted above his bed “WARTE,” which simply means “WAIT.”
Finally, I have come to the realization that making music is an almost biological need for me. While recently reading Jan Swafford’s great biography of Johannes Brahms, I found a sentence that expresses this idea perfectly.
“Much of the time, outside music, he lived like a boxer between rounds.”