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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford


If a composer leaves a work unfinished, whether by choice or by the fateful accidents that have a habit of deciding matters for us, it is no business of ours to leap into the breach heroically to give the world what we decide it so richly deserves. The chances are there is quite enough of the composer's work already complete and polished and wearing well.

Excusable it would be, perhaps, if the composer in question was a parent or favourite uncle whose creativity had been a personal and shy indulgence, none of whose holiday diversions had ever been finished properly anyway. But to attempt the completion of a classical fragment, a few dozen bars of Mozart or Schubert, for public presentation seems an unnecessary audacity, though as an academic challenge it does have a certain fascination.

To attack a Beethoven sketch is brazenness in extreme, for the magical transformation from his rough draft to end product would be like an unknowing child trying to guess what the chrysalis or tadpole might become. Though it is good to have the whole of a Requiem attributed to Mozart, it is an uneasy achievement which, at that stage of his remarkable creative maturity, is precarious guesswork. Even more so with Mahler. The Adagio which he labelled the first movement of a tenth Symphony is so much more modern, forward looking and exploratory than anything the younger Viennese were dreaming of at that time, that anything more than piecing together a performing version of the other (Purgatorio) movement is outrageous.

The sketches which in the end become single lines (as Beethoven's sketches of the Eroica) cannot be a key to what was at that time a remarkably progressive imagination. Attempts to complete it become an imitation of what the composer had previously done -- a past from which he clearly wished to move on.

Who can be presumptious enough to know the inner progress of the artist's imagination? It is just as impudent to exhume the earlier versions of works the composers saw fit to revise. Rarely does this ever do anything but disservice to either the piece or its maker, as examination of the first two versions of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet will testify.

Surely we can turn our own modest creativity to other than pretending to serve the musical world in this way? Wise old Brahms to have destroyed all sketches and incomplete projects!

Copyright © 26 September 2002 Patric Standford, West Yorkshire, UK


From: Bernard Chasan, USA

Patric is of the opinion that unfinished compositions be left alone. There are good arguments for following this advice. However, I am very pleased that someone had the gall to finish Mahler's Tenth Symphony and Elgar's Third. They stand on their own and they illuminate the thoughts of their (original) creators in a way which complements their other work. It is fascinating to hear the leaner Elgar sound of the Third Symphony compared to his two completed symphonies.

From: Mark Ward Donaldson, USA

Although I haven't read the article, one thing caught my eye about 'completing' works that the composer never finished, whether intentionally or by forces of nature (such as his death). One that comes to mind is Holst's The Planets. It is a work I absolutely adore, for its music, not its astrological philosophy. How Holst went from Violent to Sublime to Surreal is nothing but pure genious, in my purely unqualified and uneducated opinion.

I realize that Pluto may have not been discovered when the work was written, but someone has taken it upon himself to add another movement, which I hate. I hate it for its atonality, more than anything else, which is why I hate modern music. I can appreciate that this composer probably wrote it in tribute to Gustav Holst, but it does nothing for the work, in my thoroughly unqualified opinion. It absolutely ruins and destroy's its beautiful continuity. I think The Planets stands alone fine without the additional music, if one can call it that.

Perhaps my problem is my untrained ear. (After all, when I first heard Rite Of Spring I violently detested it, it really wasn't until I looked at the score that I realized what a masterpiece it is.) Well, not that you asked, but there's my opinion anyway. But, then again, what does a High School dropout such as myself know anyway? By the way, I do love this cyber-magazine of yours very much!





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