As I tried to prepare for this week as guest blogger I admit to having felt a bit stuck—not entirely, but certain of my need for a subject or any variety of material that could extricate me from this stagnant state. I thought of my post from last year “The Language of Old Magazines” and decided to return to my stack of old Etude Magazines—I was not disappointed. So many articles and ads to take notice of; at once offering a glimpse into the past and an opportunity to examine what is otherwise known as the present. As a preface to my week of posts I’ll share an excerpt from Max Graf’s October 1948 article “How the Master Composers Composed”—the article itself is an excerpt from Graf’s 1947 book “From Beethoven to Shostakovich” and from a chapter titled “Productive Moods.” A very fitting chapter and fortuitous find for me in view of my recent cognitive standstill.
“All artistic creation is preceded by a condition that can be termed: productive mood. Productive mood is a condition of expectation. Everything that had accumulated in the subconscious in the way of tone forms presses toward the borders of unconsciousness and conscious soul life. Up to this moment of agitation and tension, the entire musical work had taken place in the darkness of the subconscious. So far, nothing was controlled by conscious thinking. The creative instinct did its work of forming, undisturbed. But now the internal bulk of tones and tonal forms that had accumulated, had gathered so much strength that it drove toward the light of consciousness that was to brighten subsequent work.
The foregoing applies to larger musical forms. Smaller compositions, short poems, can be ejected from the souls of the artists totally finished. Goethe often wrote down poems as in a dream. It happened often that he woke up in the night with a new poem in his head. In such instances, he reports, he would jump out of bed, run to his desk and, without taking time to place a sheet of paper in horizontal position, he “wrote down the poem from beginning to end diagonally across.”
There is much more to the article; Graf goes on to discuss the individual artistic processes of Mozart, Schubert, Debussy, Stravinsky, Balzac and others. Apparently Balzac “only worked at night, by candlelight, garbed in the cowl of a Dominican monk.” Unlike Balzac and Goethe I am neither nocturnal nor have I leapt out of bed in the dead of night to write down fully-formed articles for the week to come—but I have been writing them, and that certainly beats staring at a blank page.