Big rehearsal for The Planets today. “Mercury”: lightning fast, ripping atonal scales, constant meter changes from 3/4 to 15/16 to 11/16, different tempos at the same time like 8-against-9 – went great, sounded perfectly secure. “Saturn”: slow, plodding pulse, rhythms in quarter- and 8th-notes – had a hell of a time pulling it together. I remember this from my early days as a competent pianist: difficult music is a lot easier to play than easy music. Scriabin’s fiery D#-minor Etude, with its relentless triplets and huge leaps, used to just fall under my fingers, while the Lento final movement of the Copland Sonata was a minefield of wrong notes. Why is that? Is it just because we practice hard music 20 times as much as easy music, or is it psychological, or what? Too much time to think in-between the notes?
It’s like, someone recently wrote a book about traffic (titled Traffic, I think), and a review quoted the fact that there are fewer accidents at roundabouts than there are at regular intersections: because we all think roundabouts are dangerous, so everyone drives extra carefully. If you want to make people drive safely, you make driving conditions visibly unsafe. If you want music played well, make it horrendously difficult. Whatever effect you want to achieve, aim for the opposite. Reminds me of that Seinfeld episode in which one character decides to do the opposite of his usual impulse at every step, and everything starts to work perfectly for him.
Another rehearsal-inspired thought: you can write a piece in notation software and the MIDI version sounds like crap, making you doubt your sanity; then the performers play it and it sounds just like you imagined, even more glorious. I’m used to this because for the first half of my career I wrote in pencil and had to hear all the music in my head. But today’s young composers who work in Sibelius from the beginning: how will they ever learn to trust their inner ears?