Muses and the Curse of Memory

Euterpe by Battoni These days I am working on a new opera entitled Invisible Child. I love writing vocal music, but I find that the more tuneful my melodies are, the harder it is to let them go. They end up permeating my thoughts when I am awake, and even my dreams. This may sound delightful—how much better could it be than to dream your own music, right?—but imagine having the same soundtrack running through your brain over and over again. It is both a blessing and a curse.

Not only do the melodies themselves repeat ad nauseam, but the singers who will be performing the roles are the muses behind those lines. I will be recording a demo of two in a few days, and I haven't even heard the singers sing the lines yet, but I already hear their voices—perfectly of course, because it's all in my head.

Of course, sometimes I have someone else's music as my life soundtrack. This is great, particularly if it is something I like, such as Mahler's Fourth Symphony, Bach's Golderberg Variations before bedtime, or if I am feeling particularly badass, the soundtrack to the The Matrix, but what if I just came from an awful concert? Then it's hellish, but that's what iPods are for: you can reset by listening to a favorite piece of music, or in my case, more often than not, either works submitted by composers for AME, or a recent podcast.

I wonder if other composers have this problem. What is the background music for Milton Babbitt's dreams? Are they serialized? How about Helmut Lachenmann? Has he ever dreamt a melody? Is this phenomenon a thousand times worse for a composer like Stephen Schwartz, the composer who wrote Wicked? I would suspect that even for Schwartz, there are only so many times you could dream Defying Gravity before going a little batty. I can take comfort in never having had Philip Glass's music as my background, as that would be too repetitive for my taste (I wonder what the background music for his dreams is?), or Kenny G.

I guess that's when I will know I am in hell: when Kenny G becomes my permanent background soundtrack.