Monday, May 23, 2005

The form of inspiration 

Whiskey River’s post from yesterday reminded me of this:
“How can one recount the undefined feelings one goes through when an instrumental composition without a definite subject is being written? It's a purely lyric process. It's the musical confession of a soul in which many things have welled up and which by its very nature is poured out in the form of sounds, similar to the way in which a lyric poet says what he has to say in verse. The difference is just that music has incomparably more powerful resources and a more subtle language at its disposal for expressing a thousand different nuances of inner feeling. Usually the "seed" of a future work suddenly appears, and quite unexpectedly. If the soil is fertile, i.e. if there is the disposition for work, this seed germanates with unbelievable strength and rapidity, peeps out above ground, pushes up a stem, then leaves and branches, and, finally, flowers. There is no other way I can define the creative process than by means of this analogy. The difficult part consists in ensuring that the germ does appear and find favourable conditions. All the rest happens of its own accord. There would be no point in my trying to express to you in words all the immeasurable bliss of the feeling that seizes me when the principal idea has manifested itself and begins to burgeon into definite shapes. Everything is forgotten, you become almost demented, everything within you trembles and pulsates, you can scarcely draft the sketches in time as one idea chases another. Sometimes during this magical process some jolt from outside will suddenly wake you from this trance. Somebody rings at the door, or a servant comes in, a clock strikes and reminds you that you have an appointment . . . Interruptions like this are hard, inexpressibly hard to bear. Sometimes the inspiration flies away for a while; you have to go and search for it, sometimes in vain. Very often the completely cold, rational, technical process has to be summoned to your aid. Perhaps this is why even in the greatest masters you can trace moments where there's a lack of organic cohesion, where a seam shows, parts of the whole are stuck together artificially. If the state of the artist's soul that is called "inspiration," and which I have just been attempting to describe to you, were to continue uninterrupted, it would be impossible to survive a single day. The strings would snap and the instrument would be smashed to smithereens! Just one thing is indispensable: that the principal idea and the general outline of all the separate parts should come not by means of "searching" but of their own accord, as a result of that supernatural, inscrutable, and inexplicable power that is called inspiration.”

Tchaikovsky, writing about the creative process in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck in 1878.

Translation of the complete letter here.

Back to current posts