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Composing, for me, is an almost entirely intuitive process.
First of all because the impetus to compose seems to arise beyond my will – ideas enter the mind, asking to be elaborated.
Secondly, because in the process of composing, this non-volitional aspect, and only that, keeps me going. It implies the emotion of finding a solution almost by surprise - the almost childish joy of receiving a gift. I surely do a lot of thinking. But this is a kind of soul searching. At my most desperate, I am constantly willing the non-volitional.
This means, that, thirdly, I cannot envision any kind of rational process that would help me to compose. I mean, a rational musical process. There are no doubt a number of rational things to do: not worrying, eating in time, not taking alcohol; or rather observing your non-volitional self and not wanting everything at once, and feed it the right sorts of information, and avoid the wrong ones. And the hardest (to me), and perhaps the most rational: keep working. A very important discovery was that if I falter, to work over my own music helped the inspiration - a kind of self-correction or self-improvement.
For intuition to become truly poetic, that is, a making and not a receiving, you have to take it gently and then wring its neck and see how it fights back.
I think most of the composers I admire were like this. Even a great craftsman like Brahms writes that ‘a thought, an idea, is simply an inspiration from above, for which I am not responsible, which is no merit of mine…”
But you might kill the intuition in the proces. When Sylvia Plath writes about the ‘stillborn’ who, in their ‘pickling fluid’, ‘are not even fish’, seemingly alive but dead in fact, she may not have been talking about her actual fnished poems and her sense of their failure. She might just as well speak about holding the gifts of invention far too tight and so smother them out of sheer hot desire.
Another, tragic way of killing your darlings.
From a spoiled child, you might become a failed parent.
Unless you do not quite simply go on working. As Brahms continued, “Yes, it is a present, a gift, which I ought even to despise until I have made it my own by right of hard work.”
But what is this hard work other than a constant pressure on intuition to make the gift grow and ripen?