Composers Edition’s John Palmer Offers Fugitive Thoughts On Revising “Utopia” (1989-90)
I think it was in the early 1990s that I said to myself I would never revise an old piece of mine. At that time, I believed a musical work should be left as an authentic testimony of that specific point in time. I remember Pierre Boulez’s practice of the ‘work in progress’ had not convinced me entirely.
Years have come and gone, and meanwhile I have breached that old promise several times. The necessity to revisit those early works for an upcoming performance ten, 20, even 30 years later, was now based on the need to ensure that those former musical thoughts, still publicly unheard, would be acceptable to my current perception. While the revision process has proven to be a most draining and painful one, I have often wondered if fellow composers are experiencing the same?
To me it is mostly a torture! As if having to deal with someone I no longer am. I have often asked myself if I should revisit the piece according to the mind of that ‘old me’ informed by the experience of the ‘new me’, or if I should perceive and re-shape it only according to what I am today?
The notion of historical authenticity in music comes to my mind. Up to which point for a composer is a revision the genuine re-examination of an old idea rather than a ruthless implementation of a new opinion taking over the old one?
Perhaps the answer lies in between. And if so, that is exactly what makes me often wonder if the pain of re-interpreting the ‘old me’ through the eyes of the ‘new me’ is worth the torture? Sometimes I think so, some other times I don’t. The future may tell.
John Palmer, April 2020
Composers Edition is proud to publish the works of John Palmer, revised and new, and we look forward to publishing Utopia in due course.