An Overture To His Coy Mistress (or how to write like Mozart)

My composing sessions frequently extend to eight hours, with plenty of breaks for coffee and stretching. The title, To His Coy Mistress, likely entered my head because I’m a mid-forties bachelor who love has not yet called to her bedside, or fireside. At least in a while. But the orchestra is tuned and awaits her arrival:

So I remembered Andrew Marvell’s poem, To His Coy Mistress, which at various times of my life I’ve committed to memory. The first four lines declare that he has had enough of waiting:

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Whether Goddess Fortune opens her Horn of Plenty in 2021 remains to be seen. I am still waiting, in the cafe, head resting on small of palm, gazing out the window at the summer lovers. To His Coy Mistress is composed for the arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Until then, Solomon’s Temple remains unfurnished.

Farewell to a friend

At the beginning of 2020 I said goodbye to Patrick Wu. He exerted a strong influence over my intellectual and artistic development. Our conversations at the pub ranged from philosophy to jazz, politics to pop culture, and how the Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos could field so many good players without going over the salary cap.

Patrick loved photography and continually refined his art as we entered the digital age. He left an oeuvre of masterful photos, dispelling any doubts that the medium of photography is out of place among les beaux arts of painting/sculpture, music, literature and now film.

Discover more of Patrick’s photography on instagram @kindofbluehour and on his website. Patrick’s photos are characterised by attention to line and focus; minimalism and abstraction are also his concerns.

I have chosen one that captures the elegance, art and haute couture of Paris, one of Patrick’s favourite haunts. He religiously made an annual pilgrimage to Paris once a year in November where he took communion with baguettes and burgundy and prayed at the Louvre. Early while composing To His Coy Mistress, I had the above photo in mind.

I have a little amateur experience writing for orchestra, mainly in setting accompaniments to my piano works such as in Lake of Reflection written two years ago.

Recently I also attempted an adventure track, The Temptation of Merlin, where I squeezed almost all I could out of Logic Pro’s orchestra library. I had it pointed out to me that Spitfire Audio released a free orchestral package, BBC Discover. You can purchase it for $49 or complete a survey and receive the package in your inbox a fortnight later.

The professional studio-recorded quality of the BBC Symphony Orchestra strings is clear. Forty-seven articulations are available across thirty-three instrument patches. Whether I do justice to any of them is both a matter of taste and musical inclination.

Casual listeners may find To His Coy Mistress life affirming, with Neil from Melbourne saying it “really took me on a ride.” Christian from Brisbane adopted the spirit of Marvell himself: “It’s strong and punchy and gives hope, which is needed after this year. Like the resurgence of life in spring after a winter thaw.”

Other opinions may differ. Perhaps some might remark on the clumsy orchestral voicings and derivative nature. In all honesty I just wanted to finish the piece and at points didn’t think I had the technique or endurance to do so. It took about thirty hours over four days.

I set out to compose an orchestral work in the Mozartian style. The early stages show this. By the mid-point I’d ventured from mid-classical to late-classical/early-romantic with string motifs reminiscent of Mendelssohn. Anton Bruckner influenced my use of brass, particularly his fourth Symphony, “The Romantic”.

Just don’t call me Wolfgang.

Composing is always a process of discovery and of learning. Even after publishing to YouTube, I usually re-listen every day or so and see where improvements can be made. For example, I think the section after the early oboe solo is a touch too loud. I know what I was trying to achieve though.

Important details can always be overlooked after your ear has repeatedly listened to the same sequences. It seems I left the double basses out of the final chord, robbing the closure of some extra oomph.

So if you are going to play To His Coy Mistress, please let me know in advance. Wherever you are, I’ll be there with a double bass to give His Coy Mistress the ending she deserves.

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