This week I’ve been working on a short piece for all-pizzicato strings that required me to pull out a rarely-used violin. It’s the first time I’ve had to “work up” something on an instrument in a long time; usually I’m just playing to hear a particular chord progression or something of the sort, but in this case I was forced to regain a little bit of my old violin proficiency in order to see if my rollicking quarter = 200 tempo was a bit optimistic for some passages.
Still, my abilities are nowhere near those of the players who will bring the piece to life, even considering my mad left-hand-pizzicato skills acquired over a long period of guitar playing. Yet I’m confident that the insight yielded from hours of practicing strange, twangy glissandi is useful and not an illusion. By way of some kind of transitive property, I know that if my barely-able hands can eventually pop out this passage in tempo, then it’s reasonable to conclude that a professional violinist could be counted on to do so as well.
Very often when I’ve heard performers complain about a difficult piece of contemporary music, their complaints are directed towards a real or perceived lack of initiative on the part of the composer; particularly with passages that will require a great deal of practice to execute, any indication that the composer has asked for this sacrifice flippantly—and without proper regard for the difficulties of performing musicians—is greatly frowned upon. I’ve been the brunt of these accusations myself at times, and often rightly so. But this time I don’t feel as guilty about a few sore fingers—mine are already torn up from a week of crackling pizzicato pull-offs, so the performers could hardly accuse me of blithely underestimating the performance difficulties involved. It’s never my goal to compose difficult music, but on those rare occasions when extreme difficulty in unavoidable nothing says good faith like a little elbow grease.