In The Name Of Love

In The Name Of Love

In my household, there are a very few days every year on which new music concerts are expressly forbidden, and today is one of them. (I can’t imagine why.) Considering how many concerts my Much Better Half—I married a civilian—attends with me over the course of twelve months (a large number that is above and beyond the call of duty), I think that having one day off is a totally acceptable scenario.

Today’s thematically related question to composers comes in two parts:

A.) Have you ever written a piece of music for someone? I’m not talking about pieces that are dedicated to performers or to whomever commissioned the work, but rather compositions written specifically for a love interest, or maybe a spouse?

If the answer to A is yes, then:

B.) Did you tell the person the music was written for him or her?

This is always a fun question-set to ask composers (especially when there are cocktails involved!), because many have excellent stories of the pieces they wrote that subtly wove the initials of an unrequited love into melodies throughout their orchestra piece, or that used the same number of woodblocks as the number of years they had been dating, or they included cello in the ensemble because they had a wicked crush on a cellist, etc. Composers do this sort of thing often. And when asked if they actually told the person what was up with that music, everyone without exception (that I’ve asked so far, anyway) has said, “Oh (*insert expletive here*) no! I would/could never do that.”

So who even knows how many people out there have had music written just for them, and them alone, and will never have any idea that it happened?! Actually I don’t disagree with the decision on the part of so many composers to keep quiet; writing music is, for many, an extremely personal, intimate thing, and I think the potential to royally freak out the recipient if s/he is not already close to the composer is quite high, causing an awkward, unpleasant-for-all backfire. (I speak from past experience, ahem). However, I think that writing music for a partner or family member—either to play for themselves or to be performed for them—is a truly awesome thing, and I wish it happened a lot more. Similarly, it would be amazing on numerous levels if more individuals commissioned composers to write pieces as gifts to loved ones. A few years back, a good friend commissioned one of these as a gift for her husband-to-be, and it was performed live at their wedding! Now that is a wedding present.

To keep the questions going:

Have you ever been commissioned to compose a piece of music as a gift to someone?

Would you do this, given the opportunity?

How could you make projects like this happen?

5 thoughts on “In The Name Of Love

  1. Armando Bayolo

    A) Yes, several times. I developed a system, long ago, of assigning letter values to notes beyond the already established note names that I’ve used to pay tribute to loves and friends for some time.

    B) Yes, and no. If I was dating them, of course. If I wasn’t, and just had a hopeless crush, (expletive) no.

    In more detail: when my wife and I first started dating I wrote a simple tune out of her name using the system I’d developed, and presented it to her in a nice, written out sheet which she proceeded to frame. When we got engaged, I turned that note into a proper piece for English horn and piano that we could play together. Later on, when we’d been married and had our first child together, I wrote a little diptych for oboe and piano , one piece using the same notes in her name but varied this time and the other using our daughter’s name. In 2011, I was commissioned to write a piece for baritone, clarinet and piano about my experiences in my 30s, experiences which were defined by fatherhood. So, part of that piece, Lullabies, includes the names of my two daughters woven into character pieces about them.

    ).

    This is one of the best parts of the job, as far as I’m concerned.

    Reply
  2. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Gosh, doesn’t everybody write pieces for folks they love? I don’t think I’m an outlier here, am I? I won’t detail the twists & turns of my personal life, but will say that I’ve written dozens of such compositions going back to a piece as a gift for a hoped-for girlfriend in 1966. And yes, I’ve been commissioned to write gift pieces as well — several during my WAAM project in 2007. (Among my favorites was a pair of lullabies commissioned by an old friend for a newborn boy and girl.)

    Reply
  3. Mark Winges

    A) Yes, because I’ve had sweeties who are performers. In fact, one occasion was just last summer, out of laziness:

    M: “We could do a movement from Vaughan-Williams’ 5 Mystical Songs“.

    T: “Sounds great, but we need two pieces”.

    M: “I can’t think of anything else, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time looking. I’ll write something. It’s easier”.

    Of course, then I had to learn it, which made me want to do bodily harm to the composer (kidding . . . sort of).

    B) No comment.

    Reply
  4. Jeremy Howard Beck

    A. Yes. “Tschüss”, “Human Kindness is Overflowing”, and “You Are Alive” were all written for/to people in my life. The first was a love letter to a guy I’d met at a music festival, and the other two were both letters of sorts to friends of mine who’d experienced unbelievably tragic and violent losses a short time apart from each other.

    B. Yes. All three people know that I wrote these pieces for them.



    Reply
  5. Scott

    Yes! Yes yes yes.

    I wrote a series of 3 lullabies for my newborn daughter, that were performed by the time she was 3 years old, which I played for her and told her were dedicated to her. Her name’s even in the title! I think she responded something like, “I wrote lullabies for you too Dad” in a bored tone, and hit the piano a few times, before going back to her granola bar.

    I also wrote a song cycle for my wife when we got engaged, on brief dedicatory poems that one of my favorite poets wrote for HIS wife 50 years ago. She was touched, and it’s been a good way to get singers interested in the cycle, because it’s got that personal hook.

    As for gift pieces, yes to that too! I’ve got a commission right now that I’m not allowed to mention in public, but a friend who works in church music is going to be moving across the country, and his church is commissioning me to write a congregational anthem to be rehearsed on a week he’s out of town, then performed for him on his last day at the church. Should be an amazing gift.

    Reply

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