Geoff Edgers of Boston.com posted an article a few days ago relating to composers thoughts on their early works. I found it interesting that Geoff doesn't feel composers like Mozart were embarrassed by their early works. When I was doing a paper on Haydn's string quartets I ran across something that suggested Haydn feel his later quartets were built upon what he'd learned in the earlier ones, and found the early ones immature in comparison. Thus the early ones were a necessary stepping stone, but not of the quality (maybe I'm reading too much into this comparison based on my own feelings about my early works - more on that later).
Steve Layton of Sequenza21.com posted a query for other composers to comment on their impressions of their early works. While I did post a comment, I thought a more thorough response was appropriate.
First of all, it's difficult for me to really speak about early works when I am just preparing to premier my first symphony - at the same time presenting an opera as a work in progress and my first real string quartet piece (beyond little "songs" of 5-6 mins in length). So, in many respects I am at the stage Webern was when he labels his Passacaglia Opus 1.1
That's probably a good way to look at it. Pieces I wrote even two years ago seem childish, immature to what I'm writing now. However, there are some works "Zachariah was an old man " is still a work in progress. The initial seed is too good and I wasn't "mature" enough as a composer to finish it. I'm not sure I'm ready now (but don't really have the time to think about it with the upcoming concert). Other pieces, like "The Artisan" are good, but need fine tuning to bring them up to a level. "Darkness Falls" is a piece I probably won't go back to, but it certainly shows the development process leading up to the Preludes (Prelude 9) written a year later. Nearly four years ago I wrote a lullaby for the birth of my first grandson, Avery and then wrote one for the birth of his brother Curran last year.2 While Curran's piece shows more harmonic development, both are lovely little pieces, which I hope my grandsons take pride in as they grow up.
I guess what I am trying to say (in terms of my own writing) is the music I was writing 3, 4 or 5 years ago had something to them - not everything I wrote, but certainly some of the pieces. So, in that respect, they were the first glimmers of who I am (who I have become). Maybe, in another 3 or 4 years I will have moved on even further and I'll give up thinking they have worth. But that's not the case now.
Having said that, there are things I did twenty years ago (not compositionally - but in terms of living) that effect who I am today. By saying, "I wish I'd never done that" would be like say, "I don't like who I am" and I do like who I am - so I don't not wish I'd done that. I think composing is much the same way. There are bits of music that I listen to now that I think, "yea, that's a pile of c***" - but, it was necessary to write it.
On the flip side, I have yet to write c*** for the sake of a project - and I know composers who do, material they know is c*** at the time they are writing it, but it fills the need for a project they're getting paid for. (Ah, the dreaded mammon) I hope I never have (or decide) to do this. It is (IMHO) the step toward forsaking one's musical soul for material gain - and a step away from producing something worthwhile.
1 - Webern had just earned his doctorate in music when we wrote the Passacaglia. I have just (am just) finishing my Bachelors. While I am considerably older than Webern was (having come back to music after 15 years in the high tech industry), I am much younger in terms of education. It will be interesting to see how the next few years affect my music.
2 - Sincere thanks to Jayne Craig for providing her lovely voice to the recording of these lullaby's. She has also agreed to play the role of Chlotho in the opera "It Must Be Fate", so you will have a chance to hear her live; a real treat.