Q: Willl we see another Beethoven?
A: We'll definitely see another Beethoven. It's just that in any art, the present society, whether it be critics, or people, can't decide. Nobody decided that Beethoven was Beethoven in 1825. Beethoven did not start composing thinking, "Ah, I'm going to be great." Every composer probably likes the music he writes. But it's totally immaterial what the composer thinks. And, in a way, it's not that important in the long run what the people think of the product at a given moment, because to them it might not speak. (But) it might speak to the future generations. It's an interaction of our cultural background with the past.
Q: A composer's lasting ability determines his greatness?
A: Yes. There were many composers during Beethoven's, Mozart's time, that we don't listen to at all today, and they were even more well known. (Consider) Mozart and (his contemporary, Italian composer Antonio) Salieri. Salieri was considered to be a much more powerful and important musician at the time. His music may have even been better for the people then. But it definitely doesn't seem as useful to us as Mozart is.
The future decides on the past. Take the 19th or 18th century, where most of our Western music was produced -- Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. What you have from those centuries is art. If I ask you who were the politicians of the age, or some great people who were important in business, nobody would know. (Yet) there's no one moment in the world that somewhere somebody's not listening to Beethoven.
Q: Is it important for you to have your name continue after you are dead?
A: I hope I'm not that vain. To me, to produce something just to make a living is not enough. Most of the things we produce becomes garbage in five years -- how long can a car last? At best, 10, 20 years. But if you produce a good piece of music, it lasts forever. I'm doing it just to leave something to show how I thought of what I saw and how the life around me influenced me. Love was the same in the 18th century as it is now. It's just that you talk about it differently. I'm not interested in only making a living. I'm interested in living. People often don't realize the difference.
Q: Fathers always warn their daughters against marrying musicians. Is it a good life? Is it profitable?
A: First of all, composition is not a profession. It's a calling. You do it or not. It's like going to the pope and saying, "Is it a good living?" One has to have income. But if you count on this for your motivation you either write junk or nothing at all.
If one's life is to have only comfort and unlimited amount of money and no physical pain, then it's better to be a dentist. However, if one doesn't want to spend his whole life looking in someone's mouth and doing the same thing from 9 to 5, then it's better to become a composer.
Q: You came to the United States (from Poland) in 1967 and became a citizen in 1975. You said you came for musical rather than political reasons. Is the United States a good place to make music today?
A: Any big country would be good. That might even include the Soviet Union. But it's much more difficult in a political system to operate.
Q: Might the political tension in one country have spurred you to be creative in the first place?
A: People often say that difficulties make a person creative. I don't think this is true. This is sort o a romantic idea -- if you don't suffer you won't be creative. Suffering (doesn't) make an artist. But the difficulty of living somewhere, sometimes inspires certain things. In Poland, where there is censorship, some writers would invent some kind of fiction subjects to write about the ideas they want to get around the censors. Art is a matter of the imagination, not of whether you are in a good car or in a particular country.
Q: Creativity, composing, is that more a question of talent, or a desire to create?
A: With no talent, the desire won't help. However, if one had to trade off a little bit of talent for greater desire, I think that desire is the driving force to use your talents. A person with slightly less talent but more desire will achieve more than a person with quite a bit of talent and no desire. Although the talent sometimes, in the case of a real genius, is so strong that it just overpowers even the laziness. We say people explode with talent. But I wouldn't count on that.
Q: Does the need to create sometimes stifle you?
A: I want to create to express ideas because I actually prefer to write music than to talk. Music to me really expresses emotions much better than talking. If one could talk about emotions, there would be no music.
I really don't like that much -- sitting down and writing. For whatever rewards you get, whether it's immortality or pleasure of communicating nice ideas to people, there is an equivalent in pain. I accept that pain. Sometimes it's very frustrating so I leave it and do something else. I like to travel, to play with my children. I'm not just a kind of monk that sits down and only composes.
Q: You have said that you actually feel physical pain, like stomach aches and impatience and irritability.
A: That's because you have the desire and the idea is right there, but you cannot catch it. The frustration in each person appears differently. Some people take to drinking; some go for walks; some become crazy. Others destroy their families.
Maybe I'm not that talented, but I think I'm pretty sane. I wouldn't say the pain kills me. But it is a discomfort. The closest thing that I would understand, giving birth is.
Q: Why can't we call upon creativity at will?
A: If we knew the answer, we would change the world, immediately. We would just hire inventors and resolve any problem, like the solution for the treatment of cancer.
Nobody really knows why there is an Einstein, a Bach, a DaVinci. Sometimes those people are not, in our sense, educated. That doesn't mean that you go to Harvard or some good school and become immediately creative. A good education does not guarantee creativity.
Q: How do you create?
A: I have an idea of what I want to say to people. But I don't take for granted that whatever I put on paper is that important for humanity. Somebody who is coming to listen to a piece of music is like a person coming to talk to me. And if I have nothing to say, I'd better shut up. Music is the language that expresses emotions. A combination of notes creates a feeling, mood. Music, in a sense, gives permanence to emotions. You listen to a love song that was written a hundred years ago, and that mood, if it's good, influences you and you feel exactly the way the music makes you feel.
Q: Did you ever write something and have people totally misinterpret your idea? Chekhov used to complain that his serious plays were mistaken for comedies.
A: Yes. But that's not really important. You go to a concert hall and let's say a Beethoven concerto is being played. Every person in that hall has slightly different emotions, from that one piece. Isn't that great use? This is efficiency -- how much variety!
I start with that feeling. Then I go and think of how to technically express this feeling. I look for different ideas or themes in writing a love song than I would in writing a symphony dedicated to war victims or something. Then, when the craftsmanship comes, how I choose the ideas, how I put it together, those pains start.
Q: You don't just have something come to your head?
A: It works both ways. Sometimes I might say, oh, I want to write a piece that has this feeling of great relaxation and a rather smooth and unworried mood. On the other hand, I might have an idea that might come to me of a particular melodic theme, let's say. You get the inspiration from different directions.
Q: Do people approach you to write something because you are known as a composer?
A: Yes. Recently I wrote something for the Rockport (Massachusetts Music) Festival (where he was composer-in-residence). The person said I'd like to do something with a string quartet and singing. Concerts are in the art gallery. So, I try to think, what would be a nice thing if I went to listen in an art gallery to a string quartet and singer? Almost like a good tailor I try to make it to be good. There are some pieces like the 1812 Overture that were made to be played outside. If you suddenly brought it to a room with a lot of rococo paintings or sculpture, it would be out of place to have cannons there.
Q: Do you hear it as you write it? Do you do it at the piano?
A: Both. I write down at a table. Then I go to the piano, check it, things that I might not hear. In a sense, a piano is like a cane to help the ear. It's easier for people to understand the visual art. If I describe to you using certain colors, you can imagine in your mind the way the picture would look, right? Music is the same way. If I am using a particular theme, notes, I can hear what the result would sound like, approximately. With painters we say that they use particular colors, the palette.
Q: And what is yours?
A: Every day it's evolving. I'm definitely not an avante-garde composer who experiments with the material because I am more interested in the emotional rather than the technical aspect of music.
I like to deal with human beings, making mistakes. A violin is to me a nice thing because there is excitement that you might make a mistake. That's why we go to live performances. It's great to listen to records, but live performances are that much more exciting because you see a human being vulnerable. If the preformance is great, then the additional layer of excitement comes as to how this person can do this.
Q: You and your wife collaborate on some of your compositions. She writes the poems; you write the music. Does she write the poems first?
A: Yes. I know very few people who start with music and then add the poetry. For a musician to take a poem and make music is easy, because although I don't sound like it sometimes, I still can read English. I might sometimes ask Anne to write a poem for a particular mood. In a sense it's variation or elaboration of the poem. Often you take one word and make several pages of music out of it.
The whole idea of creativity is hard to discuss. Discussing creativity has to be creative. The people who love to write academic books about creativity really are not creative. They never created anything except that book on creativity. How can you discuss creativity if you never created anything? Q: You were saying some people when they have too much of a creative desire, they start to drink or take drugs or go crazy. How about the reverse? They said Faulkner used to down a bottle of scotch to relax enough to let the creativity out.
A: I feel sorry for people who have to use this. But who cares whether Beethoven was drunk or not? What do you know about what problems Jane Austin had, or others? Who cares? The core is imagination. Let's say this wall here was so thick that the imagination cannot get out and the only way to make this wall thinner is to drink. The drinking might change that personality so that imagination could pass.
Q: How do you get around social obligations when you are in the middle of a creative urge?
A: I'm very bad. I like being with people. This is part of my inspiration. Every time you talk with somebody, it gives ideas. But, if you spend time only talking, you never produce.
Q: Do you find that you've cultivated the image of an artist?
A: Considerng what people think of 19th-century composers, I don't think I'm very eccentric. I do avoid things that do not inspire me in any way. On the other hand, I do realize an obligation, for instance, to go to my children's school. It might be boring like hell, but still, I'm not really off the wall somewhere flying in the sky.
Q: How about time schedule? Do you (compose) every day?
A: No. This one aspect is slightly misunderstood. You create every day. But it's inside you, whether you walk, whether you talk with a person. I don't physically work on a piece of music every day. But music is inside of me. I'm not going down the streets singing inside, but it's there. I don't force myself to write every day. Although if I knew that I had to come up with something, I would force myself to induce an idea. Prolific writers are prolific because they have the talent or knowledge or skill of inducing ideas. That comes with experience.
Q: What has music taught you about yourself?
A: How capricious I am about my emotions. The music helped me to understand my own moods better and to control them. I never went to a psychiatrist, although I probably needed to. I have music as my bouncing board. It's a mirror to my emotions.
If there is something physically wrong with me, you can look in the mirror and you know. Or go to a doctor. Emotionally, you look at the mirror and you don't see your emotions. So, you have to have some other mirror. People who read escape into books. I read very little fiction. Music is my fiction. If you know how to communicate with music, if music speaks to you, you don't need a psychiatrist because that becomes your mirror.