Foot Notes : Is Symphonic Literature Truly Original?

Symphonic literature showcases personal expression through creative writing inspired by music. It would not be possible without original thought. But what exactly is original thought? If you’re one for adages, the answer to that question is one word: impossible. ‘It’s all been done before’, the saying goes, though to me, that isn’t a condemnation at all. Everything being done before refers to a grouping that holds everything that has been done. It stops there, without a word concerning that which has not been done; that grouping, which can also be referred to as the impossible for it has not happened, sees a number defect to the ‘been done’ grouping every time something new is accomplished, but only ever grows in size. This is because originality has always been derivative. Things start somewhere and end elsewhere. That’s thought in a nutshell, and really, the human experience as well – all that came before synthesized into you at this current moment, me at the time of writing, everything, always…Symphonic lit is original because I conceptualized a writing style based on music, because I brought it into existence, and my not being the first to do so doesn’t change that at all.

About a month prior to starting this essay (roughly 5 years since I wrote my first symphonic story) I read my first Spider Robinson book, the anthology of short stories Melancholy Elephants. Inside is a superscript-laden story called Rubber Soul; aside from taking its name from a Beatles album, the aforementioned numbers accompany 24(!) references to Beatles trivia throughout the story. It is so Beatles-centric that the Hugo award-winning author (gold medal for science fiction) dedicates the 8 pages following the 9-page story to a concordant, explanations the author (at the urge of the publisher) acknowledged as necessary for the story to make sense. That’s a total of 17 out of 244 pages dedicated to the Beatles, 14 percent of the book’s bulk based on music. And although I like the Beatles, and have used their work to create symphonic poetry and stories, I’m not a superfan of any music like Spider was of theirs. The different results reflect this; read my symphonic story Octopus’ Garden for an example. The factual references in Rubber Soul range from obvious and similar to mine, like using an album title to name a story (symphonic uses song titles) and utilizing lyrics, to esoteric nods toward the celebrities responsible for the music rather than the music itself. References to tertiary characters, wives and children, in the musician’s lives, and a narrative built from interviews about real-life instances are what make Spider’s story his. And my reference to a song’s essence, my synthesis and regurgitation, are what set my stories apart as mine. 

In addition to stories, though, symphonic literature contains poems scraped together from song lyrics: symphonic poetry. But this is not the only type of symphonic poetry, another form of artistic expression with that name attached, also referred to as ‘Tone Poems’, are pieces of music inspired by other mediums (usually poems or paintings.) Carl Loewe, 19th-century German composer, created the form after reading Lord Byron’s poem Mazeppa, but Hungarian Franz Liszt, who took care to think through boundaries as well the process itself, is considered the true progenitor. To create the music, Liszt would either use a simulacrum of Beethoven’s cyclic form to consistently mirror what he thought was a musical interpretation of theme, or thematic transformation, which like symphonic synthesis is taking inspiration from a medium in a separate, personally decided direction. Even with that similarity, tone poems are music; symphonic literature’s symphonic poetry is creative writing. Also, I conceptualized symphonic literature before ever knowing about symphonic poetry. This, of course, is unverifiable except for me having no reason to lie; through this essay, others, and symphonic literature as a whole, I’ve demonstrated no issues with giving credit where it’s due. Symphonic literature is a true product of me, of now, as symphonic poetry, symphonies, were of the time back then.

Symphonic literature is an example of my individuality, how I could have the same general idea as other people and have it turn out so differently. It’s as original as anything can be in this world.

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