This past Monday I had the pleasure of hearing my friend and colleague Dr. Charles Hulin give a wonderful solo piano recital. With works spanning nearly 300 years, one each from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods, and two written in the last 7 years, the program provided something for nearly any taste of piano music.
I knew all but one composer on the program (a friend of Dr. Hulin's), but I had never heard any of the works before. As I sat and listened to works by Bach and Mozart (again, that were new to me), I got to thinking about how many Bach and Mozart works I have not heard before. I also took note of the catalogue numbers next to the titles of the pieces in the program (BWV 855, K. 333) and began thinking about just what those numbers mean.
J.S. Bach's works have been organized and catalogued using the letters "BWV" (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or Bach Works Catalogue), and the numbers go beyond 1100. W.A. Mozart's works have been numbered in the Köchel catalogue using the letter "K" and number over 600.
Think about that for a minute. Those guys wrote well over 1700 works collectively. And many of those are serious, significant, large works. What's more, Mozart died at age 35. Thirty-five. (I am 28, and if you numbered everything I've ever written, it might be in the 40s.)
Let's be honest, do you think all 600+ of Mozart's works or all 1100+ of Bach's works are worthy of the reputation and renown we give those composers? I don't know all their works, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say, "I doubt it." In fact, I've heard a couple lesser-known Mozart symphonies that are pretty lame, in my opinion. There's a good reason many of the greatest composers' works don't get played often––because they're not very good.
So what's the point? The point is that we have to put out some bad work to get to the good. This is no new idea, but it was a good reminder for me this week. I sometimes expect that every piece I write, every performance I give, every class I teach, should be highly successful (which we know means lots of Facebook "likes" and Twitter retweets). In a day and age of instant fame and "viral" internet videos and stories, we all want to strike gold every time we put the shovel in the ground.
The reality is this: not everything I do will be successful, and to increase my chances of success, I must increase the volume of my work. My highest quality effort in every circumstance is a given, but that does not always equate to success. I have to be okay with some of my best efforts falling short, as long as I can learn from them and try again.
When Mozart and Bach wrote work after work, they surely learned a thing or two along the way. Some of their works have become timeless centerpieces of classical music, some have not. But I'm pretty sure we would never have the great ones without the…well, less great ones.