The Procrastination Habits of Great Composers

Every now and then I encounter something on Facebook which reminds me of how basically cool it is. Yes, I'm familiar with the downside of the site. The bounty of cute-cat photos in which the word "the" is charmingly spelled "teh" (never really understood that...). The status postings which are either maddeningly enigmatic (Disaster... what do I do now), face-palmingly trivial (Mmmmm! Curly fries!!!!), cloyingly inspirational (If you want the universe to smile upon you, smile at a flower today -- I just made that one up right now), or composed of the always popular photo albums containing 347 photos of Bob and Sadie's trip to Myrtle Beach (Epic sandcastle -- so proud!!!!).

But on the other hand, there are the days when someone posts items like this graphic.

Forget your sandcastle, people; THIS is epic. You know why? Because it's true, true, true, true, true. Whoever came up with this sublime specimen of pie-chartery is clearly in the Brotherhood Of Frustrated Creative Artists (BOFCA).

Sure, there are exceptions. It's a fact that Mozart composed masterpieces while playing billiards and that his work periods consisted merely of copying down what he'd already arranged in his head. And Richard Strauss looked at composition basically as a 9-to-5 day job. He'd start at 8 AM, take a coffee break, compose some more, knock off for lunch, then back at it in the afternoon, churning out page after page of post-Romantic chromaticism on a conveyor belt like so many Johnsonville bratwursts. But mere mortals like your humble blogger encounter a greater level of angst when we sit down to create prose, poetry, music, or any other art form. The cliché of being driven to drink by the blank page (or canvas or whatever) is actually a nightmare-ish reality for most artists.

So I got to wondering: if this state of affairs has always been true ever since Cro-Magnon man drew his first cave-drawing with a stick, what about the great composers of the past who lived before the Internet Age? I'm pretty sure that for Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Verdi and others, the pie-chart ratios of inspiration, work, binge eating and discouraged napping hold true. But what might have taken the place of "random internet surfing" before computers were invented?

If you have also wondered this (I realize this will be just a handful of you), this is your lucky day! I have done extensive research (consisting of making stuff up) on this question and am now ready to share the fruits of my scholarship with this summary of:


HANDEL: Combing through previous compositions looking for themes he could steal from himself and re-use.

ROSSINI: Further binge eating, creating a total binge-eating percentage of some 70%.

BEETHOVEN: Stalking the "immortal beloved" and inventing lame excuses when she would turn around and say "Are you following me again? I thought we talked about this, Ludwig." ("Wow -- you shop at this ladies' hat shop too? Ach, what a freakish coincidence!")

LISZT: Sorting and cataloging the room keys and lingerie items tossed onstage by female admirers at his recitals.

SCHUMANN: Bull sessions with the voices in his head.

J. S. BACH: He had twenty children -- I'll give you three guesses.

BORODIN: Constant whining about the fact that, because the musical Kismet would not be created until decades after his death, he would be unable to sue the pants off the producers for plagiarism.

SCHUBERT: He died of an STD -- I'll give you three guesses.

JOHANN NEPOMUK HUMMEL: Patiently saying to friends, relations and strangers on the street, "No, I cannot make you a charming little figurine of a girl and a puppy. That's a totally different Hummel. No, I don't have his address."

BRAHMS: Picking bits of food out of his beard because after a few days they start to smell -- ew!

PUCCINI: He once described himself as a "mighty hunter of wild fowl, operatic librettos and attractive women." Considering he got his future wife pregnant when she was married to another man ... I'll give you three guesses. Hint: the correct answer does not reference birds or librettos.

SALIERI: Playing with his Mozart voodoo doll.

VERDI: Organizing get-out-the-vote phone banks for Victor Emmanuel's King-of-Italy campaign. If there had been phones back then. Okay, maybe going door to door with leaflets. They did have doors back then, I'm pretty sure.

GLENN WINTERS: Yes, yes, I do live in the Internet Age, but I thought I should be specific about it. The truth is that, in the total time I've spent playing the video game Pinch Hitter 2, I could have composed all of Wagner's operas from scratch.

Oh heck -- now I've gone and lost my BOFCA membership card. Excuse me while I stop creating and spend the afternoon hunting it down.