Posthumous Collaboration

How does a composer complete his final symphony 113 years after his death? He leaves behind sketches of what he planned to do and someone else painstakingly does their best to fill in the missing pieces.

A few weeks ago, Musica Nova (, an orchestra that I play bass with and that specializes in programming new and neglected classical music, performed the regional premiere of Anton Bruckner’s 9th symphony with the 4th movement completed by William Carragan.

Carragan and our conductor Warren Cohen also shared ideas about the interpretation of music: tempi, expression, “Did Bruckner really mean to have those notes in the trumpet?” etc. Both men commented about how great it was to work together, saying “we were able to solve the problems because we were totally open to working with each other” and “[he was] wonderfully open minded to some of my quirky ideas.”

It’s not often that classical music conductors get to collaborate with living composers, let alone modern day composers collaborating with a long-gone master. It was very exciting at the first rehearsal to look to my left and see an amazing line up of nine French Horns with about half of them doubling on the infrequently seen Wagner Tubas (a sort of bass French Horn). The reviews were great and you can read more about it on the Musica Nova blog

How would you feel about having one of your major works completed by someone else a hundred + years later? Would you be glad that they cared enough to spend the time and creative energy? Affronted? Appalled at the choices? Delighted with the result?


2 responses to “Posthumous Collaboration

  1. I know I’d be mighty picky about who touched my unfinished work, and I’d sure want to visit them and offer direct hints!

    Several times, I’ve been on the completing end of that, and received profound impressions while preparing a book for posthumous publication. I’ d know what needed to be added and how to word it, and I’d feel which parts made the author cringe. I call those authors my angel clients.

    One of my current projects is to edit and publish a posthumous collection of essays by collaborating with the author’s heir. The original author was a wonderful writer, and this one’s a dream–only a matter of selecting and arranging–but that is a weighty responsibility in itself.

    I’m careful and downright prayerful about this kind of work. I consider it sacred. I always get the impression that it’s sweet to the dead to be remembered by anyone still on the earth, and to have one’s influence continue seems especially gratifying.

    • Gwyn, I’m picturing Bruckner visiting Carragan in his dreams to suggest tweaks and alternatives — that’s a dream to be remembered. Carragan also had to contend with the large body of Bruckner fans who gave him lots of feedback about what they thought worked and didn’t. Of course, they didn’t all have the same point of view. The website is one gathering spot of the latest ideas and resources.

      I’d trust you to edit me posthumously — just as I do in life! Thanks for sharing. Debbie

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