I recently made up a couple of cadenzas for a Haydn piano concerto. I kind of improvised them at the piano, and played them in the concert without ever writing them out. Afterwards, I thought I’d try and note them down before I forgot them entirely. Cadenzas are supposed to be, or at least sound, spontaneous but I’d had one or two nice ideas which I was reluctant to let disappear into the mists of time. So I started to write them down.
What a labour! It’s a while since I had to write music down and I was appalled not only at how long it took, but how strenuous it was for my writing hand. You can speed up your movement to a certain extent, but I found that if I wrote too fast, the note heads became mere diagonal lines instead of little round blobs, and the stems became confusingly detached from the note heads.
And mine were only pieces of music lasting a couple of minutes each. What must it must have been like for Mozart, Beethoven and so on! The sheer time-consuming labour of writing their ideas down on manuscript paper must have far outweighed the time it took to compose the music. I do remember reading somewhere that if someone sat down and simply wrote out all Mozart’s music by hand, working their way through the Collected Mozart Edition with all the symphonies and opera scores and so on, it would take them longer than Mozart’s entire lifetime. Can that be true? As I struggled to write down the details of my flourishes and arpeggios, it felt as if it could be.