Lord knows there are certain early writings of mine that I would just as soon never again see the light of day (but which I know Nefarious Neddie will expose once I became
Two other composers I have discovered more recently are notable with regard to fire (both of whom, incidentally, were introduced to me by a friend I've lost touch with -- Robert, if you're out there, drop me a line.). First is an English composer named Gerald Finzi. Finzi wrote a lot of meditative and intimate music for chamber ensembles and for voice. Everything of Finzi's that I have heard is deeply beautiful, but he purposely allowed little of his music to see light. (I don't know if he purposely destroyed it, or if it simply sits in some lockbox somewhere.)
The other composer is the Norwegian master Geirr Tveitt. In many ways the Ralph Vaughan Williams of Norwegian classical music, Tveitt's work focuses very strongly on Norwegian folk material and even Norway's ethnic musical instruments, such as the Hardanger fiddle (a stringed instrument which can be heard very prominently in the score to The Two Towers -- it's the fiddle that plays the Rohan theme in a number of scenes in and around Edoras). Tveitt was a highly prolific composer -- his output was once likened to a waterfall -- but in one of music history's more tragic accidents, Tveitt's house burned to the ground in the early 1970s, destroying nearly eighty percent of his life's work. Tveitt's sound world is remarkable, and to reflect on what was lost in that fire is disheartening. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, it's a little bit as if we only knew Shakespeare by As You Like It and Coriolanus, had Hamlet or King Lear been consumed in flame.
Tveitt's case is accidental, but as Lynn notes, many cases of an artist censoring his or her own work are not. There is a real ethical tension here: to what extent does the artist's work belong to the artist, and to what extent does it belong to the world? It's a tough question, and it's not one that's going away. Witness all the anger directed at George Lucas for his decision to permanently retire the original versions of the first three Star Wars films. The films are unquestionably his, and the decision is unquestionably his to make, but there is a real case to be made that he shouldn't be doing it.
(And you thought there was no way I could twist that discussion around to Star Wars! Heh!)