One thing I’ve always believed about writing is that if an idea doesn’t work out in one piece, that’s no reason to put it aside forever. I’ve reused a lot of my own ideas over the years, a practice I learned in part from my beloved Hector Berlioz.
Berlioz wrote a concert overture based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, relatively early in his career. Berlioz wrote very little abstract music; just about everything he wrote had a literary antecedent of some kind, and Scott’s novel was the thing for this piece. And it’s quite a decent piece: it’s not one of Berlioz’s greater works, but it’s a perfectly good concert overture.
Berlioz himself was never satisfied with the Rob Roy overture, but he knew a good idea when he had one: the slow melody in the central part of the overture stuck in his mind, so when it came to write his second symphony, itself based on a literary work (this time Byron’s Childe Harold), a work that was to feature solo viola and orchestra after a generous commission from Nicolo Paganini, Berlioz basically lifted that entire section of his earlier Rob Roy overture and dropped it into the first movement of Harold In Italy, which is one of Berlioz’s greatest works.
Learn from mistakes and lesser works–but don’t be afraid to mine them for ideas!
Here’s the Rob Roy overture by Hector Berlioz.