Blog/Archive

Feb. 14, 2018

People tend to believe in the widespread premise that something, anything, with unique design, proportion, symmetry, and beauty has to be bought and sold to be of any real value.
That isn't always where it is.
Something like this that enriches our lives could come our way at times completely free of charge -- sometimes from where, when, and from whom we least expect it.
A lone outpost situated in a different place from all the other well marked scenic views also can provide us with a view that greatly impresses our esthetic sense, awaiting only our recognition of it (photo).
We appreciate the value of a work of art not merely by examining its price tag or how freely it's offered to us but by simply taking a moment to notice it, think about its qualities, discover its characteristics, and contemplate during that same moment the creativity involved in bringing it into existence ... that this comes only from a higher plane above and beyond this material sphere in which we currently move and work every day ... from a realm beyond this one where creation has its home [See blog, Recognition, When We Have Art].

Feb. 2, 2018

(con't from Part XXXI)
As we're traveling the highway noticing the scenery a first glance might cause us to miss something really worthy of our attention.
In a situation like this our aesthetic sense seems to tell us that what we've just noticed really deserves another look.
It's like a little alarm bell goes off inside us to warn us to spend a little more time with it so we don't miss out -- as if a warning sign were posted on the road (photo) for our own good that we should make a "U" turn and go back to fully experience and appreciate what we've just been exposed to.
A glance at our current compositional oevre might offer us a suggestion in this respect: we might go back and have another look at a fugue we've already written, turn it's subject around (invert it), and see if it makes another good line.
A good fugue subject (or countersubject) should also sound good when turned upside-down [See blog, Inversions].
We might then take that inverted subject and create an entirely new fugue with it, perhaps enlarging it slightly by including an excursion into an unrelated key in addition to all 5 related keys; then, after that new fugue is written, we might use one of its countersubjects to build a related prelude to be paired with it.
Building a second fugue by inverting another fugue's subject brings to mind some of what J.S. Bach illustrated when he penned his monumental work "The Art Of Fugue."
It's a fascinating trick if the opportunity lends itself and one that will lead us to make many interesting and rewarding discoveries in composition if we just have the courage and will to give it a try.
And if the prelude has just one theme, it can be worked easily enough, once again, in the 6-part form that Vierne taught his students to use for improvisation on a single free theme [See blog, Learning By Example, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXXI].
This was the scheme employed in the score of Prelude and Fugue in b minor Op. 26 [See menu bar, Free Stuff]; it's Fugue subject is the a minor Op. 25 Fugue subject in inverted form.
It will help to download and print a copy of this score as this narrative is followed:
The Prelude begins with a 2 bar introduction, adding voice by voice until a 4 voice texture is reached in the 3rd bar which presents the theme in the top line; this theme is 7 bars long, harmonized in 4 parts, and ends in a perfect cadence in the home key of b minor.
The 2nd section, or bridge (Fr. "pont"), connects this 1st exposition of the theme with the 2nd exposition; this bridge need not be longer than 6 bars and generally works well when made up of 2 equal phrases each 3 bars long, the last of which points to the key of the 2nd exposition.
The 2nd exposition is supposed to be in a different key than the home key the key selected is often the dominant or some other related key, but not always; other less closely related keys may also be used for this; the scores of Op. 5 and 25 are examples of this [See men].
Here the theme reenters in the dominant key, this time in the alto line, and is harmonized again in 4 parts, ending in a perfect cadence in the dominant key.
The 4th or development section takes a bar or two from the theme and works it rhythmically and harmonically for about 20 bars or so before coming to a stop; in this section bits of thematic material undergo excursions through a series of distant keys (A Major, C Major, Eb Major, Db Major, E Major) and arrives finally at a held Ab Major chord.
A length of 20 bars for the development section is merely an arbitrary choice; it might be extended longer than that at the discretion of the composer but probably should not be any less than that; very short, truncated developments sound like they're over with before they've started, whereas very long, tedious developments in this improvisatory 6-part form run the risk of dwarfing the other sections to where the sense of architecture of the piece tends to get lost; a middle ground of around 20 bars, which represents roughly 1/3 of the Prelude, seems to work better.
How this development section makes its various twists and turns is facilitated by employing sequences [See blog, Sequencing] and is only limited by the composer's imagination; no matter how far afield the music travels away from the home key, a smooth return to the home key can be created in the preparation for the reentry which follows.
The 5th section, then, performs this function, and is the preparation for the reentry; this portion need not be any longer than 4 bars and works well when made up of 2 phrases each 2 bars long ending on the dominant chord which points to the home key.
Here the decision was made to employ some altered chords (dominant 7ths with raised or flatted 5ths) to create a smoother transition to the final entry of the theme with its chromatic harmony.
Some may find it more helpful, in settling on the exact harmony for this preparation, to first work it at the keys of the instrument as one would an improvisation, then go back and commit it to notation; we are employing here, after all, a system for improvising on a single free theme, and when the Prelude is finished it should sound like such.
The final or 6th section is the reentry of the theme which typically, but not always, appears in the top line; here, In this example, the theme reenters in the soprano but instead of returning to the bright but somber home key of b minor the theme is worked in the luminous parallel key of B Major and harmonized chromatically, ending very softly, very quietly, in the radiant tonality of this key using a plagal cadence with the tonic chord twice reiterated.
The Fugue subject enters immediately afterwards in the alto line of the home key of b minor and is answered in the tenor in the subdominant; since the subject begins on the 5th scale degree the answer, in compliance with common practice, begins on the 1st scale degree, which necessitates e minor as the key for the answer; 2 additional bars are used to produce a smooth return to the tonic key for the 3rd entry.
The 3rd entry then appears in the soprano as the 1st countersubject enters in the tenor and the 2nd countersubject in the alto;
The 4th entry is then in the bass, returning to the subdominant; here the 1st countersubject moves to the soprano and the 2nd countersubject to the tenor, with a free voice added to the alto, as expected, to complete a 4 part texture.
The music then passes through a series of expositions in A Major, f# minor, a minor, D Major, e minor, G Major, and a final exposition in b minor; these various expositions are separated by modulating episodes each 4 bars in length employing sequences built upon fragments of the subject or countersubjects and their inversions.
In the final exposition the subject enters in the top line and undergoes imitation 2 bars later in the bass.
A coda of 5 bars follows in which the head of the subject is segmented in the bass; the music finishes in 7 voices employing a high F# inverted pedal point in the right hand approached by step from below; the final tonic chord with a raised (Picardy) 3rd is reiterated twice over a double pedal.
This final cadence is a bit unusual in that the 7th note of the dominant 7th chord leading into the final chord resolves upward by step rather than downward; this dominant 7th chord also has a raised 5th (to maintain agreeable harmony with the bass line).
This piece and the a minor Prelude and Fugue Op. 25 which precedes it chronologically share the same subject; that subject is inverted in Op. 26 and will repay careful study.

Jan. 25, 2018

(con't from Part XXX)
As J.S. Bach has amply demonstrated, when we're composing there are many, many ways, once we've written a keyboard fugue, to "pair it" with a related prelude (photo).
A prelude and fugue, as a pair, do not have to spring from the same ideas; the vast majority of the preludes and fugues of Bach in fact show no thematic or rhythmic connections whatsoever.
But when they do (as in Bach's "Great" d minor Toccata and Fugue BWV 565 for organ) the listener senses an inner unity in the work [See blog, Bach d minor, Parts I-V].
When the fugue which follows the prelude has 4 voices, 2 countersubjects, and a free voice in the soprano somewhere that makes a pleasant melody line, we can use that same line as the theme for the prelude, building it into a piece with one theme; this prelude is then given the same 6-part treatment that Vierne taught his students for improvisation on a single free theme [See blog, Learning By Example].
If this procedure is followed the prelude theme, when it suddenly reenters later in the fugue during one of the expositions, is a novelty which lends a certain interest and sense of unity to the entire work; it seems in fact so cunningly woven into the fabric of the fugue that it almost disappears in plain sight.
In the real world of composing however, this is merely an illusion; it's not that cunning, it's just a matter of compositional technique with the fugue being written first and the prelude completely built from one of the fugue's free voices.
What's intriguing here is, even careful listeners may not at first recognize that the prelude's theme is hidden in the fugue; it appears in the fugue only once, and when it does, even though it's in the soprano line, it's virtually camouflaged by the busy melodic activity going on underneath it.
The score for Prelude and Fugue in a minor Op. 25 is an example of a prelude and fugue where the pair are completely unrelated except for one thing: the theme for the prelude is used one time in the fugue, in just one place, as a free voice which completes a 4 part texture [See menu bar, Free Stuff, Op. 24-25 subpage].
The Fugue is in 4 voices with 2 countersubjects and a subject 5 bars long which first enters in the tenor on the 1st scale degree and is answered in the alto on the 5th scale degree, as expected; a short passage of 2 bars allows a smooth return from the dominant to the home key in preparation for the 3rd entry.
The 3rd entry is in the soprano with the 1st countersubject in the alto and the 2nd countersubject in the tenor, again as expected.
The 4th entry is in the bass with the 1st countersubject in the soprano, the 2nd countersubject in the alto, and the free voice in the tenor, again, all as expected.
Additional entries of the subject in the expositions which follow proceed through all nearly related keys in this order: C Major, e minor, G Major, d minor, and F Major, with a return to the home key for the final entry); these expositions are each separated by 4 bar modulating episodes employing sequences based upon fragments of the subject or countersubjects, sometimes in inverse movement.
When the subject enters in d minor in the alto, the 1st countersubject enters in the tenor, the 2nd countersubject in the bass, and a free voice fills in the soprano to complete a 4 voice texture; it's this free voice which will become the theme for the Prelude.
The subject enters in the lowest octave of the pedals for the final entry, following many examples left to us by J.S. Bach; a short coda of 6 bars over a dominant pedal point rounds out the work which finishes with a trill on the penultimate chord; a 5th voice is added here and the piece ends in 6 voices on a Picardy third (major 3rd interval in the final chord of a piece written in a minor key).
As for the Prelude, it's constructed, once again, in the 6-part form which Louis Vierne taught his students to employ for improvisation on a single free theme [See blog, Learning By Example, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXXII; here the top line from the d minor exposition in the Fugue is used for the theme of the Prelude.
This Prelude begins with 2 bars introducing the first bar of the theme in inverse movement in the tenor line over a reiterated low A in the pedal; the theme then enters in the soprano line and is harmonized in 4 parts over the course of the next 7 bars, ending in a perfect cadence in the home key; this completes the 1st exposition of the theme.
Part 2 is a bridge section of 6 bars consisting of 2 short phrases of 3 bars each which outline the first bar of the theme, first right side up and then in inverse movement, and modulates to the raised submediant key (f# minor).
Part 3 is the 2nd exposition of the theme in f# minor; here again the theme enters in the soprano, but this time with the tenor line following it in imitation at the distance of a half bar at the interval of a 5th; this continues for 7 bars, is harmonized in 4 parts, and ends with a perfect cadence.
What follows is a section 20 bars in length which develops the first bar of the theme in inverse movement; this development section begins in the parallel major key (A Major) and modulates through the keys of C Major, Eb Major, d minor, and b minor before coming to stop which points back to f# minor.
Part 5 is a passage of 4 bars which functions as the preparation for the reentry; it consists of 2 phrases each 2 bars long which modulates from f# minor to g minor and finally points to the home key.
The final 6th section is the reentry of the theme in the top line, in the home key, which is harmonized again in 4 voices.
A coda of 8 bars concludes the piece; in this coda the theme is reiterated slowly in the pedal and segmented until nothing is left of it but a single tonic note; the work ends very quietly in the primitive gloom of the a minor home key.
The way this Prelude is put together, particularly the development section with its several excursions into distant keys and the employment of the raised submediant key in the 2nd entry, will repay careful study and may be used as a model for any number of similar works.
Prelude and Fugue in b minor Op. 26, for example, is closely related to this work both formally and thematically [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXXII].
(con't in Part XXXII)

Jan. 23, 2018

There's no telling when a teacher's influence will ever end (photo).
The thought of being able to study with a student of a student of a student, etc., all the way back to some famous composer or virtuoso organist from history is an idea, a nice one at that, which might help us better see the big picture about carrying on the tradition of organ playing as passed down through previous generations.
We need to be aware, of course, of the perils of placing a blind trust in genealogy, as different organists in an unbroken chain of generations of teacher-pupil succession have not always been consistent in observing or passing along everything they learned from their teacher(s).
In addition, teachers are subject to the revolutions in thinking of their own day which may impact very strongly on their ideas of the traditions they need to be passing along to their students.
In some cases this can be so powerful an influence that it can even change the definition of what constitutes a "tradition" in organ playing.
Therefore, having a traceable lineage back to some famous musician does not give us a bulletproof guarantee that everything we've learned from our teachers is identical in every respect to some "tradition."
What it DOES do, is that it creates a responsibility on each of us to be better, to practice more, to be the best we can, and to spread our message as far as we can.

Jan. 20, 2018

When we're writing a piece of organ music and examining the score, looking for synchrony, we realize, if we haven't already, that the process of creation involved with composition is a whole lot like improvisation.
Only in very slow motion (photo).
There is this difference however: with composition, we can go back, as many times as we want, and insert, remove, or change whatever we feel needs editing, if anything; it's like driving on a road where it's possible to back up.
With improvisation, we're on a one way street in a vehicle with no reverse gear; whatever we improvise, once played, stands just the way it is [See blog, Improvisation, Parts I-VI].
But knowing something about both kinds of roads is part of learning what driving is all about.