Jan. 4, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part V

(con't from Part IV)
We have seen that we don't need pen and paper to write music these days; there are several music writing software programs which can be used with our notebook PC to do this electronically far more quickly and easily, and they're all good [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part I].
In the case of Noteflight, for example, this is an online music writing application which allows us to compose directly without having to download a program to our computer, and this one happens to be particularly easy to understand and get used to using.
Once we become familiar with Noteflight, for example (and it doesn't take long), we can use it as a tool to create additional organ pieces using our imaginary skill.
To create an Organ score of 3 staves using Noteflight, we simply sign up for the program; we'll need to supply a user name and password which are required for us to get back into our home page.
Once we have our Noteflight home page set up and return to it to set up a blank organ score, we just sign in using our user name and password, then click "New Score" in the top menu bar of our home page, select "Organ" in the menu box and click "OK," and now we have 3 blank staves in front of us on which we can begin composing; we next give this file a name (like "Blank Score Op. 1"), type our name on it where it says "Composer," and save this to our home page.
Even those like this author, who aren't naturally computer-savvy and were dragged kicking and screaming into the computer age, will find this to be about as simple to understand and follow as it gets.
We can always go back and change the name later, after we decide what kind of piece our Opus 1 will be.
Now we're off and running.
Let's say we're interested in writing an organ fugue without using inversions anywhere [See blog, Inversions], but still doing a few bold and unexpected things.
We keep in mind, always, to strive for excellence, not perfection, that perfection is the art killer; not everything that flows from our pen has to be the next Michelangelo masterpiece; we don't have to be J.S. Bach to be able to write an interesting, correctly-crafted organ fugue.
This is NOT as daunting a task as it first appears; it just takes the right tools, a dogged determination to keep at it, and a decision to work in little bits at a time.
We simply sit down and pull up our blank Noteflight staff for Organ (3 staves); we next double check that we have our name entered as composer on the right, an Opus number (Op. 1 in this case) on the left, and a title for our piece; we stare at that blank staff and let your imagination run free; we start with an idea, a subject; that subject with come, and a key signature and time signature will be suggested right along with it.
This fugue subject of ours can be regular in length (2, 4, 6, or 8 bars) or irregular (1, 3, 5, or 7 bars in length); it might start with slow notes or a dotted rhythm, then pick up speed, and end with faster notes in its "tail."
This subject should be shaped with an eye to contrapuntal elaboration, particularly stretto (overlapping of entries in canonic imitation after the last exposition), but if a stretto isn't possible, that's okay; some of the finest organ fugues of J.S. Bach did not lend themselves to stretto at all.
Next we place that subject in one voice and enter it into the blank score along with the appropriate key and time signatures; we can do this by clicking the little box with 3 lines in the left margin of the top menu to open the vertical menu, then click "measure" from the vertical menu, then click "change key signature" or "change time signature" and make our selections; once we settle on this we can then click "Play" in the top menu bar to listen to it.
The key selected should be one that will accommodate the subject's tessitura (range) mostly within the 5 lines and 4 spaces of the staff, and exploit to the fullest the 5 (nearest on the circle) related keys to which the theme might modulate with the greatest ease during the course of the fugue.
Once we settle on the subject, key, and time signature and get these entered on our electronic score, we STOP and take a break (unless our creativity is really on fire) and save our work in order to resume it later.
The entire development of our fugue will be wrapped up in this little subject of ours; it contains in germinal form all of its twists and turns and everything that's going to happen, so it should be crafted carefully looking ahead to how it can be worked contrapuntally; we also remember that not every theme lends itself to fugal procedure.
It will help to download and print a hard copy of the d minor Op. 10 Praeludium, Chorale, & Fugue Op. 10 and follow it with this narrative about how it was put together [See menu bar, Free Stuff].
It's a good idea and necessary, whether we're writing or improvising, to settle it in our minds ahead of time about how many entries in the various keys there will be and which voices will carry the subject and countersubject(s) so that nothing is left to chance.
It helps to work this out on a separate sheet of paper to help guide the construction of these entries; once this is done, all we have to do next is create some episodic material to string all the entries together and, save for the stretto (if there is one) and the closing, the fugue is written!
When the next day rolls around we sit down again to do our work a little at a time; we pull up our score again by its title and listen to the subject again by pressing "Play" in the top menu bar.
Pretty soon we begin learning that the concept of having 2 recurring countersubjects worked in triple counterpoint with the subject is working for us through a series of entries and is not as difficult as it sounds.
Usually, in a 4 part fugue exposition, the entrances are made in alternating tonic-dominant tonalities.
In this case, since we plan to start the subject on the 1st scale degree, it can be supplied with a real answer in the dominant.
A word of caution should be offered however (there are so many cautionaries in music), as Pablo Picasso so rightly points out, that we should first learn the rule book like a pro [See blog, The Rule Book] so that, if the opportunity presents itself for the discovery of additional beauty, we will know how to bend or break those rules like an artist.
A brief summary of the rules of voice leading and common practice fugue writing to get one started with composing for the organ has been posted on this blog [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
During the course of the fugue we may find it necessary, for good and sufficient reasons, to tweak the subject or countersubject(s) [See blog, Tweaking].
We make the countersubjects move in faster notes whenever the notes in the subject happen to be stationary or moving in longer notes; when the subject is moving we can use longer note values in the countersubjects; the important thing to remember is to create perpetual 8th note or 16th note motion when the subject and countersubjects are combined.
The countersubject(s) should sound just as tuneful and be just as singable as the subject, all by themselves; this is the secret to a securing smooth sounding counterpoint.
We're now able to sit back and admire our subject and its (1st) countersubject sounding together, all well and good; we STOP AGAIN, and wait until tomorrow to return to our writing (unless we're still chomping at the bit for more); we save our work, day to day.
Returning to our work the next day with our minds further refreshed, and, following many models left to us by the greatest fugue writer in history, a few notes or perhaps a brief passage which functions to bring about a smooth return to the home key for the 3rd entry might be inserted here; such an insertion is called a codetta, interlude, or link.
The 3rd entry will reiterate the subject in the home key again; meanwhile the voice that carried the answer will go on to carry the (1st) countersubject; the 3rd voice will be shaped to complement the other 2 lines rhythmically and line up with them in such a way that consonant chordal harmony will be created vertically at any point.
It goes without saying that each of these moving lines should not just make chordal harmony when all 3 are combined, but each one should be a pleasing melody all by itself.
Whenever 2 or more voices can be interchanged or flip-flopped like this, where any of them may serve as a bass and still make good harmony, we find ourselves writing in "invertible counterpoint."
We have double, triple and quadruple counterpoint whenever 2, 3, or 4 voices, respectively, may be thusly interchanged.
It isn't all that tricky to come up with a good, workable 2nd countersubject; as long as it has no awkward skips such as 7ths, augmented 4ths (tritones), augmented 2nds ascending in the minor key, etc., it doesn't have to be as tuneful necessarily as the 1st countersubject; it just needs to be a good "fit" rhythmically and harmonically with the subject and 1st countersubject when all 3 sound together in triple counterpoint.
Again, after the 3rd entry in the exposition, we might opt to delay the 4th entry for a few measures to effect a smoother transition.
If we strive to make any free voice "sing" as a melody as well as any other voice in the fugue we may be surprised at how well all 4 voices will blend together beautifully; we can check how well things are sounding anywhere in the process by clicking "Play" in the top menu bar.
Any time we're feeling fatigue during these sessions it's advisable to STOP AGAIN and take another break, leaving off our work until the next day; this is important: we listen to what our body is telling us when we're writing our music, and we don't try to push our mind when our body is tired, needs rest, and we're too exhausted mentally to concentrate.
Returning to this exposition of ours, it works well to complete it using a modulation to the relative key, with the Pedal line coming to a stop for the 1st episode.
We can accomplish this effectively by means of sequences [See blog, Sequences].
Now, suddenly, we arrive at a point in our Fugue between subsequent entries where we can "do anything we want," and we realize it's more challenging to come up with a good episode that sounds like it belongs, but we fear not, because there are several possibilities:
We can use "snippets" of the subject, or one of the 2 countersubjects, or their inversions [See blog, Inversions], or their retrogrades [See blog, Retrograde], or their retrograde inversions, as material for this episode; we could also invent a new line using one of these rhythms and build a 2nd line around it; we could rhythmically transform that material (same pitches, different note values) to come up with additional related material; if our Fugue is built upon a line of a hymn, we can use an episode to introduce the rhythm of one of the other lines of the same hymn.
We could try reiterating the subject and one of its countersubjects in an episode, thinning the texture down to only 2 lines, one in each hand; we might then tweak the tail of the subject again for the sake of variety.
Then, if we wish, we can modulate back to the home key during this episode, using spread arpeggios and a further thinning of the texture down to perhaps 2 voices -- a single melodic line over a reiterated Pedal note.
It will be noted here, in this score, that Bach's melodic signature Bb-A-C-B in the German language (photo) has been written into the counterpoint of this episode, in the tenor line, to pay homage to the dedicatee.
At the next entry of the subject there are a great many options:
We might get a little daring here and boldly modulate to an unrelated key (such as c minor), returning to a 4 voice texture with a Pedal line, placing the subject, let's say, in the top line, the 1st countersubject in the bass, and the 2nd countersubject in the tenor; if the 4th free voice can be maintained in the alto and it makes a pleasing melody all by itself, then we have a 3rd countersubject, and the writing is in quadruple counterpoint.
We can get even more daring by inserting another episode in the key relative to THAT one, where the texture is only thinned to, let's say, 3 voices, 2 of which (soprano and bass) are free and play on both sides of a 3rd middle voice (tenor) which reiterates one of the countersubjects!
Doing something bold and unexpected like this keeps the Pedal line going and will create additional interest in what might otherwise be considered by the listener as the ordinary run of business [See blog, Do The Unexpected}.
After this, for the next entry of the subject, we can keep the Pedal line moving, modulate to the relative key of the subdominant, and keep the subject in the soprano, but, this time have the 1st countersubject carried in the alto, the 2nd countersubject carried in the bass, and the 3rd countersubject in the tenor, all 4 sounding together.
It's very easy from there, to pass directly to the subdominant tonality without any intervening episode, moving the subject to the bass, the 2nd countersubject to the tenor, the 1st countersubject to the alto, and the 3rd countersubject on top.
The subdominant key is, historically, a favorite tonality for preceding the final entry in the home key; saving the subdominant like this for the end of the Fugue helps to reestablish the balance of tonalities and reaffirms the original key.
A stretto of the subject might also be worked into the coda over a stretch of, let's say, 9 bars in the home key where a 2nd tenor line is added midway through, maybe over a dominant pedal point, increasing the texture gradually from 2 to 5 voices; this might then lead to a chromatically winding series of 3rds in the left hand as the swell shoe is further opened, with an unexpected turn into the relative key for a moment before making a quick turn back to the dominant, and then to the final tonic chord with a double Picardy 3rd over the full power of the instrument in, let's say, 6 voices employing a double pedal in octaves.
Any of this can be worked out before the rest of the fugue is ready to hook on to it.
There's nothing wrong with doing things this way; it's certainly permissible, as long as the general rules of part writing are observed, to let the imagination run free here and write any portion of a fugue before any other; this is YOUR piece, and the sky's the limit.
We're the author of our own novel here, the sculptor of our own statue, the potter of our own pottery, the artist of our own painting, the architect of our own building, the commanding general in our own army; we exercise our own poetic license to decide how the subject will be handled artistically [See blog, Poetic License].
The recipe just described was the plan and procedure followed for the writing of the Fugue from the d minor Op. 10 Praeludium, Chorale, & Fugue [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Parts III, XXII].
One will note that the governing idea for each part of this spacious tri-partite work is the same 9-note stepwise figure in the same key and very similar in melodic curve to the idea used by J.S. Bach, the dedicatee of this work, in his d minor Toccata & Fugue BWV 565, a piece given that name by later copyists but which Bach would have known by the simple term "Praeludium."
Bach's melodic signature in the German language (Bb-A-C-B natural) has been woven into the counterpoint in all 3 parts of this work to honor the dedicatee and is so indicated in the score.
The central slow movement has been published separately under the title "Chorale in d minor Op. 9" for manuals only, a further honoring of the dedicatee whose habit is often was to incorporate previously composed music into a new work.
One will also note that the subject of the Fugue at hand begins on the 1st scale degree and is answered where it should be, following the rule, on the 5th degree.
This music takes a few characteristic turns, notably the one long central episode, the echo passages for the hands, excursions into unrelated keys (c minor, Eb Major), and everything coming to a complete stop before the stretto section; doing a little of the unexpected like this is what turns the common into the uncommon and helps to keep the music from sounding dull.
The bass line is animated and will require some practice to perform; the "3rd hand" represented by the 2 feet, after a time of training, should be able to do anything either hand can do all by itself, and then some.
(con't in Part VI)