Jan. 8, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part VI

(con't from Part V)
Let's say, you're getting really ambitious with your music writing, and now, after some previous successes with fugue writing in triple counterpoint, you're beginning to entertain the idea of composing a double fugue which exemplifies quadruple counterpoint and maybe takes a turn or two which departs from common practice.
And you feel like you're ready now, having lifted enough weight already (photo), to take that risk as an artist, to see if you can discover beauty where you were told, or led to believe, that there was none.
Please be advised that we walk a fine line here; we want to have good reason for deviating from the common practice of composers that has come down to us over a very long time; editors and professional musicians steeped in all the rules of voice leading and common practice tend to look at these deviations and right away begin to wonder whether the composer was sufficiently schooled; we assume a certain risk in this respect to be daring enough to write our music in some other manner than what common practice prescribes.
The thing is, when it's limited and the result sounds smooth, beautiful, interesting, connects well with everything else, and is based on a new twist in dealing with an old problem, sure it takes guts in the beginning, lot's of it, but it's even more rewarding and satisfying in the end [See blog, It Takes Guts].
For this you'll need 2 subjects which fit together rhythmically and tonally such that when they're heard in combination they blend harmonically and, when thus blended, a relentless driving movement is maintained for the "unit value" (the most common note value found in the piece).
There are 2 ways you can develop the 2 subjects in your double fugue: 1) you can start both of them out together from the beginning as an inseparable pair (as in Bach's thema fugatum in c minor paired with his Passacaglia), or 2) you can give each one a separate exposition and development of its own followed by a 3rd combinatory section in which both subjects enter together for the first time.
Let's say you choose the second way ... this will be a fun exercise for you and cause you to make many interesting discoveries as you penetrate a little deeper into the way this is done.
First and foremost, since your 2 subjects need to be capable of combination, the 3rd or combinatory section of the piece needs to be worked out and written first.
A subject of a fugue doesn't have to have a countersubject, but in a double fugue like this, it's good for each subject to have its own countersubject, which creates 4 separate lines which can be combined in the final section in quadruple counterpoint.
An exceptionally good fugue theme will also be constructed in a way to make a stretto (overlapping of voice entries) possible at the distance of a bar or half bar or maybe 2 bars; when this can be worked into the scheme it heightens the tension in the work and helps to raise the energy level.
It's important to recognize however that a stretto is not necessary in order to have a well worked fugue; some of the finest organ fugues of J.S. Bach have no stretto at all, nor do they make use of inverse movement or inversions of the theme [See blog, Inversions].
If you can find a stretto in your theme however, it presents an opportunity.
You'll also need to settle in advance how you want the voices in their various combinations to enter with the entries which follow the exposition so that duplication of combinations can be avoided and nothing about the order of keys or entries is left to chance.
Keeping track of all the moving lines without a plan in mind will quickly boggle the mind; which is why writing this plan down on a separate sheet of paper and working from that is highly recommended [See blog, Ten Steps, Getting Started With Writing, Part V].
It's also good to have an idea about how long the modulating episodes between entries will be and to keep to this throughout the course of the fugue, bearing in mind that short episodes make for a rapid and weighty development; in this case, the composer made the bold artistic decision to provide only one bar of modulating material between entries in the 1st section with very truncated episodes in the remainder of the piece.
An example of this type of design may be found in the gutsy double Fugue from the c minor Prelude & Fugue Op. 11 [See menu bar, Free Stuff, 8 Pieces for the Organ Op. 10-17].
It will help to print a copy of this score as this narrative is followed ...
If your regular tempo for a fugue is an Allegro around quarter note = 130, then you might start the 1st section of this work at this tempo and then step it up to quarter note = 134 moving into the 2nd section with a return to the 130 tempo for the 3rd section; this will provide contrast, nuance, elasticity, and keep it from sounding mechanical.
The 1st subject of this Fugue enters at the outset in the alto and is provided with a real answer in the tenor, in the dominant key, on the 5th scale degree (as expected for a subject beginning on the 1st degree of the scale).
As the alto line goes on to play a matching countersubject with the answer, perpetual 8th note motion is created when both lines are combined.
The music returns by means of a short link to the home key for the 3rd entry in the soprano; this 3rd line, since it is maintained throughout each subsequent entry, becomes a 2nd countersubject; this is followed by the 4th entry in the bass, in the dominant, all in accordance with common practice.
This 4th line, because it is also maintained throughout, becomes a 3rd countersubject and, while it is the only countersubject which does not appear in the bass in this section, this creates a writing in quadruple counterpoint.
Two more entries follow in the related keys of Bb Major and f minor before the music returns to the home key for the 2nd section; during these entries the first 2 countersubjects take turns entering in the bass; these entries are separated by episodes in 3 voices where the pedal line drops out.
In both of these episodes variation B of the countersubject from the 2nd section is quoted in the top line, thus lending a very strong sense of unity to these 2 separate sections.
This section concludes with a full cadence in the home key.
A very bold 2nd section then follows which takes some unexpected turns; we don't want to crush our audiences underneath an avalanche of surprises at every turn in our music, but it's a good idea to provide a little taste of the unexpected, to tantalize the listener a little so the music doesn't sound the same, page after page.
It's a fact that Herr Bach, the practical work-a-day musician and the greatest fugue writer in history, broke every would-be "rule" at one time or another.
Cesar Franck had this to tell his students about some of the same things they were doing when they studied composition privately with him: "They would not let you do that at the Conservatoire, but I like it very much."
Both men in fact would be among the first to promote the progress of their art through reasoned experiment and the simple truth that, in organ playing, no rule is ever "absolute."
The great statue of Bach in the courtyard of the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas' Church) in Leipzig, where he spent the last 27 years of his life and where he composed the St. Matthew Passion, b minor Mass, and the Art of Fugue, stands there proudly.
Another beautifully sculpted monument to the memory of maestro Franck sits in the courtyard of the church of St. Clotilde in Paris; monuments like this have been erected all over Europe to honor some of the greatest composers and thinkers from history.
Strange, isn't it, though we search air, land, and sea all over the globe, we have so much trouble finding one statue erected to a music critic.
One more thing, and it should be said; Bach was severely criticized, even attacked in print, by his detractors for writing and improvising music that, to them, took too many liberties, mingled too many strange harmonies in the chorales, and was "needlessly complicated by art" compared with the newer, more simplified style that was gaining popularity at the time.
His detractors also took the opportunity while they were at it to poke fun at musicians in general, and him in particular, for being among the lesser educated of society.
Today we remember Bach, but we have trouble naming any of those detractors of his ... their names for the most part are lost to the dust bin of history and are only remembered, if at all, because of him, while his name will be forever enshrined as one of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment and arguably the greatest musician who ever lived, with Beethoven running a very close second.
Bach put music on a plateau that no one else has ever reached; and every composer since him has to be Bach's disciple.
Returning to the Op. 11 Fugue, the 2nd (middle) section introduces a 2nd subject which begins on the 1st scale degree; it enters in the home key, first in the soprano, on the 1st scale degree, and interplays immediately with another moving line; this extra line was added to keep the energy level of the music from falling off so that at least 2 lines are moving at all times.
After the 2nd subject enters, another figure in descending broken 3rds in the tenor line intrudes itself before the answer; the answer (which is real in the sense of being a literal repetition of the subject) is also in the home key, in the tenor, as the soprano continues with a countersubject.
The 3rd entry is in the alto, also in the home key.
The music then slips boldly and almost imperceptively into the relative key of Eb Major for the 4th entry, which is in the bass; this is followed by an episode in which the countersubject (variation A) undergoes a partial reshaping (variation B) differing from its initial version only in its last half.
In this exposition the typical tonic-dominant tension generated by the respective entries of the subject is entirely lacking; instead, we find the home key exerting its own gravitational tug through the first 3 entries, with the subject escaping finally from the grip of the home key into the relative key.
This is a very bold way of building a fugue exposition, one which relinquishes something (the tonic-dominant tension) and therefore would not be such a good idea perhaps if the Fugue were to begin this way ... it also cannot be denied that it's also gained a little something at the same time, viz., an interest in its own right because of the contrast it offers with the 1st exposition.
The music continues through 2 more entries in related keys during which only variation B of the countersubject from the section section is paired with the subject; this section also ends in the full cadence in the home key.
In the 3rd and final section both subjects enter into combination, first as a 2 voice pair in the home key; this is followed by the 3rd entry in the dominant key during which another line is added to create a 3-part texture.
A modulating link of 2 bars then brings about a smooth return to the home key where both subjects enter again, along with the 1st countersubject from the 1st section and the countersubject from the 2nd section (variation A).
This combinatory passage in the music may be rightly adjudged the crowning glory of the entire Fugue (this working out must necessarily be an early phase in the construction of every double fugue).
The music then slips into the relative key during an episode in which the 2nd subject is quoted in the top line; this is followed by an entry of the 1st subject in the relative key paired with variation B of the countersubject from the 2nd section.
An 8-bar pseudo-stretto passage follows in which the 2nd subject enters in the bass and is imitated in the soprano at the distance of a half bar; variation B of the countersubject from the 2nd section, in altered form, enters in the tenor at the same time; the 1st subject then enters in the bass and is strictly imitated in the soprano at the distance of a half bar.
A coda of 10 bars concludes the work in which the inversion of the 1st subject enters in the top line along with the return of the low tenor (baritone) voice which replaces the tenor and carries an additional figure.
The texture then thickens to 5 voices as the tenor line resumes; here the additional figure is treated in imitation at the octave at the distance of a half bar over a low C pedal point.
The finality needed for the home key to exert itself at the conclusion of the coda is provided by this held low C, a marked slowing of the tempo, a full cadence, and a very strongly accented final chord.
The music also undergoes a crescendo as this final chord is approached, and the music concludes in 7 voices with the full power of the instrument, employing a double Picardy 3rd.
This score is annotated with additional markings to indicate the various entries of the subjects and countersubjects, as an aid to understanding its structure.
Thus, we find in this c minor double Fugue, particularly in its central section, some very different things and a few surprises.
We can blaze some new trails with our work and create our own signature moves like this if we use the models the masters left to us and a sturdy subject (or two) as a starting point, observe the general rules of part writing and common practice, experiment a little with it, and do a little of the unexpected.
There's no shame in being a bit daring at times in the way we do our composing; we should not be afraid to lean once in a while upon that heavy rule book [See blog, The Rule Book] that seems poised to crush us at the first sign of a risky move; nothing on this earth, including a rule book, drives our creativity; all of its power comes from above where creation has its home (photo).
At the same time we should have good reasons for whatever we do that's a bit audacious, atypical, or deviates from normality.
The idea is to push the boundaries of our art; if we get an idea for something different that seems like it will work, then we should by all means give it a try and trust our ear with the results.
What seems outlandish at first can always be modified or edited to get it to where we like it better, but it just might open a door to some new discovery or two.
Whether this laboratory experiment in fugue construction succeeded in upsetting the apple cart too much or introduced just enough novelty to transform this music from common to uncommon, only time will tell, and only someone besides its creator will be able to say.
In the meanwhile, we can sit back and enjoy this piece and what it endeavors to describe in musical terms.
For a description of the paired Prelude, see the blog/archive [Getting Started With Writing, Part XIII].
(con't in Part VII)