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).
In a double fugue there are 2 ways you can develop these subjects: 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), which is less common, or 2) you can give each one a separate exposition and development of its own followed by a combinatory section which creates a fugue in 3 separate sections.
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 proceeds mostly by step (conjunct motion), enters at the outset in the alto in the somber home key of c minor, and is provided with a real answer in the tenor, in the dominant, 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 smoothly to the home key for the 3rd entry, as expected, which is in the soprano; the 4th entry also follows smoothly in the bass, in the dominant, all in accordance with common practice.
Additional entries follow in the related keys of Bb Major and f minor before the music returns to the home key for the 2nd section; these entries are separated by episodes in 3 voices where the pedal line drops out, and this section ends on a full cadence.
This 2nd (middle) section is a good place to introduce a little of the unexpected.
There's no harm, no foul, with a composer introducing a little something surprising when it comes to exploring the boundaries of their art; once the ability to write an acceptable exposition like this is demonstrated, one might feel more confident to do something a step bolder, if they wish.
We don't want to crush our audiences underneath an avalanche of surprises at every turn in our music however -- the idea is to just give them a little taste of the unexpected, to tantalize the listener a little so the music doesn't sound the same, page after page; this could take the form of a not-too-far deviation from common practice, a series of deviations, a bent rule, or even a broken rule.
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 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 confusing and needlessly complicated compared with the newer, more simplified style that was gaining popularity at the time.
They 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 subject proceeds more by leap (disjunct motion), begins on the 1st scale degree, enters in the soprano in the home key on the 1st scale degree, and interplays immediately with another moving line; this extra line was added to keep the texture from thinning down to only one voice which would result in a falling off of the energy level.
After the 2nd subject enters, another figure, or motif, 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) then comes not in the dominant as expected but, surprise, once again in the home key, in the tenor, as the soprano continues with a matching countersubject.
Already in this 2nd entry, with the answer in the tonic key and the intrusion of a motif in front of it, we sense that things in this 2nd section are beginning to get a little funky, but with the 3rd entry the music takes a really unexpected turn:
The 3rd entry -- surprise again -- is also in the home key, this time in the bass; the tenor meanwhile takes the matching countersubject and the soprano carries a free voice to complete a 3 part texture.
Up to this point, we're finding in this section a fugue with 3 entries all experiencing the strong gravitational tug of the home key and seem to be stuck there, in c minor; but that, as we shall see, is about to change.
The music then slips imperceptively into the relative key of Eb Major for the 4th entry where the 2nd subject enters in the alto, with the matching countersubject shifting to the bass and 2 free voices assigned to the soprano and tenor, all as expected save for being in the relative key.
We therefore find in this exposition the typical tonic-dominant tension generated by the respective entries of the subject to be entirely lacking; instead, we find something else, viz., the home key "dominating" the dominant key through the first 3 entries, with the subject "rescued" finally from the grip of the home key by the relative key, as if to teach the home key a lesson -- to not be so selfish with the subject and allow a related key a little time with it, too.
The home key engaged here in an action, and the result was a reaction.
It cannot be denied that, compared with common practice, this is a most unusual and surprising way of building the 2nd exposition for a double fugue, one which gives up something and therefore would not be such a good idea perhaps if the 1st exposition were to begin this way ... and yet, 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; it also moves along smoothly enough not to be jarring at all to the ear; it's only jarring, as some may argue, on paper.
Having intercepted the subject, the relative key then takes it and hands it off to 2 more related keys (additional entries in the keys of Bb Major and Ab Major follow) whereupon the music returns to the home key, as it must, for the final combinatory section.
In this 3rd section both subjects enter into combination as a 2 voice pair in the key of c minor with the 1st subject in the tenor and the 2nd subject in the soprano accompanied by an increase in loudness; this is followed by the 3rd entry in the dominant key (g minor) where the 1st subject enters in the soprano, the 2nd subject in the tenor, and the 2nd subject's countersubject in the alto.
After using 2 bars to bring about a smooth return to the home key the 1st subject enters again in the top line with the 2nd subject in the tenor, the 1st subject's countersubject in the bass, and the 2nd subject's countersubject in the alto, all 4 lines sounding in quadruple counterpoint.
This place in the music where all 4 moving lines enter into combination may be rightly adjudged the passage which crowns the entire Fugue; after this, the listener tends to understand better why the subjects and countersubjects introduced earlier in the Fugue were given their characteristic melodic outlines -- the reason being that, when combined, all 4 moving lines would sound and function and work together to best enrich the harmony.
This 4 voice texture remains straight through to the end, beginning with a return to the "benevolent and protective" relative key (Eb Major) during which both subjects and their matching countersubjects are switched out; here the 2nd subject enters in the soprano, the 1st subject's countersubject in the bass, and a free voice in the tenor.
This is immediately followed by another entry of the voices in the same key, this time with the 1st subject in the soprano, the 2nd subject's countersubject in the bass, and a free voice still in the tenor.
As this 3rd section proceeds we get the sense that the reaction brought about by the prior action of the home key in dealing with the 2nd subject in the 2nd section is continuing; the relative key (Eb Major), based on previous history, maintains possession of BOTH subjects this time, under its own care and protection ... right up until the inevitable turn into the home key during the coda.
For this stretto both subjects appear in the outer voices (soprano and bass); the relative key continues as the 2nd subject enters in the bass and is repeated in the soprano a half bar later; meanwhile the 2nd subject's countersubject fills in the tenor and a free voice fills in the alto.
After this plays out the 1st subject then enters in the bass and is imitated in the alto at the distance of a half bar, this time with 2 free voices filling in the tenor and soprano.
The outline of the 1st subject remains in the top line in the coda which follows, the inverted 2nd subject enters in the tenor, and 2 free voices based upon rhythmic elements of the 2 subjects enter in the alto and bass; here the home key exerts its dominance finally using a held low C pedal point over which an additional 5th voice (low tenor, or baritone) is added; this tonic pedal point functions as the tonal anchor needed for the home key to finish with the required finality.
The music undergoes a crescendo as the final chord employing a Picardy 3rd is approached, and the music ends ends in 7 voices with the full power of the organ; the melodic curve of the inverse of the 1st subject is heard in this coda followed by another melodic figure from which it is separated by a deceptive cadence; the latter figure is treated in imitation at the distance of a quarter bar and derives its rhythm outline from the 2nd subject.
It's of interest that the rhythmic outline and melodic curve of this latter figure was used to build a longer fugue subject which was employed in this composer's Op. 22 d minor Postlude, composed later [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXVII]; it simply demonstrates one of the many wonders of music -- that the same basic thematic material can be reworked, expanded, repacked in a different key, and used to build an entirely new composition.
And so, we find in this c minor double Fugue, particularly in its middle and final sections, some different things and a few surprises.
There are as many ways of writing a double fugue (or any other piece of music, for that matter) as there are people; this example is just one way to do it based upon what the thematic material suggested to the author of this blog.
We can blaze some new trails with our work and create our own signature moves 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.
The message this piece sends is simply this: In the 1st section we find something very traditional, almost severe in its normalcy; in the 2nd section we observe something very alternative and free spirited doing it's own thing; so then, in the 3rd section, the question develops as to whether these 2 disparaging elements that emerge from such different backgrounds can actually reach a place where they can work and play together nicely ... and the answer we find is, yes indeed, they can, and they do.
By entering into combination like this, they end up contributing to and enriching the harmony in fact, in a way that would be lacking without it.
As long as the concept behind our composing or improvising is clear and understandable like this, we should have no fear of it being accepted by the public, no matter how original or unusual it may happen to be; all we have to do is look at what's posing for and being recognized as art these days to convince us that the mainstream art-loving world of today will approve of, if not venerate, just about anything.
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)