Jan. 15, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part VIII

(con't from Part VII)
As the act of writing for the organ the quick and easy way [See blog, Ten Steps, Getting Started with Writing, Part VII] becomes more second nature to you, it's time to have some fun with it.
There's no more fun, exuberant little dance piece to write, play, or listen to on the organ than a brisk "Jig" fugue [See blog, Audience Appeal].
As the late concert organist Dr. Virgil Fox said on one of his tours regarding Bach's famous "Jig" Fugue in G Major, a work that invariably was on every one of his all Bach programs, "the tune comes one, two, three times in the hands, and the 4th time when it comes in the feet I dance the jig."
This is dance music that, when it's performed with vigor, gets everybody's toes tapping, the kind of stuff that stimulates every creature with ears and legs to get their feet moving.
Because of the energy inherent in this type of music, when it's performed at a very brisk tempo with a fuller sound it tends to rivet the audience's attention; performing it more slowly with a flute registration tends to rob it of some of its energy; it is, after all, a dance.
If the pedals are still a bit intimidating for the new organist, we might want to check out the score for the D Major Fugue a la gigue Op. 6 for 2 hands only, and learn that piece first [See blog, Audience Appeal, How To Learn A Fugue, Parts I,II]] -- without a 3rd staff to read, it's a bit simpler.
Your fugue will begin with the subject, or theme, in compound duple (6/8) time entering in one of the 4 voices all by itself which, after it runs its course, will be repeated either higher or lower in a different voice, which is called the answer.
The 1st voice meanwhile will go on to play another melodic line which complements the answer and provides continual motion when combined with it; similar motion between these 2 lines briefly is permissible, but when one line goes up, the other one should go down in contrary motion or at least remain stationary (oblique motion), if possible, with contrary motion being preferable.
Once again, it's important, when we're writing a fugue, to work out in advance on a separate sheet of paper how we're going to present the subject and its countersubject(s) in the various entries [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Parts V, VI].
Obviously, if a fugue in 4 voices has more than 4 entries subsequent to the exposition it will be necessary to repeat the same melodic line in the same voice in more than one entry; this is to be accepted as a fact of life.
In general however, we should strive to move these melodic lines around in the various entries and leave nothing to chance; the idea is to avoid duplication as much as possible and try to give each melodic line (subject and both countersubjects) a chance to enter in all 4 voices.
Ideally, the subject and its countersubject(s) should appear at least once in all 4 voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass); we can trust and count on our own judgment and ear to guide us with this as our piece takes shape [See blog, Poetic License].
The order of key entries of the 4 voices in the exposition is typically tonic, dominant, tonic, dominant when the subject begins on the 1st degree of the scale; if the subject begins on the 5th degree of the scale the order of entries is typically tonic, subdominant, tonic, subdominant, but this is subject to change depending upon the shape of the countersubjects.
J.S. Bach in fact HAD to adopt this latter method in the exposition of the Fugue in his "great" d minor Toccata & Fugue due to the reiterated dominant note in the subject, which dictated that the answer be in the subdominant [See blog, Bach d minor, Parts I, II, III, IV].
It was also Bach's habit, when writing an organ fugue, to save the lowest octave of the pedals for the final entry of the subject in the home key, which exploits to the fullest the downward sonority of the instrument.
We would do well to consider and adopt this, as well as all other habits of his, as a fugue writer.
The starting note of a fugue could also be on the mediant or any other scale degree, as there are no definite "rules" about the subject's starting note; certain principles are in force however about on which note the subject ends [See blog, Guidelines].
In order to keep from getting lost in this labyrinth it will be found easier to work out the various entries of the subject and countersubject(s), including strettos if there are any, in advance on separate sheet of paper.
By dividing the task into smaller "chunks" like this, after these entries are worked out to our satisfaction in their various keys (typically this means the tonic, dominant, subdominant, and their relatives, up to 6 keys in all) and have these separate chunks of work saved, all we then have to do at a later time is pull them up on the screen, begin connecting them together like a string of pearls using additional episodic or transitional material based upon fragments of the subject or countersubjects and their inverses, and the fugue will seem to assemble itself [See blog, Ten Steps].
These chunks of entries and episodes can be set apart by double bars in the score as we're working through our first draft; this will help us save time finding what we want when we're scrolling through the screen; they can be changed to single bars when we're done adding notes and are proceeding with the final editing.
It's a good idea in a piece like this where the subject is 8 bars long to allow 8 bars or more of episodic (transitional) material between entries, with maybe the first 4 bars remaining in the key being left and the second 4 taking the music into the key being approached, and stick to this basic plan throughout the course of the fugue for the sake of consistency.
This type of architecture is evident to the listener and gives them an idea of when to expect the next entry.
If the key being left and the key being approached are related, the changes to the next key will be very smooth.
The texture of these episodes, or transitions, can drop to 2 voices, one in each hand.
This was the method used when writing the Op. 13 Fugue a la gigue in A Major (photo).
It will be instructive to download and print a copy of this score and examine its construction while reading through this narrative.
The subject is long and has a central descending sequence, the melodic outline of which presents a challenge in a dance fugue to keep the energy level going; a subject like this is like a falling leaf under the force of gravity which demands and uplifting wind or temporary reversal of gravity to keep it from landing on the ground.
Instead of starting on the tonic or dominant scale degrees which are the 2 strongest anchors harmonically, or, perhaps more boldly on the mediant, this subject starts unexpectedly on the supertonic (2nd scale degree), jumps upward initially in its outline, then gradually falls.
In the exposition it was decided to have the subject enter in the tenor, then in the soprano, 3rd in the alto, and 4th in the bass, thus the subject is answered in the dominant high in the soprano, initially raising the energy level.
The subject is supplied with a real answer, and one notes here that the countersubject moves in contrary motion to the subject's central descending sequence in disjunct motion to accentuate the rhythmic pulse that's critical to maintain in a "jig" dance fugue.
A short codetta brings about a return to the home key for the 3rd entry; this is in the alto line with the countersubject following in the soprano and a 3rd line entering in the starting voice, i.e. the tenor; because this 3rd line is retained throughout all subsequent entries it becomes a 2nd countersubject.
A fugue need not have a countersubject at all, and the subject may enter each time without the same contrapuntal line reappearing with it, but if that melodic line along with a 3rd one is retained in each and every exposition, we have a fugue with 2 countersubjects ... and, when the subject and both countersubjects appear in the bass at least once in the course of the fugue, the writing is in triple counterpoint.
The outline of the 2nd countersubject begins in the tenor with a held note on the dominant which leads to a sequence of repeated "bouncing" notes; here the held note acts a a brief dominant pedal point which tends to raise the tension and adds contrast with the other 2 moving lines.
In this exposition, following many examples of J.S. Bach, it was decided that a short interlude or codetta (of 8 bars) would follow the answer and precede the entry of the 3rd voice to bring about a smooth return to the home key .
The next thing to happen is the entrance of the 4th voice in the dominant, this time in the bass with the 2nd countersubject moving to the soprano, the 1st countersubject to the alto, and a free voice provided to the tenor; each time another voice enters in the exposition it follows the same order as the subject through the 4 voices.
It's important in fugue-writing that all 4 moving lines remain independent and readily identifiable to the ear, that they enter successively in the exposition in the same ordering, remain within normal voice ranges, never cross, and never produce parallel (consecutive) 5ths or octaves.
A minor tonal alteration in the outline of a line, such as the transposition to a different octave of a note approached by leap when the lines would cross without it, or perhaps to make consonant harmony with the notes around it, is permissible, but it should be kept to an absolute minimum, especially when dealing with the notes of the subject [See blog, Audience Appeal].
After the exposition an episode of 8 bars leads to the next entry without modulation, but this time, not surprisingly, the subject and both countersubjects are inverted [See blog, Inversions].
The inverted subject enters here in the tenor, the inverted 1st countersubject is carried in the bass, the inverted 2nd countersubject appears in the alto, and a free voice is assigned to the soprano.
Some may wonder why this curious entry in the dominant follows immediately on the heels of the exposition which also concludes in the dominant, or, for that matter, why this was included at all.
The reason has to do with the nature of the subject, specifically its central descending sequence.
By inverting the subject a rising sequence is obtained which creates the opposite effect, lending variety, balance, and additional energy; this is also why the conclusion of this piece following the stretto and many of its episodes between entries also have rising sequences derived by inverting the subject or countersubjects -- these are administered as an "antidote" of sorts to counteract the tendency inherent in the subject for it to lose energy.
One notes in this entry that the soprano and bass move in contrary motion to each other, but the 2 middle voices (alto and tenor) leap upward in similar motion with the soprano, again, to provide lift.
Another transition of 8 bars follows as the music modulates to the relative key of the dominant (f# minor) for the next entry.
Here all the voices return right side up; the subject remains in the tenor, the 1st countersubject moves to the soprano, the 2nd countersubject moves to the bass, and a free voice fills in the alto.
Another transition of 8 bars follows and takes the music into the key of the relative of the subdominant (b minor) for the 4th entry.
Here the free voice is assigned to the top line with the subject in the alto, the 2nd countersubject in the tenor, and the 1st countersubject is carried in the bass.
Another episode of 8 bars returns the music to the home key for the final and 5th entry; the music gets louder at this point.
It sounds less abrupt to bring on another level of sound halfway through the preceding episode when there are only 2 voices playing low on the keys.
This could be done by merely adding a stop or two or maybe a single coupler; a massive change in the sound using piston memory here should be avoided; subtle layering of sounds is what's required for this or any other type of contrapuntal music.
Following the habit of Bach, the theme is carried in the bottom octave of the pedals; the 1st countersubject shifts to the soprano and the 2nd countersubject moves to the alto, with the free voice entering a bit late in the tenor.
The subdominant key (D Major) was selected for the stretto section which follows; by saving the subdominant key like this for the closing of the Fugue it helps to reestablish the balance of tonalities and reaffirms the original key.
Here the music gets louder still, with the addition of another level of sound, and remains at this volume level straight through to the end.
The stretto begins with the subject in the bass while a soprano line continues its voice movement so there is no falling off of the energy level; the imitation then takes over this soprano voice at a distance of 2 bars.
These overlappings of the subject then continue with another imitation entering in the tenor line followed by the addition of a 4th free voice to the alto to restore a 4-part texture.
A 10-bar coda follows which reiterates the subject and its 2 countersubjects in inverse movement; using segmentation the final 4 bars recalls the "tail" of the theme and brings the music to a strict rhythmic close in 6 voices; the drawing of a 32-foot stop and the Great Reeds provides additional "punch" during the coda [See blog, Segmentation].
The top line in the final cadence is ornamented with a trill which is written into the notation to facilitate the intended execution; since the upper auxiliary note precedes the trilled note, the trill starts on the note itself.
This work moves at a fast clip but it's not fiendishly difficult to learn or play; it's also a toe-tapping crowd-pleaser with wide audience appeal hat lends itself to a recital encore or perhaps a lively postlude for a worship service on a feast day.
This is just one more example of what at first appears to be a daunting task (of writing a dance fugue in 4 voices on a subject having a descending sequence) being reduced to 10 familiar steps [see blog, Ten Steps] and the exercise of one's imagination using some familiar tools.
(con't in Part IX)