Jan. 31, 2017

Getting Started WIth Writing, Part XIII

(con't from Part XII)
Once you've taken your first steps, under the influence of this series of posts, in writing a nice fugue for the organ, you might also entertain writing a nice prelude to go with it.
There's nothing to be gained in rushing yourself to do this, but the idea is a good one and isn't far-fetched at all.
The processes involved in creating 2 different pieces destined to be paired like this are very much the same; the main difference is, in the prelude the thematic material is not subjected to strict fugal procedure ... every voice in the prelude, technically, is a free voice (unless momentarily occupied with imitating the theme), which tasks the imagination a step further than writing a fugue even, to invent something interesting to say musically, bar after bar, page after page.
All it takes is patience (with yourself), an open mind, understanding how to win your inner creative battles [See blog, The Book], a thematic idea, a plan to carry it through a certain order of keys, and familiarity with some good examples.
This is where, if you haven't already, you're going to bump into J.S. Bach.
Every hunter, if he spends enough time in the woods searching for game, will eventually run across something big; and so it is with him.
When we speak of this man we're talking about a comprehensive musical genius, someone whose sheer mastery of the techniques of composition and almost superhuman powers of invention have never been equaled.
His enormous output, the product of some 50 consecutive years of white hot creativity, can be trusted for the best models as we take our first steps in writing something in the same genre.
Based upon those manuscripts of his which have survived and his preeminence as an organist and improvisor during his lifetime, a prelude paired with a fugue is worked contrapuntally, is stylistically similar to and should be roughly 1/3 to 1/2 the length of the fugue; if the fugue is a double fugue, then the 3 sections should be roughly equal in size (25-35 measures is sufficient for each), the stretto could occupy roughly 6-8 measures, and the coda the same.
Again, using Bach as authority, paired preludes and fugues are under no obligation to spring from the same ideas.
Some authorities believe that Bach always conceived preludes and fugues in pairs and that, when we find isolated specimens of each, it means the paired work was rejected by him at some revision or another and he never got around to rewriting it.
The simple truth is, not every idea fits within the confines of a classroom outline (the teaching that if you have a Roman numeral I, you have to have a Roman number II, or if you have an part A under it, you have to have a part B ... etc.).
In the same way not all fugues lend themselves to being paired with a free work.
Some of them work very well that way, but some don't.
Study of Bach's major organ works and both books of the Well Tempered Clavier show that the majority of his preludes and fugues have no thematic connection at all with one another; they're built upon dissimilar ideas and simply share the same key.
Their grouping together as a prelude and fugue seems more like a method of convenience.
It's possible to take the subject (theme) of a fugue or its countersubject(s), or maybe a theme from another piece, and subject it to rhythmic transformation (same pitches in sequence but different note values) to create a subject for a fugue; in this procedure the pitches in succession are exactly the same but the note values are changed.
It's an easy operation that, if adopted along with the other tools described in this series of posts (Imitation, Inversion, Retrograde, Retrograde Inversion, Pedal Points, Sequencing, Augmentation, Diminution, Segmentation, etc.), yields some interesting results which may stimulate still more ideas that will seem to have your own inventive skill self-propelled.
Hidden thematic connections like this are shared by several pieces whose scores and explanatory notes are available pro bono on this web site.
For examplem, this is precisely how the theme for Prelude Internationale Op. 5 and the subject for the "Jig" Fugue in D Major Op. 6 were obtained; they both came about from rhythmic transformation of the main theme from Variations Op. 4 [See blog, Learning by Example, Audience Appeal, Monotony].
Any matching prelude however, using Bach as authority, is thematically unrelated more often than not, and exceptions to this are rare.
It will help to download a copy of Prelude and Fugue in c minor Op. 11 and follow it along as you read further about how it was put together ...
In this Opus the double Fugue was written first, and the Prelude afterwards; the Prelude is of simple construction and unusual in that it's built upon a single theme derived by rhythmic transformation, note for note, of the 1st theme from the Fugue [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part VI] using Noteflight.
One of the nice things about working with an online music writing software program like Noteflight is that our Noteflight scores can be converted to PDF form and exported to our document files, even our pictures files, and preserved there indefinitely on our notebook PC memory without being subject to the wear and tear involved with a perishable paper manuscript (photo).
More importantly, this saving of our work, day to day, on an electronic screen allows us to change or edit something without having to cross things out on paper or maybe trash the whole manuscript and start over again.
It's extremely uncommon for a composer to completely settle in his/her mind in advance the entire layout, note for note, of a composition before ever setting pen to paper; Bach, who was an extremely rare and notable example of this, immediately comes to mind.
Far more commonly however it's the other way around, as with Ludwig van Beethoven, Cesar Franck, and a host of others, where many measures were rubbed out before settling finally on the disposition of a work.
It makes us wonder what those master composers of bygone centuries could have produced if they only had access to the time-saving modern notebook PC and music writing software.
Composers of the present generation, by comparison, have a much easier and far less frustrating time of it.
There's a lesson here, one that Franck never failed to teach to his composition students: "Do not write much, but let it be very good."
Most modern composers after 1980 use computers and online music writing software, much as they would use a word processor, to put their works on (computer) paper.
This has a number of advantages; sloppy, unclear writing is difficult to accomplish compared to 1820 when Beethoven was crossing out notes in his manuscripts; editing is easy and score paper does not have to be kept on hand.
The use of pedal (held) notes [See blog, Inversion] and imitation in several places in this Prelude adds to the excitement as the music boils up quickly over 3 octaves from the bass octave of the main manual and maintains that same driving rhythm right through to the end.
Beginning with a dominant pedal point in the bass (held pedal note on the 5th scale degree) the theme of the Prelude is presented in imitation in the dominant key (g minor) first in the bass line carried in the hands, then in the tenor; these 2 moving lines in combination create a perpetual 8th note motion over the pedal point; all of the entire interest in the Prelude is focused on this 8th note motion which is developed in continuous expansion form for a duration of 45 bars.
In this type of form the music, instead of separating into recognizable sections, develops a single motif or theme from beginning to end; this often includes excursions into various keys and experimenting with various textures, inversions, sequences, dynamic levels, and the like.
The tempo of this Prelude is deliberately brisk and agitated, immediately capturing and holding the listener's ear, from the get go.
When the theme repeats in the soprano line of the middle octave of the manual the music remains in the dominant key, still over that same droning pedal point, with the addition of a free voice in the alto to complete a 3 voice texture for the hands; the tonic key (c minor), for the time being, is obscured by all that's going on in the dominant tonality.
When the theme enters finally in the Pedal in the same key the pedal point shifts to the high tenor range; after the theme runs its course in the Pedal a modulating sequence of 4 bars takes the music into the tonic tonality (c minor) and, 2 bars later, the music lands in the relative key (Eb), thus establishing c minor as the rightful tonic key and g minor as the dominant.
Here the Pedal comes to a stop and the inversion of the theme [See blog, Inversion] is heard in the soprano with 2 other free voices (alto and tenor).
Immediately after this, the theme is heard right side up in the soprano for the sake of comparison, with the 2 free voices continuing in the alto and tenor.
This hearing of the theme right side up immediately after its entry in the same voice upside down foreshadows something that will happen later on with the entry of the Pedal line in the expositions of the 1st and 2nd themes of the double fugue which follows.
So we see here that a paired prelude and fugue can have connectives not only thematically through rhythmic transformation of a theme but also by means of how the thematic material is worked.
A modulating sequence [See blog, Sequencing] of 5 bars then takes the music into the subdominant relative key (Ab) where a crescendo introduces the theme in the soprano over another dominant pedal point in the bass with the free voices in the alto and tenor continuing the 3 part texture in the hands.
The music then passes quickly to the subdominant key (f minor) where the theme switches to the tenor line over yet another dominant pedal point in the bass, with 2 free voices supplied in the soprano and alto.
This is followed by a 5 bar coda in which the music stays in the subdominant key (f minor) over, guess what, the same dominant pedal point in the bass.
Here the music undergoes a further crescendo as the first few notes of the theme are segmented [See blog, Segmentation] and reiterated in the soprano line over 2 free voices moving in the alto and tenor.
The music expands finally to 5 and then 6 voices before coming to a stop on a so-called "Picardy third" (this term refers to the major 3rd interval in the final tonic chord when it appears in a work written in the parallel minor key).
The profuse use of pedal points in this prelude along with a brisk concert tempo, crescendos, and segmentation in the coda raises the excitement level and actually makes the music, in places, sound like it's boiling with energy.
The double fugue which follows is described in detail in another blog posting {Getting Started With Writing, Part VI].
There would be nothing particularly wrong with performing just the first part of this work as a stand alone Prelude (or Postlude) preceding or following a worship service; with its thematic connection to the double fugue which follows, however, in a recital situation this Prelude and its associated double fugue should be performed as one work.
You'll enjoy studying and playing through this inspiring and challenging Prelude and Fugue.
A final note: a rose is a rose from the time it's a seed to the time it blooms; during its life cycle it passes through many manifold stages and guises, but at each place along the way it's still a rose and perfectly all right, as it is.
No matter how long you've been at it, no matter how simplified it may seem, you should be proud of the way you write your music; regardless of your current skill level, health, or physical limitations, regardless of how well you can explain all the technical aspects, you should be proud of the way you play.
Moreover, and more importantly, we should be thankful for the privilege; 2/3 of the rest of the world is too undernourished to play or even contemplate writing for a musical instrument.
Even if you're a seed, you're still a rose.
(con't in Part XIV)