Mar. 3, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part XXII

(con't from Part XXI)
As you branch out to pair your fugues with free works, the next thing you might try writing is a multi-sectional north German toccata in the style of Buxtehude (photo), Bruhns, Lubeck, Boehm, or other old masters from the Baroque period, or even earlier.
The north German organ repertoire from what might be called the "golden period" from Sweelinck to Bach can be compared to the ground zero for everything that came after it; it formed the foundation for everything else.
The north German toccata, more commonly known as a "praeludium," is a free work composed in the so-called "stylus phantasticus," a multi-sectional composition which has alternating free improvisatory and fugal imitative sections, and its these alternations which provide the "flavor" for the whole piece.
Such works typically have 7 separate sections: Free -- Strict (4/4) -- Free -- Strict (3/2) -- Free -- Strict (6/8) -- Free.
This is the type of style that the young J.S. Bach undoubtedly studied when he visited Buxtehude at the age of 20 and imitated when he composed his "great" Toccata and Fugue in d minor, a form which all the north German organist/composers were using to improvise and compose at the time, only in Bach's work he condensed the generic 7 part form down to 3, viz., a single large fugal section in 4/4 time framed on each side by a very free introduction and close [See blog, Bach d minor, Parts I, II, III, IV, V].
This entire work may very well have been an improvisation that a knowledgeable copyist heard and watched Bach perform and later committed it to paper, possibly even after Bach's death, attaching to it the title "Toccata con Fuga."
This is sheer speculation, but since the autograph of this piece is missing the general consensus of opinion favors the idea that Bach, if he gave it a title at all, would have called it "Praeludium and Fugue," or, more accurately, "Praeludium."
Technically, the term "Praeludium" takes in the entire multi-sectional form, main fugue and all, as Bach reworked it, but later editors grouped the central imitative section and the free close together as the "Fugue," leaving the free introduction all by itself as the "Toccata."
The title "Praeludium and Fugue" is therefore a bit redundant.
The writing of the free sections will test our imagination a bit as well, perhaps a bit more than the writing of the fugal imitative sections, which we might consider doing first and then connect them together by means of the free sections [See blog, Ten Steps].
The thematic material used in the free figuration passages and the short fugal imitative sections does not have to derive from the notes of the main fugue subject, but, when it does, it lends a definite unity to the entire work and gives the writer a good bouncing-off point ... something around which the free figuration passages might be spun.
Which is another reason why it's helpful to write the main fugue first, as we might then vary the notes of its theme by rhythmic transformation (same notes in sequence but different note values) to come up with further ideas for the various sections which precede it.
It will help to download and print a copy of the score for Praeludium and Fugue in d minor Op. 10 and follow it as you read through this narrative about how its first half was put together:
In this work each free passage and fugal imitative passage contains some element of the fugue's theme, only in disguise; a multi-sectional north German toccata like this is almost like a short set of variations showing how the theme can be hidden each time.
The 1st free section of 12 bars displays running scalar passages, arpeggios, detached ornamented chords, and a virtuoso Pedal solo; this section ends in the tonic key with a perfect cadence.
The fugue's main theme is foreshadowed by being buried in the figuration for the hands in this section, but its melodic outline remains easily recognizable.
Part of the "tail" of this ornamented Pedal solo also derives from rhythmic transformation, note for note, of the main fugue theme.
The 1st fugal section in 4/4 time follows; its ornamented theme is also derived from the theme of the main fugue.
This theme enters 1st in the tenor, 2nd in the soprano, 3rd in the bass, and a free voice entering 4th completes a 4 voice texture.
This section is 17 bars long and ends in a perfect cadence.
The following free section is in 3/2 time and presents a variation of the main fugue theme in trio texture during which the hands play rapid north German "toccata" figuration in 2 parts.
For this passage an 8-foot Principal is called for in the right hand which supplies the soprano/alto part, a 16-foot reed in the left hand which provides a very animated bass, and an 8-foot Principal in the Pedal which provides the tenor line.
Here all one has to do to provide the proper Pedal stop is retire the 16-foot Pedal stops, as the 8-foot Principal is already drawn.
During this trio the tenor line in the Pedal is never permitted to cross the parts for the two hands.
This section is 9 bars long and ends on a half cadence (on the dominant chord).
The 2nd fugal section which follows returns to the opening registration and remains in 3/2 time, presenting yet another ornamented theme, this time in slower notes derived from the main fugue theme which enters 1st in the soprano, then the tenor, then the bass, and a free voice enters 4th to complete a 4 voice texture.
This section is 14 bars long and finishes on a dissonant dominant chord held over a tonic pedal note which resolves, finally, to the tonic chord (d minor).
Bach showed us in the opening fanfare of his "great" Toccata and Fugue in d minor that when we sit on a dissonant chord over a tonic pedal point like this for a brief moment, let it squirm, then do the resolution, it's good for the listener to hear this tension, then the release.
The 3rd free section which follows consists of repetitive figuration for both hands over a tonic pedal point on middle D of the pedalboard preceded by a longer dominant pedal point on low A; a soft 16-foot covered flute stop is called for in the Pedal so the other 2 moving lines can be heard more clearly above it.
This section, which is 8 bars long, is a variation in which the main fugal theme dissolves into figuration to where nothing remains of it except the harmony; it ends with a perfect cadence, once again, on the tonic chord (d minor).
The theme for the 3rd fugal section is also derived from the main fugue theme and proceeds in compound duple time (6/8) as a "Jig."
Here there is a return to the opening registration; the theme enters 1st in the tenor, then the soprano, then the bass, and finally in the alto.
This section, which is 20 bars long, after it runs its course, makes a turn into the subdominant key (g minor) where a final free section of 8 bars brings this portion of the work to a close in 6 voices using a plagal cadence and a Picardy third (major 3rd interval in the final chord of a work in a minor key) in the last 2 bars.
Saving the subdominant key like this for the end of the work helps to reestablish the balance of tonalities and reaffirms the original key.
The following fugue is described separately in a different posting [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part V].
When its theme enters, it's as if everything that came before suddenly begins to make sense, as if all the filters are now removed and the Light can be seen finally in its full brightness.
You'll enjoy studying and performing this Praeludium and experience even more enjoyment writing one for yourself.
It can be done by someone who's not and never has been a professional musician or composer.
A diploma from a music school is not necessarily required in order for someone to compose their own organ music.
This writer has proven it.
Keep your expectations realistic and know that you're going to grow steadily as a creator of music as you wade into it.
Start small, in little bits, a small step at a time, and realize that, like all knowledge and education, it's like layering sheets of paper [See blog, Layering Sheets of Paper].
All knowledge, education, and skill is a progressive science where there's no such thing as instant results.
Bach himself didn't start composing until he was 15 years old, and, at that, only after he worked at things, a little at a time, in successive stages.
No one starts their formal education by going to high school; they start in kindergarten and first grade.
No one climbs a ladder by putting their foot on the first rung and then the other foot on a rung 2/3 of the way up.
It helps immensely to refrain from cross comparing your own level of skills to some famous person like Bach or someone else around you, like your beloved teacher who seems to play everything as if no difficulties ever existed for them; this is an illusion; in the beginning, they encountered many difficulties, same as you.
It's always best to concentrate on your own things and your own level of skills, and just give yourself room to grow at your own [See blog, Cross Comparing].
Do this, and you'll find yourself making good, steady progress as a performer, an improvisor, and yes, even a writer of good organ music.
(con't in Part XXIII)