Mar. 11, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part XXIII

(con't from Part XXII)
This is a long posting, but there's a lot to consider with this one, and none of it is unimportant:
Once you've written a fugue you might entertain pairing it with another original work less strict bearing a title such as Prelude, Toccata, Praeludium (multi-sectional north German toccata), Choral, Fantasia, or Introduction.
If you haven't attempted it yet, why not challenge yourself to write, a little bit at a time, an exciting, fiery, French Romantic toccata in crescendo style (photo).
I know what you're thinking ...
I thought the same thing.
When the voice inside us says "no way, don't even try, you don't have it in you, it will sound bad, people will laugh ... " that's Resistance, the lizard brain telling us to compromise, to play it safe, to never go down that trail that scares us, to go run and hide instead.
That's exactly why we need to go down that trail, to take on that challenge that intimidates us or scares us [See blog, The Book, The Lizard Brain, Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII].
And wouldn't it be a tremendous thrill if you could say that your name is attached to something in this genre that's great music to listen to, study, or perform, something that's fine and good and lasting and beautiful, something with power, love, and purpose in it, something people hear that makes their faith rise, moves them, and helps strengthen them to face their personal struggles, something of which you can be rightly proud.
Wouldn't it be tremendous ...
Every practitioner of the creative arts wrestles with this Resistance, this lizard brain is like a dragon inside us that keeps coming back and has to be slain anew, each and every day.
Before I started writing, I thought what you thought.
I said to myself, "Come on, you're not a composer, you don't really think you can actually write music, do you? ..."
If you're coming to the table convinced that your writing of a toccata or any other type of organ music is too good to be true, that it's just another way to fail at something you're not cut out to do, I felt the same way about myself ... I thought the same thing, at first.
But, then I did some homework, I read Pressfield's book and Godin's book in paperback [See blog, The Book, Parts I, II], and I acted on what they had to say.
That was 31 Opus numbers and 5 major collections ago.
The fear that Resistance inspires within us isn't actually real.
But like some force of nature that operates as objectively as the rain, the lizard brain where Resistance has its home has only one aim ... to kill our desire to attempt anything that beckons us to a higher calling, a higher level of accomplishment, or higher educational or creative attainment.
The amateur waits for all fear and uneasiness to disappear before sitting down to do any creative work like this, and, guess what, (s)he winds up getting beaten by Resistance, each and every time.
Being a pro is an attitude.
A pro realizes that fear and uneasiness will always be present, that it's always there, so, in contemplating that next artistic challenge or creative project, (s)he simply acknowledges its presence and permits it to function in guiding them 180 degrees in the opposite direction to what fear is telling them to do, to travel instead down that very trail that seems so impossible, intimidating, or even scary.
Whenever I feel that pull slowing me down, that numbing paralysis with the winds of fear blowing on me, I know I'm on to something; instead of yielding to it, I head directly into it.
As Pablo Picasso so rightly pointed out, inspiration comes, but it has to find us working.
A pro sets to work, without a full flight plan, without a specific destination in mind, without necessarily knowing where this trip will end up.
A pro just gets in the cockpit, starts the engines, taxis to the end of the runway, and leans on the throttles.
Before long, unseen forces come to our aid and start lifting the plane into the air; pretty soon that same pilot is not only airborne but soaring above the clouds looking down upon them from a place that they never even dreamed of.
Once in the airplane, once off the ground, and a destination and flight plan become more apparent from the air, we start functioning productively.
Let's acknowledge this fear of ours and permit it guide us in the opposite direction ... let's walk this trail together that intimidates us, down the path that allows us to grow and develop, to nurture our creativity, to uplift our soul, and use it to explore all the wonders of music ...
A French Romantic organ toccata either starts at full blast or more quietly, and possibly even slower; when it starts loud it gets softer through the middle and gets loud again at the end; when it starts more quietly and progressively gets louder all the way through it's written in crescendo style; every one of them finishes at full tilt, with the full power of the instrument.
This posting will show you how to create a French Romantic organ toccata in crescendo style in the manner of Vierne.
Louis Vierne was organiste-titulaire of the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris from 1900 until his epic death at the same organ console and is credited with, among other things, being one of the major contributors to the modern French organ toccata style first exemplified in the famous Toccata from Widor's 5th Symphony [See blog, Widor 5 Toccata, Parts I, II] and later adopted by other French composers and improvisors of organ music, a list of names which included, among many others, Gigout, Boellmann, Mulet, Dupre, and, of course, Vierne [See menu bar, Homage/Photo Album 2).
It will be helpful to first download and print a copy of Toccata and Fugue in F Major Op. 19 and follow it through this narrative; the composition of the Fugue is described in a separate posting [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XIX].
Rule Number One: An organ toccata is music, and it should sound like music -- not an incomprehensible, noisy, cacophonous soup of notes and chords heated to a boil with no clear cut melodic, rhythmic, or tonal underpinnings; just because a work makes a heated show and works up a sweat to play it may win it a modicum of esteem among certain academicians, but it's not the same as saying that the listening public will enjoy or appreciate it; quite the opposite, in fact, is true.
A French Romantic toccata is improvisory in nature; the theme, or tune, typically is carried in the pedals as the 2 hands engage in playing a rapid pattern of animated toccata figuration, known as a "T" figure.
This type of piece can and often does have more than one of these T figures in it, one to announce the theme at the beginning and another similar but different (and often still more animated) T figure when the theme reenters toward the end of the work.
Organists, through the course of their studies and/or careers, as they develop their skills in improvisation, come to catalogue and collect a number of these different T figures by learning them from the literature and inventing a few of their own which comes from making their own experiments at the keys.
They practice these T figures until they lie pretty much under the fingers; then, when they want to improvise a toccata in this style based upon the closing hymn or a tune of their own, they have a ready supply of T figures in their arsenal to work in any manner that suits the tune.
This is something that every organist should gradually try to develop, accumulate, and practice regularly.
You should check the range of your toccata tune and make sure you can play it in the pedals in the key you've selected; if it goes lower than low C on the pedalboard, you'll want to set it in a higher key from the beginning so that you don't run out of notes in the bottom octave (we could also play it an octave higher on the pedals, but then we lose the ability to exploit to the fullest the downward sonorities of the instrument).
If the faster notes of the tune seem too quick, you might want to double the length of the notes (See blog, Augmentation / Diminution), especially if 32-foot stops are drawn where the longest pipes generally require a split of a second more time to get on speech.
Most toccatas like this start with a brief introduction of 2-4 measures with hands alone which present the opening T figure, then the tune enters in the pedals.
Sometimes the closing T figure is the same as the opening one, and sometimes it's completely different; the nature of the theme will determine whether the opening T figure can be retained throughout with good effect or a different T figure would lend something more at the close.
For the opening T figure in this work a decision was made to play perfect 4ths in the right hand alternating with 3rds (major and minor) in the left hand (photo).
This mix is a simple pattern that isn't too difficult to keep going, and it lies pretty much under the hand.
The 3rds in this T figure help define the tonality while the perfect 4ths provide an interesting harmonic color neither completely tonal nor atonal.
There would be nothing particularly wrong with playing all perfect 4ths in both hands for this T figure, if you want; the tonal fences will still be standing, but shaky.
However, an equal blend of 3rds with the perfect 4ths keeps the tonal fences standing more solidly.
Whatever intervals you choose for your opening T Figure, the thing to remember here is to not let the hands get too far away from or too close to each other; you want to avoid repeating any notes in this figure and having the thumbs colliding, which can happen when the hands are too close together; when they're too far apart the harmony gets stretched too far and the sense of color can be lost; keeping these intervals a 3rd or 4th apart generally provides the most interesting colors.
As you progress inventing these T figures for yourself you can work on refining the level of dissonance to suit your own taste, but at first it's helpful to concentrate on writing (or playing) easier patterns like this.
You might, at first, not like the sound of these perfect 4ths in the mix, but, with repeated hearings, it will grow on you, and it's good practice to start out using them.
A form which works well for this type of toccata is ternary (ABA) form where a middle contrasting (B) section with a different secondary theme is framed on both sides by (A) sections which each develop the main theme.
The Toccata from Op. 19 is a unique work in that the A theme is based upon the subject of the Fugue, its 1st countersubect, and their inversions; the B theme is based upon the fugue's 1st countersubject only, and its inversion.
Thus the 2 Toccata themes are not only related to each other, but also to the Fugue which follows, providing contrast and at the same time a strong sense of unity.
When a Toccata is worked this way, the Fugue which follows seems to grow out of the Toccata just like the Toccata's B section seems to grow out of the first A section.
It's an illusion, of course, a nice one at that, because, in the real world of composing, the Fugue was written first.
Both A and B Toccata themes are 16 bars long and are made up of 4 phrases each 4 bars long, like any standard hymn tune from the hymn book.
The final notes of each of these 4 phrases in both themes is circled by the swell pedal; this provides some additional dynamic interest and tension as this music builds.
Each of the 3 sections of this work and the transitional passage after the B section presents a different rhythmic figure for the hands; the change to each new rhythm should be made as smooth as possible when we're composing things like this.
The way this is done is that an element of the old rhythm carries over into the first bar or two of the new rhythm; when that isn't possible, then a portion of the new rhythm can be hinted at during the last bar or two of the old rhythm.
Obviously, the more different the 2 rhythms are, the trickier it is to merge them, but making a smooth splice eliminates abruptness in the flow of the music; what we want is for the 2 rhythms to blend smoothly from one into another like the colors of a kaleidoscope.
This goes right along with the strategy of gradually adding stops and increasing the tempo in steps so that nothing sounds jarring to the ear.
Registration suggestions have been indicated in the score for a 3 manual organ with foundation stops and reeds in all departments.
Manual changes have also been indicated; where the hands overlap in playing chords during the preparation for the reentry and return of the A section it's best to keep the left hand on the Great manual and the right hand higher on the Choir or secondary manual; this keeps the heaviest sounds landing on the strong beats; both hands may then return to the Great when the final big chords are reached.
This 2nd T figure is a kind of "double pounce" alternating between the right and left hands, with the left hand owning the strong beats.
The question arises, why didn't the composer write it to avoid the intersecting of chords and just keep everything on the main manual? ...
The reason is, the composer felt that the intersecting of chords when both hands are on separate manuals creates an interesting effect by allowing strong beats to be accented by the left hand using the heavier sounds on the main manual; it also offers more freedom for each hand to travel up or down the keys without being encumbered at times by the other hand blocking the way.
The Toccata begins on the full Swell with box closed, foundations drawn on all manuals, Swell reeds drawn, Swell coupled to Pedal, and all manuals coupled.
This is a very typical registration (combination of stops and couplers) for the opening of a French Romantic toccata.
As the Toccata progresses the hands move gradually from the Swell to the Choir, then to the Great, then the Choir reeds are added, then finally the Great and Pedal reeds plus 32 foot stops, if any, are added.
This effects a gradual crescendo from start to finish which, when the Fugue begins, the sound either reverts back to the original combination of stops and the process begins again, or a less full sound is drawn, adding stops sparingly in the Fugue in less massive chunks as the music intensifies, employing a more subtle layering of sounds and possibly fewer couplers, until the fullest sound desired is reached.
A fugue is a contrapuntal work whose effect depends entirely on the clarity of its moving lines; any excesses which tend to obscure that clarity must be avoided like the plaque.
A fugue therefore is served best by a more transparent sound, a narrower range of tempos, and generally a more frugal economy in drawing the stops and couplers.
The Toccata's opening T figure of running 16th notes for both hands sounds as the theme enters in the middle compass of the pedalboard in the tonic key (F).
The opening tempo here is only moderately lively, not too fast, and the dynamic is on the quiet side but clearly audible; a full combination can be drawn on the Swell with the box closed.
This A section is 16 bars long counting the 2 bar introduction having the T figure.
With the approach of the B section the tempo continues with the same pulse, the loudness increases slightly, and the 2nd theme appears in the soprano line in the mediant key (A) against a chromatically moving bass line and arpeggios in the inner voices divided between the 2 hands.
Placing this diatonic melody in the soprano line frees the bass to move chromatically as the tune is harmonized chromatically.
Vierne had a preference for mediant relationships and tended to move the music to the mediant key when modulating away from the home key.
This same compositional procedure of moving to the mediant key was employed successfully in Prelude Internationale Op. 5 dedicated to the memory of Vierne [See blog, Learning By Example] and Choral in d minor Op. 9 {See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part III].
Vierne would also, occasionally, use the 3rd scale degree (mediant) as a pedal point when the usual notes used for this are the 1st or 5th degrees (tonic or dominant).
This B section is 14 bars long; the bridge passage of 10 bars which follows brings about a gradual crescendo culminating with a return to the home key and reentry of the 1st theme.
In this bridge a series of dominant 7th, diminished 7th, and chromatically altered chords broken into diads rising by half steps is introduced in triplet rhythm along with a chromatically rising bass line and a gradual increase in tempo and loudness.
These 7th chords broken into diads create a pulling effect which greatly dramatizes the music and heightens the excitement leading up to the reentry of the 1st theme in the pedal.
During this bridge, as the harmonies proceed chromatically, a pedal point (held pedal note) is used to help anchor the tonality as the music wanders through these altered chords in the hands.
When the A theme makes its return by bursting forth in fortissimo in the pedal it's accompanied by a 2nd T figure consisting of a very loud, energetic, double pounce of chords alternating in both hands.
With each double pounce in 8th note time the harmony of this 2nd T figure changes.
The A theme also reenters in augmentation using the full organ minus the 32-foot Pedal reed.
As the coda is approached both themes enter into combination but are quickly interrupted as the music comes to a complete stop on a big 1st inversion dominant chord.
The coda which ensues employs heavily accented chords in spread harmony for both hands and pedal octaves using the full power of the instrument; the pedal then quotes the melodic curve of the tail of the Fugue's subject and lingers momentarily on the dissonance before resolving.
The Toccata concludes in 8 voices on a tonic chord with an added 2nd and double pedal.
This work is a bit of a toughy to learn but is also highly effective as rousing an audience and demonstrating the full power of the instrument at hand.
(con't in Part XXIV)