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 it will be comprehensible with the listening public -- it may in fact leave them in bewilderment about what they just heard.
A French Romantic toccata has a theme, or tune, often 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 hands; 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 these 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 the introduction of a couple of measures for hands alone which present the opening T figure all by itself, after which the tune enters in the high or mid-range of the pedals.
The closing T figure CAN be the same as the opening one, but almost always it's different; the outline and texture of both T figures is determined by the shape and implied harmony of the theme.
Whatever is chosen for the opening T Figure it should be rhythmic with the hands fairly close together but not so close that the thumbs get in each other's way and not too difficult to keep going; the idea is to keep the thumbs from colliding or having a gaping "hole" in the harmony between them.
As we progress inventing these T figures for ourselves we can work on refining the level of dissonance to suit our own taste.
As to form, what works well for this type of piece 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 A theme of the Toccata is the tune of Darkness Hath No Bounds Op. 32, an original unpublished hymn composed of 4 phrases; its 1st phrase is taken from the Fugue's subject and the 2nd phrase from its inversion; the 3rd phrase is taken from the Fugue's 1st countersubject and the 4th from 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 very 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 if often written first -- because it's easier that way.
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.
This 2nd T figure is a kind of "double pounce" for both hands using intervals which fill in the harmonies suggested by the moving bass line which enters with the theme in the bottom octave of the pedals.
As the Toccata progresses the hands move gradually from the Swell to the Choir, then the Choir reeds are added, the hands move to the Great, and 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; this means that any excesses which tend to obscure that clarity need to 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 is first given out before the theme enters in the middle compass of the pedalboard in the tonic key (F); the opening tempo here is only moderately lively, not breakneck 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 when modulating away from the home key.
This same compositional procedure of moving to the mediant key was employed in Prelude Internationale Op. 5 dedicated to the memory of Louis 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 as a pedal point when the usual notes selected for this are the dominant or tonic.
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 the various intervals stated alternating between the hands; at the same time the A theme reenters the bottom octave of the pedal in augmentation, all at a fortissimo dynamic.
As the coda is approached the A theme shifts to the top line and the B theme enters the pedal; this is quickly interrupted after only 2 bars, and 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 using the full power of the instrument; here the melodic curve of the tail of the Fugue's subject is strongly suggested, and the Toccata finishes on a big tonic chord in 8 voices with a double pedal.
This work is a bit of a "toughy" to learn but is also playable, not fiendishly difficult, and highly effective in riveting the attention of an audience, demonstrating the instrument at its full strength.
(con't in Part XXIV)