Apr. 19, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part XXV

(con't from Part XXIV)
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
-- Aristotle

Because of its unique ability to sustain a note indefinitely and to render each and every note of polyphonic music crystal clear to the ear, the fugue is the musical procedure or method "par excellence" for the pipe organ.
Therefore, as your composing skill for the organ grows, after your successes have multiplied, and you may not know what to write next, you could do worse than to write another fugue to keep feeding all those good habits of fugue writing that you've already learned, then continue the good habit of pairing it with a free work using "snippets" of its thematic material as the basis for writing the free work.
This posting will show how to approach writing a fugue when you've reached a stage where your composing has settled down into a number of good habits that begin to define your style.
It will help to download and print a hard copy of the Eb Major Fugue from Op. 21 and follow the score with this narrative.
In this writer's case, my fugue writing settled down into a method of 10 steps [See blog, Ten Steps], which is nothing more than a listing of successful, time conserving habits which can be applied to anyone's fugue writing.
Using this method, the Fugue from Op. 21 was written, without rushing, in a mere 2 days.
Here the opening statement of the subject, starting on the 1st scale degree, is given a real answer, as expected, since it has a "tail" which points strongly to the dominant [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
Thus, it begins with a 4 bar subject in the home key in the tenor line which is answered in the alto, with the tenor taking the 1st countersubject; with the 3rd entrance of the subject in the soprano the alto plays the 1st countersubject, and the tenor moves on to play a 2nd countersubject.
The final entry of the subject in the exposition is in the bass with the soprano carrying the 1st countersubject, the alto carrying the 2nd countersubject, and a free voice appears in the tenor to complete a 4 voice texture.
In subsequent entries this free voice is maintained as a 3rd countersubject, resulting in quadruple counterpoint.
This author finds that the habit of providing the subject with multiple countersubjects which are retained throughout is actually easier than not retaining them because it gives the composer much less to think about.
The habit of making the subject reappear through 5 more entries in all nearly related keys, and to separate each entry by episodes of 4 bars each using only the 2 middle voices (alto and tenor), is also handy; besides providing for a rapid and weighty development it keeps things compact, balanced, and consistent.
When the subject is longer these episodes may be longer as well, and the habit of using the inversion of the subject in these episodes is helpful because it makes these episodes easier to invent.
After an episode of 4 bars the subject enters in the relative key (c minor) in the bass, with the 1st countersubject in the soprano, and 2nd countersubject in the tenor, and the 3rd countersubject in the alto.
The habit of keeping that free voice (in this case, the 3rd countersubject) in the alto line when we're writing in triple counterpoint (subject + 2 countersubjects) is also a helpful one because it gives this line the freedom to shape and "squeeze itself" roughly equidistant between the tenor line and top line in whatever way in needs to, in order to make good chordal harmony.
The trick here is to make the alto line "singable" by avoiding awkward leaps; what we don't want, in this or any other moving line, is a series of notes randomly scattered simply because they belong to chords; the more singable the alto line can be, the smoother all the other lines will sound when put together.
Following another 4 bar episode the 3rd entry is in the dominant key (Bb Major) where the subject enters in the soprano, the 1st countersubject in the bass, the 2nd countersubject in the tenor, and the 3rd countersubject, once again, in the alto.
After another episode of 4 bars the subject remains in the soprano where it enters in the dominant's relative key (g minor), the 1st countersubject shifts to the tenor line, the 2nd countersubject moves to the bass, and the alto retains the 3rd countersubject, as if unwilling to share it with the other voices.
Another 4 bar episode modulates to the subdominant key (Ab Major) where the subject enters in the tenor this time, the 1st countersubject in the bass, the 2nd countersubject in the soprano, and the 3rd countersubject remains in the alto.
Saving the subdominant like this for near the end of the Fugue helps to reestablish the balance of tonalities and reaffirms the original key.
The next episode of 4 bars takes the music into the subdominant relative key (f minor) where the subject enters in the bass, the 1st countersubject in the alto, the 2nd countersubject in the tenor, and the 3rd countersubject enters this time in the top line (soprano).
The music returns to the tonic key (Eb) for the stretto section, which employs overlapping entries of both the subject and the 1st countersubject at the distance of a half bar; this habit of handling the stretto when a stretto is possible also helps to give the work an original, personal stamp.
A short coda of 4 bars rounds out the work in 5 voices with a trill (mordent) used in the closing cadence; since the note which forms the upper auxiliary note of the trill (Eb) is the same note which happens to precede the trilled note (D), the trill should begin on the note itself (D), not the upper auxiliary note (Eb).
The Pedal line can remain legato here, with a slight separation between the penultimate chord for the hands and the final chord.
All of these habits of fugue writing ... the ten step process ... the typical 4 bar theme ... an exposition in I, V, I, V with modulating material separating 2nd and 3rd (sometimes also 3rd and 4th) entries ... the favoring of the alto line for the free voice ... the consistent employment of 4 bar episodes, some using the inversion of the subject ... the rapid and weighty development with entries passing through all nearly related keys ... 2 countersubjects retained throughout, with the subject and 1st countersubject both used in the stretto section ... the typically short 4 bar coda with chromatically inflected, dissonant penultimate chord, a suspension, or something else unexpected ... other bold moves at times which explore the boundaries of the art ... all serve to define a signature style that sounds like no one else's work.
You too can find yourself adopting similar habits of writing and turning out a solidly written fugue of your own in only a couple of days, without rushing at that.
And it will sound exactly like you.
(con't in Part XVI)