Apr. 19, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part XXVI

(con't from Part XXV)
"Be yourself, because an original is worth more than a copy."
-- Unknown
When we have a fugue completed and wish to pair it with a free work, it's generally counterproductive to settle in our minds ahead of time what kind of free work it will be.
Certain general forms for handling a theme are important to learn and have ready when we have a theme that's workable in that fashion, e.g. the 6 part form Vierne taught his students for improvisation on a free theme which can be used in its entirety or truncated to better suit the theme [See blog, Learning By Example], but it's important to remember that the entire form and development of a composition is locked up in its theme.
Just like a seed, the theme contains an invisible instruction on what to become, including the kind of form that best brings out everything it has to offer [See blog, Seed].
Therefore the habit of rigidly settling in our mind in advance on a certain form and then waiting around for lightning to strike to come up with thematic material to fill that form can, at times, be worse than a waste of time ... it tends to feed the bad habit of denying that the theme determines the form, not the other way around.
This is why a work in a certain form that's "commissioned" for a fee is a more difficult task than to simply compose something; it's always easier for a builder to work with the right resident from the start and construct a building for them according to what suits them the best than to settle first on a design and start building a dwelling for someone they don't know yet who may or may not be a good "fit" with that design.
Many times, in the very beginning when we sit down to write our piece, we don't know exactly where we're going to end up with it in terms of form.
We can settle our minds ahead of time on writing a "fantasia" in free form, let's say, or maybe a "prelude" of some kind, then dig in our heels to stick to this plan ... but then, after a time more or less prolonged, it can become obvious to us, often to our considerable surprise, based upon the way the theme is making its developmental twists and turns as it grows, that we're not writing a fantasia or prelude at all but something else instead ... maybe a chorale, a rapid fire French Romantic toccata, an introduction, a march, or maybe even a praeludium (multi-sectional north German toccata).
Once again, we're reminded of Michelangelo as he sculpted his colossal 17-foot tall marble statue of David (photo).
It's unlikely that this great artist of the Renaissance set out to free an image of "David" or any other specific individual from a massive, rectangular rough ashlar of marble weighing tons from the very first impact of mallet and chisel.
No, it's far more likely that he set to work in his studio chipping away pieces of this marble block in small amounts, little by little, day by day, working in a general direction on this piece until he began to see the image of a man standing at a specific pose; after 3 years of work (1501-1504) it ended up being David [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part I].
If you haven't tried the experiment before, you might consider writing a free fantasia built upon "snippets" of the subject and countersubjects of the fugue which follows, which would not only provide a very strong sense of unity between this fantasia and its associated fugue but sound like an improvisation based upon this material.
The fugue which follows would then sound like it sprang from the same ideas in the fantasia, when in reality is was just the other way around.
This fantasia's stylistic characteristics could vary from a free improvisatory type of piece to something strictly contrapuntal or a mix of the two where there's structure within parameters but the rhythm is free, and the form is of secondary importance.
It will help to download and print a hard copy of the score for Fantasia and Fugue in Eb Major Op. 21 and follow it along as you read through this narrative:
In this Fantasia of 66 bars we have just such a mix; the decision was made to divide it into 3 separate contrapuntal sections of roughly equal length separated by 2 sections of running figuration and big, loud chords.
It was further decided that each of the 3 contrapuntal sections would have a droning pedal point in the bass.
Using 8-foot foundations stops coupled to the main manual, the first contrapuntal section of 20 bars begins with a 4 bar theme which circles the dominant note based upon the general outline of the fugue's 2nd countersubject; this proceeds in the home (tonic) key of Eb Major at a forte dynamic beginning in the bass line and continuing in imitation one voice at a time through the tenor, alto, and finally the soprano lines over a held low Bb pedal point.
After the bass winds chromatically upward during a crescendo this section ends with a perfect cadence on the dominant chord (Bb).
This is followed by an extremely loud passage of 8 bars beginning in the dominant key (Bb) using running figuration in the right hand, again based upon the fugue's 2nd countersubject, with the notes altered by rhythmic transformation (same pitches in sequence, different note values) to create the running line.
This figuration modulates quickly to the unrelated key of b minor leading to an even bigger rolled F#7 chord which chromatically inflects to a root position C7 chord.
After a brief rest another rolled A7 chord for both hands leads to a chromatically inflected Eb7 chord in root position, pointing to the subdominant key (Ab Major).
The student familiar with the Franck a minor Chorale will sense a similarity here with that piece and these rolled chords.
The 2nd contrapuntal section of 18 bars treats the initial theme in the subdominant key (Ab), returns to the original registration and dynamic, and is worked contrapuntally as a virtual repeat of the first section with identical treatment of the melodic lines in imitation, only this time it's presented in inverse movement, again circling the dominant note.
This section, while different, gives the impression that the piece is starting all over again, just in a different key; this section also ends loudly, but this time with a deceptive cadence on the 6th scale degree (f minor chord) using a chromatic inflection.
From here a very loud passage of 6 bars of running figuration and big accented chords follows which is based upon the first 4 notes of the Fugue's subject.
Using a Celeste stop the 3rd, and final, contrapuntal section of only 8 bars is in 4 voices at a mezzo-forte dynamic and begins in the dominant key (Bb); it's first 4 bars employs an imitation at the interval of a 4th between a follower (tenor) and a leader (soprano) working the Fugue's 1st countersubject over a dominant pedal point (held low F in the pedal).
When this imitation ends the pedal point continues as the Fugue's 1st countersubject is flipped upside down and worked as an imitation at the interval of a 5th, which continues for 4 more bars.
Midway through this imitation at the 5th the music modulates back to the tonic key (Eb); here the tempo gradually slows down and the music gets softer.
This 8 bar imitative passage is immediately followed by a short coda of 4 bars where the music ends slowly and quietly in 4 voices on a tonic (Eb) chord at a soft dynamic; the listener believes they've just heard an improvisaton, but it was written.
Tempo indications in the score are general for this piece and, as always, should be adjusted based upon the instrument's breathing in its own acoustical environment.
There's structure here within parameters (ABACD) but the rhythm of this work is free; in other words, everything doesn't have to be counted and there's plenty of room for individual interpretation and nuance.
All of this hinting at thematic material in this Fantasia really prepares the way for the Fugue which follows.
As the Fugue unfolds and its subject and countersubjects enter in sequence [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXV], the listener's ear senses that its related somehow to the Fantasia from already hearing these elements before, and the Fugue seems to grow out of what preceded it.
The fact that the Fugue was written first but seems to grows out of the elements of the Fantasia is merely an illusion, a nice one at that.
This is only but one example, one of a great many ways a work like this in free form preceding a fugue which follows could be written; again, as always, the choices to be made are entirely up to the composer who's listening to what their Muse is telling them to write down [See blog, The Book].
And that person, is YOU.
When you're done writing a fantasia like this, where it's a kind of mosaic of all kinds of different things going on in different keys and tempos in some kind of untried form, don't be surprised if at times you find yourself sitting back and looking at it, maybe even listening to it, and asking yourself the question, "What IS this? ..."
Well, it is what it is, and it isn't up to its composer to judge or decide how good their work is or even WHAT it is; that's for others to determine.
As Pressfield so accurately states, "The artist ... volunteers for hell, whether he knows it or not. He'll be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation." [See blog, The Book].
Pressfield goes on to say that the true artist has to take pride in being miserable because winning our inner creative battles is war, and war is hell.
A true artist has to expect that kind of isolation, that most people won't give a rip about his/her creative work.
A composer can bring forth a collection of Twenty Four Pieces for the Organ like this, all colorful, solid, useful compositions nice to listen to, and offer these scores for free download and printing, only to discover that just about no one else is interested to have a look at them.
Save for a few rare and kindly exceptions, just about no one cares to have a look at them, use them, learn them, or perform them ... they might even annoy some people just because they exist.
And that's okay.
When Michelangelo first freed David from that block of marble nobody else, at first, cared in the least about this statue of his which took him 3 full years to sculpt.
History shows that it wasn't easy either, being the world's most famous statue; when David was first unveiled in 1504 unruly Florentines greeted its unveiling with a hail of stones.
Since then it's been the target of rioters who hurled a bench at it in 1527, breaking the left arm in three pieces (photo), and of an envious artist named Piero Cannata who took a hammer to it in 1991, demolishing one of its toes.
Few masterpieces of Western art have been on the receiving end of so many projectiles.
Why? ... because it's a 3D statue of a nude man wonderfully shaped in terms of symmetry and proportion ... it explores the boundaries of the art of sculpture ... it's different from any other sculptor's work up until that time and therefore (so the masses thought) not be be trusted ... it's something that reflects significant creativity above and beyond if not exceptional talent and therefore something of which (so the masses thought) to be envious and jealous.
Those who criticized it probably did it out of Resistance; when people see someone like Michelangelo beginning to live his authentic Self like this, it can drive them crazy if they've not lived out their own [See blog, The Book].
Attacking this work and other works of art like it makes the self-righteous prudes of every age feel like they're taking the moral high ground; this despite the fact that, in art, the beauty of the anatomically correct human body has been the subject of many great works.
Where other artists of the period might have been inclined to yield to public expectations in depicting their subjects, Michelangelo never conformed in a flabby way to this kind of pressure; and, as composers, neither should we.
We can take a lesson from this.
It was his mission, as he saw it, just like it's the job of any other practitioner of the creative arts, to bring forth his creations as he envisioned them and let recognition or success come, if it will.
Whether acclaim comes or not the true artist simply goes about their work and keeps creating, knowing that doing the work is what's important to the growth of their own soul, that their Muse will come again and grant the inspiration to create another work, another day [See blog, The Book].
If history is any teacher (and it is), then it's a safe bet that one day, in due time, every artist's creations, if they're preserved in some way, will be recognized as art that's interesting, understandable, enriching, and even inspiring [See blog, When We Have Art].
Here's an example: It's a well known fact that, after his death in 1750, all of the great music written by J.S. Bach fell into oblivion and was forgotten; some of it was lost, but the majority of it, happily, was preserved.
It was only due to the unearthing and revival of the St. Matthew Passion and some of his organ works in 1829 by Felix Mendelssohn that these masterpieces along with the remainder of the treasure trove of Bach's music were rediscovered, rescued from oblivion, and given the recognition finally that the entire creativity of this enormous man Bach so richly deserves.
There's a lesson in this, too: to find a way to keep our compositions saved in a place where the public might access them after we're gone.
There's also this lesson: that in writing our own music, we have to expect that history could repeat itself and end up treating our own creations the same as others from bygone days.
If we want to know what's going to happen today or in the future, it helps to take a look at the past.
History is a teacher in every age.
(con't in Part XXVII)