Jun. 17, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part XXVII

(con't from Part XXVI)

"The fugue is the ideal form for the postlude; as the voices enter, the people leave; when all the voices have entered, all the people have left."
-- Camille Saint-Saens

The thing that makes something valuable is its distinctness, its uniqueness, its individuality, how rare it is.
It's not so unusual to sit down and write a postlude for full organ in a minor key, but to write one as a stand alone fugue having a long subject which has a short rest in its middle and to close the work with a very big, free ending having a touch of modal flavor is a more singular occurrence.
A piece like this is a bit harder to find, but the score for the d minor Op. 22 Postlude (photo) has these characteristics; it will help to download and print a copy of this score and follow it as this narrative proceeds:
NOTE: A 32-note pedalboard will be required for the performance of this work.
This work was inspired by a conversation the dedicatee, a man of God, had with the composer about 2 years before the Lord took this good man home; in that conversation the man happened to speak of a time when he, like all people, would be "released from this mortal coil."
While he was still with us he was a great blessing to all who knew him; he was quirky, lovable, orderly and highly disciplined, a powerhouse of dedication, bombastic, and even surprising at times.
He was, all of his professional life, an interim pastor and Freemason; he divided his attention between his ministry and the fraternity; he loved them both, they complemented each other, and he was convinced, very rightly, of the good effects of both in this world -- which explains why he could never be induced to work at only one full time to the utter exclusion of the other, or take on more responsibility with one at the expense of the other.
All of these attributes of his inspired the form and procedures used to construct this work.
This is a fugue with a long subject divided into 2 equal halves separated by a short rest; these 2 halves symbolize the 2 sides of his professional life.
This music starts and proceeds in an orderly way for a 4 voice fugue, migrates through all nearly related keys making many twists and turns along the way, and, after this has run its course, it comes to a complete stop, loudly, on a big chord; here the fugal procedure is released, symbolizing his inevitable departure from this world, albeit unexpected and premature, to which he earlier alluded.
Then, following a pause, a rapid series of upward rushing notes in a change of mode undergo a crescendo which leads to another pause; this depicts the translation of his spirit and its ascension to the celestial plane.
The music then concludes with a free ending in the parallel key using the full power of the instrument, describing in musical terms the opening of the doors of heaven to receive him.
This work thus has something to say in symbolic language outside the zone of pure music.
This is the only fugue written by this composer having a tonal answer; the remainder are provided with real answers; it has 3 countersubjects and is worked in quadruple counterpoint.
Any fugue subject that begins on scale degree 5 (or features 5 prominently in the beginning), presuming that tonic harmony prevails when the answer begins, will result in a tonal answer, because 5 (in the answer) must be adjusted in the transposition to begin a 4th higher, on scale degree 1, rather than 2; then, following the adjustment, the notes of the answer are 5th transpositions of the subject [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
This is what happens here -- tonic harmony prevails in the tail of the subject, therefore a tonal answer in the dominant is supplied, which begins on the 1st scale degree.
A real answer (exact transposition of the subject) will occur when scale degree 5 does not appear prominently near the subject's beginning; a tonal answer is therefore provided here in order for the answer to begin in consonant harmony with the 1st countersubject, without which there would be created an unprepared dissonance (which would happen in the case of a real answer or literal transposition of the subject, note for note, in the dominant).
This adjustment was accomplished simply by lowering the 1st note of the answer a whole step from E to D.
This subject, while long (6 bars), is built upon only the first 6 scale degrees (photo); a very short rest divides it into 2 halves, with the second half being, as expected, a sequence; its opening statement is in the alto voice.
Here, instead of finding a real answer in the subdominant, as might be expected (because the subject starts on scale degree 5 and ends on scale degree 1), we find a tonal answer in the dominant; this was necessary in order for the subject to enter into combination with the countersubjects; the subject enters in the tenor with the alto taking the 1st countersubject.
It's of interest that the first half of this subject derives its rhythmic outline and melodic curve from the final figure in the coda of the Op. 11 c minor double Fugue which, in its turn, derives its own rhythmic basis from the 2nd subject of that same Fugue; it simply demonstrates one of the many wonders of music -- that the same rhythmic or melodic figure can be reworked, expanded, repackaged in a different key, and used to build another complete composition [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part VI].
A short codetta (interlude, or link) of 2 bars is next inserted which connects the 2nd and 3rd entries; its function is to bring about a smoother return to the home key for the 3rd entry.
With this 3rd entry in the tenor line the soprano goes on to play the 1st countersubject and the alto carries the 2nd countersubject, as expected.
The 4th entry of the subject is in the bass in the dominant, and here the tenor line takes the 1st countersubject, the soprano has the 2nd countersubject, and the 3rd countersubject is carried in the alto.
The music then continues in all 4 voices through a bridge passage built upon a sequence which returns to the home key and then modulates to the relative key (F Major) where the pedal and top line both come to a stop;
It will be noted that this score, as with so many others by this composer, shows a very slight slowing of the tempo as cadential points are approached to remind the performer to nuance the music at these places, which is to make the music elastic, living, and breathing; a fugue, like any other piece of organ music, should never be performed to where it sounds like a typewriter is playing, page after page, in a strictly mechanical way from first note to last.
Here in this F Major entry the subject enters in the tenor, the 1st countersubject in the bass, the 2nd countersubject in the alto, and the 3rd countersubject is assigned to the soprano.
This is followed by a 6 bar episode; it was decided that each of the successive entries of the subject would be separated by episodes of 6 bars each during which the bass and soprano voices would come to a stop and only the 2 inner voices (tenor and alto) would be carrying the music forward.
The next entry is in the subdominant where the subject enters in the soprano, the 1st countersubject in the tenor, the 2nd countersubject in the bass, with the alto assigned the 3rd countersubject.
The next episode modulates to the relative key of the subdominant (Bb Major) where the subject enters in the bass, the 1st countersubject in the soprano, the 2nd countersubject in the tenor, and the alto, once again, takes the 3rd countersubject.
The next 6 bar episode modulates to the dominant where the subject enters in the tenor, the 1st countersubject in the bass, the 2nd countersubject in the soprano, and the 3rd countersubject in the alto.
Another 6 bar episode modulates to the relative key of the dominant (C Major); here the subject enters in the bass line, the 1st countersubject in the tenor, the 2nd countersubject in the soprano, and the 3rd countersubject in the alto.
This is followed by a 6 bar episode which leads back to the home key where a stretto section begins; the subject is carried first in the bass and is treated with canonic imitation at the octave at a distance of 2 bars successively in the tenor line, alto line, and finally in the soprano over a dominant pedal point.
The music then undergoes a crescendo and comes to a complete stop on a big Bb Major chord; during the ensuing coda a short descending bass line leads to 2 big dominant 7th chords (the 1st of which has a flatted 5th) in 6 voices on the 4th scale degree.
The box is then closed quickly; a rapid series of runs in D Dorian mode using the full Swell follows, leading with a gradual crescendo to a held high note in the right hand with the box wide open; this same high note is the raised 6th scale degree which, together with the flatted 3rd in this running passage, defines this mode.
Then, with the addition of another level of sound in the pedal, the first half of the subject enters in the bass below detached block chords in spread harmony for both hands; this leads with a further crescendo to the final tonic chord in 10 voices which closes this work with the full power of the organ using a double pedal, double Picardy 3rd, and an added 2nd.
Those who are familiar with the Fugue from Louis Vierne's 1st Symphony for Organ in d minor will sense a similarity between the coda of this Postlude and the coda from Vierne's Fugue in the same key.
Speaking of it only as pure music, Vierne, by his own admission, said that this way of ending his 1st Symphony Fugue was a bit heavy handed -- something he said he would never tolerate in any of his later writing.
Never is a long time.
This Postlude shows that constructing a piece of music in this way can go far to illustrate the characteristics of a certain person, a certain landscape, a certain animal, a certain people, a certain story, a certain situation, etc., by infusing it with symbolism.
It can be a very productive way to go about composing or improvising our own music because it will lead and guide us in unique and unexplored directions.
And that's all the wonder of music.
(con't in Part XXVIII)