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 stand alone postlude on a long theme, but writing one in a minor key (with flatted 3rd) and providing it with a flatted scale degree 7 in the middle of the theme's melodic line which hints at the Dorian mode is a much more singular occurrence.
A piece with a kind of hybrid theme like this conceived tonally (i.e., in a key) and hinting at but never quite defining a mode, is a bit harder to find, just like a four leaf clover (photo) -- most of the time composers of this day either write their music exclusively tonal or, if they do write modally, they introduce modal passages within a tonal composition.
One possible path to doing this exercise (perhaps the best path, if we take Saint-Saens at his word), would be to subject the theme of this postlude to fugal procedure (strictly speaking, "fugue" is not a form) and run it through a series of entries in all 5 nearly related keys (3 of which are Major) throughout the piece and then end the work in free form on a big major chord (on a so-called "Picardy third," a final chord with a major 3rd in it when the prevailing tonality of the piece has a minor third).
This narrative will explain how the score for Postlude in d minor Op. 22 was put together using this approach.
It will help to download and print a copy of this score and follow it as this narrative proceeds:
The subject of this stand alone fugue is long (6 bars) and begins on the 5th scale degree.
Many theorists teach that any fugue subject that begins on scale degree 5 (or features 5 prominently in the beginning) 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 transposiiton 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 is long -- 6 bars -- and its opening statement is in the alto voice; the tonal answer follows in the soprano in the dominant with the alto taking the 1st countersubject.
A very short codetta (interlude, or link) of one bar is next inserted to connect the 2nd and 3rd entries; its function is to prepare the harmony for the 3rd entry and to adjust the positions of the voices to bring about a smoother result.
With this 3rd entry in the tenor line and home tonality the soprano goes on to play the 1st countersubject and the alto carries the 2nd countersubject, as expected.
It will be noted here that both countersubjects contain an 8th note rest, but in different measures; these were inserted for the sake of clarity.
We also observe here that the 2nd countersubject is the rhythmic compliment to the 1st countersubject and needs the 1st countersubject sounding with it to keep a perpetual 8th note motion.
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 a 4th free voice is carried in the alto, all as expected.
The music then continues in all 4 voices through a sequence which modulates to the relative key (F Major).
Here the subject enters in the tenor, the 1st countersubject in the bass, the 2nd countersubject in the alto, and the free voice 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 be assigned the free voice.
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 free voice.
The soprano line in this entry starts one measure early in a run up to the opening note of the 1st countersubject, this because the 1st countersubject begins in high register here and sounds smoother when introduced by a series of upward running notes.
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 free voice in the alto.
Another 6 bar episode modulates to the relative key of the dominant (C Major); here the subject enters in the soprano line, the 1st countersubject in the tenor, the 2nd countersubject in the bass, and the free voice 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 flatted scale degree 7 which, together with the flatted 3rd in this running passage, defines this mode.
Then, under a big registration with 32-foot stops drawn, the head of the subject is played slowly in the pedal against detached block chords in spread harmony for both hands; this leads to the final chords reiterated in 7 voices using an inverted pedal point in the right hand which brings this work to a close in free form with great finality.
Those who are familiar with the Fugue from Louis Vierne's First Symphony for organ will sense a similarity between the coda of this Postlude and the coda in Vierne's piece.
By Vierne's own admission, this way of ending a fugue is a bit heavy handed (a way he said he would never tolerate in any of his later writing), but nevertheless it has a certain charm, gives the instrument a chance to sound in its full glory, and serves the purpose of making the first part of the subject even more memorable.
(con't in Part XXVIII)