Jun. 24, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part XXVIII

(con't from Part XVII)
There are times when an organist just wants a short 4 voice fugue that isn't paired with a prelude ... something tuneful that hasn't been heard before ... something with a recognizable tune memorable to a general audience after a first hearing ... something that passes through some nearly related keys and a couple of unrelated ones, just to be different, where they "all sound related" ... something with rapid and weighty development versatile enough to follow the closing hymn in a worship service or maybe just to insert into a recital for variety ... something suggestive of a fully grown, lone tree in a field under which the listeners can sit in the shade and appreciate it for all its stand alone presence ... and, in particular, something that can be performed on the same manual with no manual changes, either with a full sound or a more modest choice of stops, such as a "gap" registration, according to taste or to the needs of the moment.
An example of this kind of writing is Fugue in g minor Op. 23 (photo).
What, another fugue to talk about?! ... you bet.
The fugue is the organ piece "par excellence."
Each fugue is different from any other; no two fugues are alike, and the possibilities for variety in fugue writing are almost infinite.
This comes about partly because the study is vast to start with, and partly because each fugue has a different theme (some have more than one theme), and it's the thematic material which determines the twists and turns and contrapuntal methods best suited to bring out the best in it.
There's something extremely important to be said here, and it was said before:
Every theme, like a seed, contains an invisible instruction on what to become [See blog, Seed]; it's the entire piece in embryonic form; everything that happens in the piece depends entirely on the nature and characteristics of the theme.
It's always best to begin a new piece of music with the thematic material in mind, which is the "soul of the music," and then generate a corporeal body or form that's best suited to it.
While we need to study and be familiar with a variety of general forms and procedures for handling a theme so we can use them whenever an appropriate theme presents itself, it's never a good idea to settle first on the length of every section and subsection, key change, and time signature, map this all out in advance, and then try to find thematic material to fill it; this has everything, frankly, bass ackwards.
Some emerging composers choose to do things this way, but they can quickly find themselves stuck; it's frustrating, hampering to the creative process, and involves tremendous expenditure of time to try to work in reverse like this; they have to wrack their brains to get out of this stuck place, they can't possibly find it enjoyable, and sadly, at times, they become so aggravated by being inside this cage that they just give up.
To keep our creative juices flowing and our enjoyment at its peak we typically set out to write a certain "type" of piece only in a general sense; if it's a new fugue we're seeking, for example, we first set out to create our theme with the characteristics of a good fugue subject in mind; then, after we have our subject, what our fugue does might give it an "x, y, or z" shape by the time it's finished.
In other words, we don't always know exactly what our new piece of music will look like until we've got our theme or idea in hand, have given some thought on how to bring out the best in it, and have begun to put our shoulder to the wheel and subject that same idea or theme to the craft of composition ... a craft which can be learned.
That's the exciting part about creating art ... it's an adventure because exactly what we're creating and exactly what's in store for us around the bend becomes more visible and more aware to us as work proceeds [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXVI].
It will help to download and print a copy of the score for Fugue in g minor Op. 23 as this narrative about how this piece was put together proceeds.
NOTE: The registration suggestions in the score are subject to considerable flexibility. A more modest selection of stops for more subdued playing using "gap" registrations (e.g., 8-foot with 2-foot, or 8-foot with 4-foot and 1-foot), or maybe just an 8-foot Gedeckt and 4-foot Principal on the main manual and replacing the Pedal 16-foot reed with a Gedeckt and playing everything at a less declamatory dynamic which reflects a more relaxed and melodic mood would work equally well.
From the get go it was decided that this Fugue would be a "mix" of expected and unexpected things [See blog, Do The Unexpected], that its subject and all the episodes each would be 4 bars long, that the music would pass through 3 nearly related tonal centers and 2 unrelated ones that were only 1 step away on the Circle so they might all sound nearly related [See blog, Temperaments and Tuning, Part II], that the subject would have a "high point" near its center, that its "tail" would be made up of quicker notes, that it would be tuneful enough to be memorable after a first hearing, that there would be 2 countersubjects, that the episodes would involve inverting the subject and both countersubjects separately [See blog, Inversions], that the music would not come to a stop anywhere, that there would be a short coda of 4 bars with no stretto, and that the formal rigor of 4 voices would persist throughout and not be diluted in the coda with the addition of voices.
After settling on its shape, the key of g minor was chosen for the subject to accomodate its tessitura (range) in order to keep it inside the boundaries of the soprano and middle voices (alto and tenor) as much as possible.
In this Fugue the opening statement of the subject begins on the 1st scale degree, and a real answer follows naturally in the dominant on the 5th degree, as the general rules of common practice would suggest [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
The leap of a 5th from the beginning note on the 1st scale degree would tend to imply a tonal answer, but in this case the tail of the subject points strongly to the dominant, thus a real answer may be provided.
It begins in the tonic g minor in the alto voice and is answered in the tenor in the dominant, with the alto taking the 1st countersubject; the 3rd entry has the subject in the soprano with the tenor taking the 1st countersubject and the alto taking the 2nd countersubject, as expected.
Here, on the 2nd beat of measure 13, it will be noticed that all three lines move in similar motion with the upward sweep of the tune; this was a deliberate move to take advantage of its effect to heighten the emotional intensity of the tune's "high spot."
The bass is the last voice to enter the exposition as the tenor carries the 2nd countersubject, the soprano the 1st countersubject, and the alto the free voice, all as expected.
Here the free voice in the alto deliberately moves in similar motion with the other 3 lines as well, with the upward sweep of the melodic outline of the subject in measure 17.
NOTE: Someone steeped in the rules of voice leading, when they first notice similar motion in all 4 lines here on the 2nd beat of measure 17, may be tempted to voice an objection that this kind of voice leading is poor; what's poor is when occurrences like this are accidental or overused, which is not the case here; what's poor is when composers write as if the rule book is poised to crush them in an instant if they dare to deviate in the slightest from the norm of common practice, and that is most certainly not the case here; what's poor is when someone finds fault with someone else's fugue writing and has never written a better fugue or may never have written one at all; what's poor, above all else, is being in denial of the fact that artistic freedom exists, that many composers throughout history, by bending or breaking a rule, ignoring a guideline, or taking liberties with their music making, have discovered beauty where they were taught, or led to believe, that there was none.
That's what's poor.
For those who would still argue that only the weakest musicians in history have engaged in rule-breaking, that discussion may be directed to begin with J.S. Bach (who broke every rule in the book at some time or another).
The alto voice, as was mentioned previously [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXV], is well suited to the free voice in a 4 voice fugue because it can be equally "squeezed" midway between the soprano and tenor fairly easily; and the "trick" to getting the whole thing to sound good when put together is to make the alto line as "singable" as possible, rather than using it merely to plug in another note to fill in a chordal harmony.
The subject next enters in the tenor in the key of F Major with the 1st countersubject in the bass, the 2nd countersubject in the soprano, and a free voice continuing in the alto.
Another 2 voice modulating episode follows which carries the inverse of the subject in the soprano line again with a counterpoint in the tenor to suggest a harmony.
This leads to the 3rd entry in c minor where the subject enters in the bass, the 1st countersubject in the tenor, the 2nd countersubject in the alto this time, and the free voice in the soprano.
The ensuing 2 voice episode modulates, again unexpectedly, to the more distant key of a minor for another entry.
Here the subject enters in the alto, the 1st countersubject in the soprano, the 2nd countersubject in the bass, and the free voice is carried this time in the tenor.
Another 4 bar episode follows which modulates to the relative key of Bb Major; here the subject enters in the soprano, the 1st countersubject in the bass, the 2nd countersubject in the tenor, and the free voice in the alto.
Another episode of 4 bars based upon the last half of the subject is worked in sequence and modulates to the relative key of the subdominant (Eb Major), almost as an afterthought, for another entry of the subject.
A final 2-voice episode follows which uses the inverse of the first half of the subject as thematic material; this modulates back to the home key for the final entry.
Following the example set by J.S. Bach, this final entry appears in the lowest octave of the pedal (bass); the 1st countersubject enters in the soprano, the 2nd countersubject in the tenor, and the alto line fills in the free voice to complete a 4 voice texture.
A short coda of 4 bars then rounds out the piece with the soprano and alto lines happening to be more than an octave apart (permissible based upon the example set by J.S. Bach, notably in his "Little" g minor organ Fugue) with the final chord ending on a Picardy third (raised 3rd scale degree to create a major chord in a piece written in the minor key).
This is a recital worthy, instructive but short little contemporary Fugue, versatile with registration, having a variety of uses in the worship service whose smaller size tends to fool the performer into thinking it's pitched at the beginner level; just like Bach's "Little" Fugue in g minor, this too is a tricky little piece that will involve some practice to learn.
Composing a Fugue like this is something one can learn to do and do better using this blog, one's own ideas, our "ear," our imagination, some basic knowledge and resources [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Parts I-XXVIII, What About Music Theory, Parts I-IV, Ten Steps], and the courage to ignore any misgivings we may have about doing it [See blog, The Lizard Brain, Parts I-VIII, The Book, Linchpin].
(con't in Part XXIX)