Nov. 1, 2017

Getting Started With Writing, Part XXIX

(con't from Part XXVIII)
When we're writing our 4 voice organ fugues we may have opportunity to examine someone else's original fugue writing in 4 parts for the instrument which may bring us face to face one day with a number of things in some else's work that seem to beg to be "fixed."
Things like this should never discourage the budding composer because every wrong turn attempt, when left behind them, is another step forward taking them closer to their goals.
It can be argued that one who never made any mistakes in composition has never written anything.
Even J.S. Bach, whose compositions are considered the gold standard in classical music, when he was a young learner, on his first attempts, undoubtedly made some errors in composition from which he learned.
And, undoubtedly, he never made those same mistakes again.
Some of the kinds of things we might find amiss in someone else's fugue score could include the following:
Let's say the score begins, as it should, with the tempo mark, but the tempo is marked Adagio (quarter note = 42); if this slow, ponderous tempo isn't stepped up to at least Allegretto, the organ's long drawn out sounds will make the performance of this fugue unbearable.
Next we look at the theme; some fugue themes might make for a better fugue in 2 voices, or maybe 3 voices (Bach's 2 and 3 part Inventions are like that), or maybe for strings, or maybe for violin and flute; some themes might not even lend themselves at all to fugal procedure.
Theoretically a fugue theme might start on any of the 7 scale degrees; its first few notes do not have to be fast, but the "tail" of the theme is often in quicker notes and in most cases should "point" to the best key of the answer which follows.
A system of rules have evolved over a very long time based upon the common practice of composers by which it will be possible to judge the correctness of the fugal answer and by means of which, whenever there is more than one solution, to decide which of them is best; this is based upon which degree of the scale the opening statement, or theme, starts and ends.
If the opening statement of the theme begins on the octave or 1st degree of the key, the answer typically follows on the 5th degree; if the opening statement begins on the 4th or 5th degree of the key, the answer should follow on the 1st degree.
There may be exceptions where the opening statement begins on the 1st degree of the key and it's necessary to answer it on the 4th degree ... and where if it begins on the 5th degree of the key reasons may require the answer to follow on the 2nd degree.
Since most fugues begin either on the 1st or 5th degree of the key, this is a fairly easy rule to remember.
If however the opening statement begins unusually on the 2nd degree of the key, it's answered on the 6th degree, and vice versa; if it begins on the 3rd degree, it's answered on the 7th degree, and vice versa; if it begins on the 7th degree, and it functions as a leading note where the note which follows is on the 1st degree of the key or its octave, it's answered on the 7th degree of the dominant key.
If the opening statement ends on the 1st degree of the key, the answer should end on the 5th degree; if it ends on the 5th degree the answer should end on the 1st degree.
If the opening statement ends on the 3rd degree of the key, the answer should end on the 3rd degree of the key of the dominant.
If the opening statement ends on the 3rd degree of the dominant, the answer should end on the 3rd degree of the original key.
In unusual cases where the opening statement ends on the 2nd, 4th, or 6th degree of the key, the answer would end on the 2nd, 4th, or 6th of the dominant key unless this is impossible by the context.
So, with this knowledge, let's say we take a look at our friend's fugue, and we find the opening statement in the alto to be a bit dull and uninteresting, without much color or light, and its tail doesn't point anywhere; it stays in the tonic key, and it happens to be notated with the stems up instead of down.
J.S. Bach showed in his Art of Fugue that we can get along with a theme without much light or movement, one which neither gladdens nor distracts, if we apply all the craft of counterpoint in working it into some beautifully intricate music, so, this isn't always as serious as it sounds; what's far more important is the theme's workability.
If the piece is in 4 parts, an upper and a lower voice will appear on each staff, and so, this alto line should be changed to where its stems are pointing down, with whole rests showing above it for the soprano part.
Now, let's say, the opening statement starts on the 5th degree of the key; common practice would indicate that the answer should follow on the 1st degree (or, for good reason, on the 2nd degree), but it doesn't; the answer follows instead on the 5th degree and stays in the tonic key.
And let's say the 3rd voice, when it enters in the tenor on the 1st degree, it presents the last half of the countersubject and not the theme, in a 2 voice texture with the alto, still in the tonic key; and the soprano meanwhile disappears only to return 2 bars later.
With the 4th entry in the bass you find that the music is still in the tonic key, right where it started.
Then you happen to notice that this theme does not lend itself to a stretto and it is not inverted anywhere, although many fine fugues of J.S. Bach do not have a stretto or inversions either; when you can find a stretto however, it heightens the interest as the final bars of the fugue are approached, and inversions lend additional interest [See blog, Inversions, Getting Started With Writing, Part VI]
Moving on, let's say you find a number of frustrated leading tones throughout the episodes, where a 7th degree of the prevailing key of the passage is functioning as a leading note (trying to "get somewhere" by rising to the tonic or octave note) and is denied this resolution.
You also take note of some awkward leaps in the 4 voices where several tritones (augmented 4ths and diminished 5ths), augmented 2nds, and 7ths are evident; these intervals are not so hard for performers to manage in etudes or instrumental music but can be problematic in fugues which follow a system of common practice rules pertaining to the writing of vocal polyphony which have developed over a very long time [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
Then let's say you notice a place in one of the succeeding expositions where all 4 voices are moving in similar motion, just an oversight but important enough to receive some attention.
Contrary motion is preferable always among the 4 parts; failing that, oblique motion is preferable to similar motion [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
Let's say you also notice in a couple of places that 2 adjacent voices are moving upwards in similar motion with the lower voice moving to a position higher than that just left by the upper voice, which makes the apparent melodic progression between the 2 voices ambiguous to the ear.
Now as you make a general overview of the keys for the various expositions you naturally expect to see the theme pass through several, if not all 5, related keys.
But let's say that instead you find the music modulating to the mediant for the 2nd exposition, the 3rd exposition returns to the tonic, the 4th exposition travels through the relative of the dominant, and the 5th and final exposition returns to the tonic ... 5 expositions, 3 of which are in the tonic, one in a related key, and another in an unrelated key.
So now the question arises as to where the budding composer goes from here, where they draw the line (photo); whether (s)he goes back and tries to fix these things piece by piece or if (s)he should just start over and revamp the theme, countersubject, and order of keys in the various expositions from the get-go.
This, of course, is up to the composer, but if they want people to perform this work, and if it's to stand the test of time, then they'll go back and make some refinements; sometimes all it takes is a careful use of a scalpel to edit the score; sometimes it requires a meat ax where it's a complete rewriting with a newly invented subject, countersubject, and series of expositions; but it will be a great learning experience.
Depending upon how much correction is needed it may save time in the long run to simply do a rewrite from top to bottom using elements from the first draft than to try to tweak everything just described and get bogged down in the process [See blog, Tweaking].
All errors in composition, no matter how large or small, rare or numerous, should be counted as a blessing because in the process of working out their corrections, composers actually grow as composers [See blog, Ten Steps].
And they find that things will be easier for them next time.
Which is the whole purpose of education ... to make things easier.
(con't in Part XXX)