Mar. 1, 2018

Getting Started With Writing, Part XXXIII

(con't from Part XXXII)
This is a long posting but a most important one:
When we're looking to write a new prelude and fugue and we're unsure of how to put it together, we're faced with a similar situation as the Great Spirit when He wants to bring into view another new, original sunset every day, in every location, as no two are exactly alike.
He doesn't despair for lack of an idea for how to do this: no, He knows what has to come together to make it work, therefore He knows what to do; He places the sun low in the sky, same as before, causes it to move slowly below the horizon, same as before, selects different clouds, and then moves them in front of the sun, same as before.
The only difference is, different materials (cloud shapes and thicknesses in different positions and configurations) are used each time, day after day -- but it's the same sky, same kaleidoscopic light source, same low angle on the horizon, and the same time of day, relatively speaking, time after time.
Much of the same is true in composition; when we have a plan or pattern that we know works, we can repeat that pattern using different materials to come up with a brand new Fugue, and from there, a brand new Prelude, time and time again.
This was how the F Major Op. 27 Prelude and Fugue was constructed, starting with nothing more than a one line Fugue subject; this gave rise to 2 countersubjects and hence, the remainder of the Fugue by means of the 10 step method described on this web site [See blog, Ten Steps].
The entire Prelude paired with it was then spun from the Fugue's 2 countersubject by means of the same 6-part improvisational form a la Vierne employed other works [See menu bar, Free Stuff, Op. 5, 25, 26, 28].
It will help to download and print a hard copy of this F Major Op. 27 Prelude & Fugue score and have a look at it as this narrative is followed:
Some decisions are necessary at the outset: 1) whether the Prelude and its paired Fugue are to be related thematically, 2) which piece shall be written first, and 3) which portions shall be written first.
This composer's preference is for a related Prelude and Fugue, when this is possible, which lends a very strong sense of unity to the entire work; the Fugue typically would be written first; the Prelude might then be constructed using one (or both) of the Fugue's countersubjects, or perhaps some free voice appearing in the Fugue, as thematic material [See menu bar, Free Stuff, Op. 5, 24, 25, 26, 28].
In this work (Op. 27) the Fugue's 2nd countersubject was used to construct the Prelude in 6-part improvisational form a la Vierne; here the composer found it easier to finish the Fugue first, then, as work began on the Prelude, to finish the 3 entries of the theme first, the 1st harmonization being in a simple, diatonic manner, the 2nd one being diatonic but a bit more animated, and the 3rd one being harmonized chromatically with numerous 7th and altered chords.
The bridge section and development, in that order, were created next with the final portion to complete being the preparation for the reentry.
The main thing to keep in mind throughout this process is not to get intimidated, to keep pushing forward, and to work in little bits every day, always taking a break at the first sign of fatigue; composing a piece like this ... ANY piece ... isn't the 60 yard dash; it's a marathon.
This Fugue is written in this composer's own 6-point signature style: a) 4 voices worked in triple or quadruple counterpoint, b) codetta (interlude, or link) insterted in the exposition between 2nd and 3rd entries of the subject, c) multiple countersubjects maintained throughout, d) excursions through all nearly related keys, e) short episodes of equal size based upon the subject, countersubjects, and their inversions, and f) final entry in the bottom octave of the pedal, following the example of J.S. Bach; this process was codified in a 10 step method for fugue writing [See blog, Ten Steps].
The construction of the F Major Op. 27 Fugue being similar to other examples it need not be dwelled upon here except to say that in this work the subject begins on the 3rd scale degree, has a tail which points to the dominant, and is supplied with a tonal answer.
It's relevant to consider here that organist J.P. Kirnberger who studied composition in Leipzig with the greatest fugue-writer in history claimed that his master Bach believed that everything [in the realm of tonal harmony in which he moved and worked] must be possible and would never hear of anything being not feasible; that would include starting a fugue on the mediant note
In his celebrated book on Fugue, Ebenezer Prout also agrees with that observation and notes that while there are limitations as to the note of the scale on which a fugue subject should end there are none as to that on which it should begin [See blog, What About Music Theory, Part I]; he further notes that subjects beginning on the supertonic note are "rather rare" while those beginning on the mediants "are also not very often met with."
This is a fertile area for exploration where some new and bold moves can be made in our writing [See blog, Thinking Outside The Box].
Fugue subjects beginning on the mediant are probably not a large enough group to generalize about their treatment, however there seems to be no reason they cannot lead to a wholly satisfactory composition (the fugues from Op. 19, 27, 29, and 30 are examples).
So much for textbook theory.
Starting on the mediant note can introduce a few complexities in counterpoint and harmonization, but these things have easy enough solutions.
Strongly ambiguous tonality is not a good idea in a fugue subject because it limits the possibilities for counterpoint; what the fugue-writer needs to do is find a path between too much ambiguity and too little, but being unsure if the fugue starts in a major or minor key is usually "too little" [See blog, When We Have Art, Part II] -- the same problem can apply to subjects that start on the dominant of a minor key, unless the "sharp" 6th and 7th degrees of the scale appear.
Those who discourage starting a fugue on the mediant usually cite the fact that the answer would have to begin on the leading tone, a 5th higher, which has an unprepared dissonance built upon a diminished triad; while the premise is good it does not take into consideration subjects which modulate to the dominant key.
When dominant harmony prevails at the conclusion of the subject we find the answer starting on scale degree 7 which is devoid of any objectionable dissonance.
This Op. 27 Fugue subject enters all related keys and one unrelated key (c minor) before the final entry and finishes in 6 voices with the full power of the organ.
It will be noted that between the 3rd and 4th beats of the measure immediately preceding the final entry of the subject in the bass 3 ever-rising notes are written into the soprano as a run-up to the 1st countersubject entering in this voice in the measure to follow.
This is to engineer a crescendo into the counterpoint leading up to the final entry as the voices seem to "pile up."
In this author's compositional output a prelude (which could be labeled Prelude, Toccata, Fantasia, Choral, or Introduction) paired with a Fugue has been constructed in:
1) continuous expansion form (Op. 11, 20),
2) multi-sectional north German "stylus phantasticus" toccata form (Op. 10),
3) free form (Op. 21),
4) ternary (3-part, or ABA) French Romantic toccata form in crescendo style with repeat of 1st section (Op. 19),
5) 3-part (AB, with or without repeat) form with combinatory section (Op. 18, 24),
6) 6-part improvisational form using a free counterpoint (voice) from the Fugue, slightly extended, for a theme (Op. 25),
7) 6-part improvisational form using the 1st countersubject from the Fugue, slightly extended, for a theme (Op. 26), and
8) 6-part improvisational form using the 3rd countersubject from the Fugue, slightly extended, for a theme (Op. 28).
In the Op. 27 Prelude the 2nd countersubject from the Fugue is extended slightly and a Prelude is built around it to demonstrate that all of these options are workable possibilities, among a great host of others, which may be selected in designing the structure of a Prelude.
NOTE: In many of these examples the Fugue subjects, countersubjects, and free voices, when used to form a theme for a matching Prelude, are extended slightly, mostly to an odd number of bars because this composer's preference was for irregular phrase length, however, it need not be this way, i.e., themes with regular phrase length having an even number of bars might also be employed.
The first exposition of this F Major Op. 27 Prelude is harmonized diatonically in the home key and preceded by a 2 bar introduction which builds gradually from 2 to 4 voices.
A bridge section consisting of 2 phrases each 3 bars long pointing to the dominant key (C Major) is all that's necessary here to connect the 2nd exposition with the 1st; phrases ending with 7th chords without chromatic alterations may be effectively employed for this purpose; a simple augmented triad without a 7th included would also work to end a bridge phrase.
When the theme reenters in the 2nd exposition it may be harmonized diatonically again, this time with the harmonization being more animated.
The development which follows selects one rhythmic measure from the theme and works it as a motif beginning in the relative key (d minor) and making excursions into 3 related keys (a minor, e minor, G Major) and 2 unrelated keys (b minor, c minor) before coming to a stop; in this section the composer is free to let the imagination run free into whatever key or region of musical space which best seems to suit the growth of this motif; the freedom extended to it here is one of the things that makes this section captivating.
As long as we maintain this motif we can let it wander through this section anywhere it wants; it won't get into any trouble here; no matter how far afield it may happen to travel away from home on the Circle it can be brought back to the home key by means of the dominant tonality easily enough.
Here it's helpful to begin this motif in one voice and add voices successively to make it easier for the listener to separate it out from the other lines; the same approach, for the same reason, is also employed frequently in the preparation for the reentry which follows.
After about 20 bars of this development we can bring the music to a stop at a fermata and use the following 4 bars as a preparation for the reentry.
Here the music is guided back to the home tonality; two very brief phrases each 2 bars long are all that's required to effect this preparation.
These 2 phrases often end on a held 7th chord, perhaps with a chromatic alteration (raised or flatted 5th) included; the 2nd phrase effectively ends with a 7th chord on the 5th scale degree which will "point" to the home key for the final exposition; one of the phrases might also end with an augmented triad on the 5th scale degree without a 7th included, for the sake of variety.
It's effective here to employ the head of the subject inverted for the 1st of these phrases and the head of the subject right side up for the 2nd one.
In this Prelude the final exposition which follows was conceived as a flute solo in the right hand against chromatic harmonies in the left hand for the string celeste stop chromatically winding its way around the tune, ending in a very soft coda over a held high note.
Here it's still best to keep the alto and soprano lines from crossing, even though the score calls for stops of totally different timbre to be employed for them.
When the soprano line is soloed, as it is here, the alto line is notated on the middle staff with stems pointing upward and the stems for the tenor line pointing downward.
There's no need to feel stuck on how to create a Prelude to pair with a Fugue when any of these 8 possibilities for Prelude form (and there are many, many others) can be selected.
Vierne's 6-part improvisational form can be easily modified, compressed, truncated (shortened), or otherwise adapted to bring out the best in the nature and character of the theme, a path which he himself took in his "Twenty Four Pieces in Free Style Op. 31."
When the theme is longer, for example, lengthening the 1st exposition and omitting the bridge and 2nd exposition would create a usable 4-part form which, in the composer's mind, might be found more attractive and better suited to bringing out all the theme has to offer.
The nature of the theme might even suggest doubling the 1st exposition in size by introducing the inversion of the theme along with the theme, retaining the 6-part form, keeping the theme right side up in the 2nd and final expositions, and attaching an extended coda based upon the theme's first few notes.
Presuming our Prelude will be built upon one theme, all we need are a good free theme (one that's tuneful and has possibilities for development), a proven plan to follow, flexibility in our approach, a little imagination, a work ethic, some patience with ourselves, and a ferocious determination not to be intimidated or discouraged by the thought of failure as we move along.
Doubt has destroyed more dreams than failure ever has.
(con't in Part XXXIV)