Saturday, September 30, 2017

More Partimento Studies

It still amazes me that I went through all the coursework for BM, MM, and DMA degrees and never heard the word partimento. The explanation is simple though; all the traditional history and theory I was exposed to concentrated on the north German organ school - Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck to J.S. Bach - the subsequent German classical school - C.P.E. Bach to Brahms - and the Italian sacred music that peaked with Palestrina. There were bits and pieces of other things, but the Neapolitan Conservatories and their teaching methods were completely ignored. I understand the reason for that now: The partimentos are forbiddingly complex and indecipherable without having been instructed on how to realize them. Just understanding the basics of figured bass, which I learned as early as my days at the Guitar Institute SW, is not nearly enough.

So I'm just devouring these books and learning about the practice until I get to a critical mass of understanding that will allow me to take some of the simple partimenti and realize them for the guitar.

Over the last couple of months I've read Partimento and Continuo Playing in Theory and in Practice, four overviews by modern scholars, and the Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments by C.P.E. Bach (Nice link to the German school). Though a lot of it is concerned with fingering and other technical aspects of keyboard performance, there is a lot about improvising from a figured bass, which is the heart of partimento realizations. I'd known about this treatise for decades, but was not interested in it at all, because I didn't know what was in it!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Ten Years with the iPhone

Hard to believe it has been ten years since I bought my first iPhone, but there it is. The first iPhone wasn't exactly a Christmas Experience, but I did get it successfully activated... eventually. I actually blogged about it here at the time. The photo of the iPhone between my - still working! - original iPod and Video iPod, is priceless.

Left to right: original iPhone, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 5c.

Just last month, I got the iPhone 7 Plus, and it's wonderful for us old guys. With the large screen and magnify on, I don't need reading glasses to use it!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Taking a Break from Music Books: Agent Garbo, by Stephan Talty

This book was recommended by a friend, and it is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the espionage and counterespionage efforts of the allies against the axis powers leading up to D-Day. Very well written and engaging. I had no idea any of this went down, and Juan Pujol is an amazingly likable character. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Beethoven: The Music and the Life, by Lewis Lockwood

This is the best combination biography and music analysis book about Beethoven that I've yet read. No surprise, really, as Dr. Lockwood is the greatest living Beethoven scholar. His writing style is lucid and engaging, without making me scramble to the dictionary all the time with obtuse verbiage. So it's also no surprise that this book was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the biography category (I don't know what beat it out for the award, but this book certainly could have won).

Particularly astute are his formal analyses - which are harrowing in Beethoven, with his myriad liberties taken with sonata and rondo processes - which shed light and bring focus to the dark and fuzzy world of form in Beethoven's music. A lot that will be of practical use to me as a composer as well.

So, if you haven't read this yet, and you're a Beethoven aficionado, by all means read it!

*****

With all of this Beethoven reading, I'm preparing myself for a critical listening marathon of his music, and I've thought of some neat strategies for that. I have the Complete String Quartets, which are a cinch to follow, but getting all of the full scores for the symphonies would be expensive, and to be totally honest, I suck at score reading (Like I often say, I read music much better than 90% of guitarists, which is still admitting that I'm not very good at it). So, in a flash of intuition, I decided to get the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven's symphonies, which come in two volumes by Kalmus.

But wait, there's more. A pianist named Cyprien Katsaris has actually recorded them all, so I got that too.

I also got the Brendel recordings of the complete piano sonatas, and the sheet music those are available in two volumes as well.

I've put this off for many years, because I didn't think I was ready until now. Well, having composed two sonatas for solo guitar, and one for guitar duo (With a third solo sonata in progress), I think I'm ready.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Scherzo in C Major for Solo Guitar

The Waltz from the previous post has grown into a Scherzo now, just by my rendering the tune in 4/4 for a Trio, and then the original tune in 3/4 returns. I have an idea for a 6/8 rendering - and it is written out in a alpha test version - but I haven't gotten it perfect yet.

The main challenge in juxtaposing one time signature against another is that you either have to create a metric modulation, or an effective pivot. In this simple little piece I decided to pivot.

Here's the AIFF audio file: Scherzo in C Major

The song remains the same - haha - until the second ending of the B' section, where two eighths appear under the open G on the final beat. This pivots the piece perfectly into the 4/4 rendering, which has an Alberti bass in eighth notes. So, whereas the 3/4 section has eighths only in the axial return to the tonic level, in the 4/4 rendering, it's constant eighths. This has a surprising and humorous effect, which is what scherzi are all about.

As you can see, the melody is pretty much the same, except in those measures where the melodic trajectory returns to balance with the eighth notes in the lead. This 4/4 version allowed me to use the entire four note chromatic lick in the bass of the C section, and a true dominant lead-in to the final measure of the D section. You can also hear that I had a lot of fun with the Alberti bass. The final measure of the D' section, we get the pivot back to the quarters of the 3/4 version. It is in these pivots, which look so simple, that student composers often foul up. To pivot from quarters to eighths, it is only the final beat that needs eighths in the bass to pivot, but to slow from eighths to quarters requires a full half measure.

Then the original tune returns, but without repeats. In performance, the guitarist could play the waltz - considered a scandalously sexual dance when it first appeared - very slutty, but the Alberti section all prim and proper. It is a very effective and humorous musical contrast.

And so we're done. I don't take composition students anymore - frankly because there aren't any who I'm interested in teaching at present - but I encourage student composers to write lots and lots of miniatures. If someone tells me they are a composer, I ask them to show me the simplest piece they've ever composed that they think is perfect, because if you can't compose perfect miniatures, you can't compose at all. And my smallest perfect miniature is much smaller than this compound form (Though this is the smallest compound form miniature I've ever done).

This will be the Scherzo for my third sonata for solo guitar. I already had the Allegro and the Finale, so now all I need is a slow movement, which I think I'll do as a theme and variations.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Waltz in C Major for Solo Guitar

Inspired by Dr. Gjerdingen's Music in the Galant Style, I have written a charming little waltz in C for the guitar. Early on in the book, he quotes a Mozart horn concerto that had a cliche I recognized from several classical pieces I'd heard. It's over a schema he calls a Jupiter, after the finale of Mozart's Jupiter symphony, which has the famous do, re, fa, mi underpinning (My favorite single movement in all of Mozart's numerous symphonies). The harmonic continuity is I, V, V, I, so there are several possibilities: do, ti, re, do; do, re, ti, do; do, ti, sol, do &c. You chose the form of the underpinning depending on what you want to do with the melody. In the Mozart horn concerto example, the gist of the melody was do, di, re, ri, mi. Like I said, I'd heard this chromatic lick many times before. Mozart's piece was in 6/8, but I recognized the simplest way to present it would be in 3/4, and so I was writing a waltz (More modern than the ancient minuet).

Mozart's continuation went on to modulate, which was a pro forma aspect of galant writing, but I recognized immediately that if you didn't modulate, you could continue the chromatic lick through fa and fi to sol, and in so doing get an augmented sixth under fi to target the dominant seventh chord on the last beat of measure six. This screamed out for a fermata, which really makes the a section pluperfect. The conclusion after the (written-out) fermata is also the irreducible essence of simplicity. You can make a nursery rhyme profound if you have something profound to say with it. The section doesn't modulate, but it does have all twelve pitch classes in just eight measures!

The difficult thing for this piece was the B section. It took a couple of days of working on it as I went to sleep before I got the idea to go from sol back down to ti for the fermata on the V(m7) sonority. This allowed me to use some of my favorite secondary dominant harmonies: V(d5m7)/IV, V(d5m7)/iii (The harmonic point of origin for what the old fashioned theorists called the French Augmented Sixth chord), V(d5m7)/ii, and finally the traditional French harmony, V(d5m7)/V in second inversion (The so-called German Augmented sixth is a V(d5m7m9)/V with the root missing). The B section really is the pluperfect answer to A, and, as a result, this piece sounds like something that has existed forever, I just happened to be the one to discover it.

Here's the audio (AIFF file, so you'll need QuickTime active in your browser): Waltz in C Major

And here's the score:

As you can see, the piece begins with a quarter note pickup on the dominant note G, which was part of Mozart's formula. That's the open G string, of course, which is why this has to be in C for the guitar. I laid out the melodic trajectory in three-note directional units: C, C#, D in measures one and two; D, D#, E in measures three and four, and then the E, F, F# in five and six that must resolve to G. In between are reiterations of the open G. Nothing could be simpler. For the underpinning, I used the do, ti, sol, do option of the Jupiter schema. The inner parts are in the traditional waltz accompaniment pattern, and the conclusion has a super-cool contrapuntal lick, followed by a soft cadence with a 9-8 attacked suspension to set up the repeat.

For the B section, then, I went from the open G to the G an octave higher and worked my way back down (The piece is so simple, everything is in open position!). The secondary dominants presented are: V(d5m7)/IV on the last beat of measure nine, V(d5m7)/iii on the last beat of measure eleven, V(d5m7)/ii on the final beat of measure thirteen, which goes into the V(d5m7)/V in second inversion at the beginning of fourteen. Then the lower voicing of the dominant seventh chord at the written-out fermata. All twelve pitch classes are in this section too. Pow!

Take a look at the voice leading from the V(d5m7)ii into the traditional French sonority: You have A to A-flat in the bass, and E-flat to E in the lead. Traditional composers - or theorists - would not allow this, as it seems to be a diminished fifth into an augmented fourth; a forbidden parallelism. Luckily for me, I studied Schillinger, and so I know this isn't a parallelism at all, as the voices transform in a crosswise manner: Root becomes diminished fifth/diminished fifth becomes root, and major third becomes minor seventh/minor seventh becomes major third. It's only a parallelism if the voices don't change function. Parallel perfect fifths are fine if the voices transform as well.

To make this into the dimensions of a traditional waltz, which has six sections usually, I had to make the form A, A, B, B, A, B, A'. This will doubtless be in my next sonata for solo guitar, so I will most likely make it into a scherzo by composing another piece to go on the interior. That would make it go to something like an A, A, B, A, C, D, C, A, B, A' form. Time will tell!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Music in the Galant Style

I'm currently reading this book, and it is a real eye opener. I'm not much of a fan of the more obscure galant style composers, as the music sounds so much the same. I have similar problems with Haydn and Mozart. Well, it turns out there's a reason for that, and that's the fact that they used a set of formulas called partimentos, which are figured bass patterns. The cleverness came in how they ornamented and realized these patterns (I would call those patterns harmonic continuities, of course). The patterns were either opening gambits, or following reposts (What I would call A section and B section material, respectively, or antecedent/consequent phrases), and they were followed by an equally high number of different clausulae (Cadences). So, it was a mix-and-match process, which also explains how those composers were so prolific: The music was highly standardized.

I highly recommend this book for any student of composition, and some of these patterns are amenable to modernization, so I'm going to use them. His exhaustive description of galant style musical punctuation is also first rate. The best I've ever encountered.