Monday, October 17, 2005

Compound Ternary Form: The Scherzo

In my last post on the sonata process, I mentioned a Scherzo that went with it. Today I want to take a tour of that piece with you.

At this point, I'm not sure if the entire multi-movement sonata will end up as three movements or four. I have the sonata-process first movement pretty far along (I'd say it's at about the 80% point), the scherzo is etched in stone now, and I have the subject, exposition, and counterexposition done for the fugal finale: I'm just not sure if I want to write a cantabile piece or not yet. To be honest, I'm not good at that sort of thing. In fact, I've never been convincing trying to write pretty, expressive melodic pieces (Jazz pieces excepted: I've written a lot of nice Bossas, Sambas, and jazz Ballads over the years). Part of it is motivation: I don't care for that kind of stuff from a compositional challenge perspective. Part of it is inclination: I'd rather write some "serious" counterpoint or harmony because I'm naturally better at it. Coming up with something beautiful in a sentimental sense without being sappy has always eluded me. And then, part of it is fear: The Adagio of Beethoven's Ninth is my ideal for that sort of thing, and who can possibly top that? It's... ah... well, hell... it's my favorite love-making music of all time. When I come up with an autumnal romanza in that league, you'll hear about it.

In any event, if it winds up as a triptych, this will be the second piece; if is't a standard quad, it will be number III. The reason for the placement as third of four has to do with the melodic pitch climax: It's the highest B at the very top of the classical guitar fretboard in this Scherzo. I want that to be at around the 66% point of the overall sonata, but definately not at circa the 33% point: The climax needs to be somewhere after the 50% point.

The earliest versions of the menuetto of this piece date back to the late 80's. In fact, it was within the first ten pieces for guitar in the traditional contrapuntal style I ever wrote. I returned to it several times over the years, and it has been a kind of journeyman piece for me. It's quite dangerous to perform, and it's only been within the last few months that I've added it to my set for public consumption. I'm giving this background because I want you to understand that, to me, this piece is absolutely perfect: Perfectly finished, perfectly balanced, and polished to perfection. It's a diamond. Perhaps only a 1/8 carat diamond, but it's a diamond. There is nothing I would change: Not a note out of place, all the fingerings are worked out. It's "stick a fork in it" done, unlike everything else of mine I've presented on this blog thus far.

Scherzo implies a joke. A musical joke. There is supposed to be some sort of witicism present. In this case, it's the "ti-la-ti-do-me-sol" figure that is presented in the brief introduction, the fact that the said figure is the only thing that is rhythmacised (Otherwise, it's a completely motoric "perpetual-motion" kind of composition), and the fact that the piece never modulates. Ever. It just naievely and humorously ends all it's phrases on the tonic of B minor.

I believe that I've mentioned before that the Scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth is my single most favorite piece in the entire symphonic literature, and this piece is directly inspired by it, but it's not fugal and it's notated in 6/8 versus 3/4. I'm sorry, but I'm a guitarist. I read about as well as you would expect a guitarst to: deplorably. I use music notation for only two purposes: To write music down, and to memorize it. Give me a score, and the transposing instruments make my head spin. I have about 50 pieces memorized for my set, and I wouldn't have a music stand on stage with me if you paid extra. I cannot sight-read at all (Except for chord charts). So, as a result, B's notation of his super-fast scherzo in 3/4 makes my brain cramp. 6/8 just makes more sense to me (And, I suspect, to many others as well).

After the presentation of the jocular figure in the intro, the menuetto proceeds in a way that I relate to Baroque Gigues and Gavottes that I like. In fact, the whole Scherzo compound form traces back to these Baroque pieces with their doubles: It is a "song within a song" kind of construction that most normatively reduces to an ||A, A'|B||A"||C|D|C'||A'|B|A'''|| form, or a closely related variant. This piece follows that archetecture (Beethoven's Scherzo in the Ninth is really more of a sonata-process piece with a fugal exposition for the first theme group).

As you can see, I worked the "ti-la-ti-do-me-sol" figure into the A section at measure ten, but left it out of the A' section to better prepare for B. The first development of the little inside joke is at measure 26, where it is an octave above the statement of the intro, but harmonized with counterpoint. The note G at the beginning of measure 28 is the melodic pitch climax of the menuetto, and it falls at... circa the 66% point of that subsection.

The top of the second page is just the final A section, after which the Trio begins (Technically a "Duo", I guess, since it's just two voices). The "ti-la-ti-do-me-sol" joke is in the second measure of the C section, but it get's it's second real development starting in measure 47 in the D section, which sounds absolutely Beethovian, as he was fond of intervallic expansion to develop a theme, as I do here. This passage positively rocks.

The passage beginning at measure 58 is a variant of the passage back at measure 43, but the figure of measure 46 is interjected after each duplet of phrases to create triplet groups. I've never done this before or since, but it is really a fantastic technique. Probably dumb luck that I came up with it so long ago. Never discount the power of intuition.

The ultimate revelation of the joke begins in measure 65: After the duplet of "ti-la-ti-do-me-sol" statements launching the trajectory to the pitch climax, the figure is intervallically compressed to become "le-sol-le-la-te-ti" to the final "do" at the beginning of measure 68, which is the highest note on the guitar - as I mentioned previously - and it falls at... circa the 66% point of the entire piece when you figure in the repeats. The restatement of the menuetto follows, and yes, those super-high harmonics at the end are no problem when you've worked on the piece for... oh... about fifteen years.

The final versions are, as per usual, available on my fileshare page as both PDF and MIDI files.


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