Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Discovery and Application: Guitar Fugue Redux

No Tim, not "applicability", LOL!

BTW: I have added a link to Tim Rutherford-Johnson's excelent blog "Johnson's Rambler" to my sidebar blog list, so check him out (But frankly, if you frequent music blogs and you haven't found his place already, I'd be surprised). "Listen" is also there now, and it's great as well.

This topic has been rattling around in my cranium for a while, but I needed an example to "mature" before I could address it. Well, now I have one, so here we go.

What got this started for me was the recollection of a comment I heard someone make years ago (Can't recall who, exactly) that basically was critical of Mozart for recycling material: "It all sounds too much the same." At the time, I believe I nodded in agreement, believe it or not.

Well, the more I get into analyzing aspects of stylistic development, and developing approaches of my own to style, the more I come to realize that statement was ignorant, as was my dunderheaded agreement with it.

In a lot of the guitar music I write, I "discover" things: Harmonic structures, chord progressions, contrapuntal sequences and combinations, etc. In fact, I pretty sure that every piece I've ever written has had a discovery of one sort or another in it. However, as I look at pieces I've written more recently, I find that I am now applying elaborated versions of those previous discoveries alongside of new ones I'm making: This is an aspect of stylistic development I don't recall ever hearing anyone address before (Though, no doubt, UMI probably has, like, a gazillion dissertations on this or related topics).

My view of Mozart is complex: I admire the unity and integrity of his style more and more, but the actual music is a bit on the light side for my taste. That is not to say I don't recognize the trancendent genius of it, just that it moves me less than say Bach, Beethoven, or... Haydn. I don't want to digress too far on this path because it is only tangentally related to what I want to address today, so suffice it to say that the music of the other three simply speaks to me on a deeper, "heavier" level, but I believe Mozart achieved an unprecidented unity and clarity of stylistic integrity.

I believe Mozart achieved this stylistic unity through the process of discovery and application, as do all successful composers, but to a previously and subsequently unmatched degree (Though, I wouldn't disagree if you think Bach was as good or even better).

In the old days, I never analyzed my work retrospectively: The piece was finished, I liked it, so "Next!" As time went on, however, I found myself increasingly saying to myself things like, "What was it I did back in that B minor prelude?", and so I started taking a closer look at my stuff. I think this is useful for developing style, and not just because you get to solidify processes, but because in analyzing your own work, you will make further discoveries of things you did intuitively, and you'll be able to internalize those things as well.

This little guitar fugue is a good example of this. I've come to the conclusion that it is by far the best piece I've ever written for the guitar as pure music, but a lot of the features that make it special I did intuitively and discovered retrospectively.

I'm not a big fan of Schenker - Though I own Free Composition and the Five Graphic Music Analyses and have "Schenked" my share of pieces. The reason has always been that I considered it a great analysis technique, but I thought the results were achieved through intuition and the natural tendency of voices to decend in strong root progressions: I didn't see how you could start with a "Schenker Line" and get a piece out of it... until now.

One of the first things I noticed was that my fugue subject is merely a very slightly decorated and primordial "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" in Schenker-speak! And, of course, the entire piece is also a 5 to 1. Talk about a seminal discovery!

Another thing that I wondered about was why did the fugue "want" me to come to a brief repose at cadential points versus having elisions at those points? Well, if you take a look at the progression of the piece toward a surface continuity of eighth notes - which was where I thought this was headed initially, you'll notice that it never "gets there": The tail figure of the subject has a dotted-eight followed by a sixteenth, and so the progress toward constant eighth notes is thwarted.

During the second thematic statement of the answer and counter-answer starting at measure five, the eighth notes are brought back from the tail figure by one beat in measure seven, and then in the third thematic statement of the subject and it's countersubjects, the eighths are brought back two beats from the tail in measure eleven. This process is then interrupted by the first episode beginning in measure thirteen, and that entire episode has the rhythm of the tail figure, so the process does not come to completion there either.

That is why it is not only OK to come to a brief repose at the cadence into measure sixteen, but it is actually more effective to do that than to try to cram some sort of elision figure in there: The subsequent entry of the subject over a perfect fourth is more effective this way.

You may notice that I've eliminated the ties in the 4-3 suspension/resolution chains, and that is because it's much easier to finger - and more idiomatic to the guitar - if I do it that way. As someone who performs his own stuff, I'm very aware of the "cost/benefit" factor: Is keeping the ties in there worth the extra effort? Is the "payoff" worth it? I decided not.

As you can see, the constant eighth note surface rhythm is only missing in the measure with the tail figure now, and the second episode, being a variation of the first, is again of no "help" in the effort: All subsequent cadential points during this counterexposition are properly elided, but still a constant eighth note presence is not achieved.

As a result, the lack of an elision into measure 32 is not only not percieved as a fault, it is actually an inevitability that continues the established overall rhythmic scheme, and it again makes the entrance of the subject under the major second far more effective. The fact that the resolutiuon from the V/V to the I of the relative is a deceptive one further facilitates this effect.

Throughout this series of middle entries, I have added a further sixteenth note to the ultimate measures with the tail figure, but the second eighth note of those measures still never appears. Even in measure forty-seven, where I launch into the constant sixteenths that will make up the third and climactic episode, that second eighth note is still absent.

If you've seen the previous entries about this fugue, you already know that the third episode is a harmonized version of the theme in augmentation: It starts out as the answer in the dominant region, and throughout it's modulation ends up the subject on the tonic level. Though the texture is constant sixteenth notes, the tail figure's rhythm is nowhere to be found (Except in augmentation, and even then it is disguized by the arpeggiation pattern), so when the cadence to the tonic is not elided, it's perfectly natural and inevitable.

It is also worth noting that the third episode, because it presents the augmented subject starting in the dominant region, is another big "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" line, complete with a harmonically achieved modulation.

You probably notice that I don't put harmonic analyses in my counterpoint pieces. I do this for a reason: I prefer the purity of the modal style, so I use that approach in a tonal context and let the harmonies happen "intuitively" except for at cadence points, or in modulatory episodes such as the climactic one here.

Anyway, the return to the tonic sets up a unique stretto where every voice gets the subject starting on the same pitch level. This has a fabulous closing effect for the fugue. I mean, it absolutely, positively puts the piece to bed. During this recapitulation, the tail figure still has no second eighth note until the penultimate measure where I'm reprising the 4-3 suspension/resolution chain, and that leads to a final constant sixteenth note flourish at the final cadence. Of course, a ritardando is definitely required here. And, it's three consecutive and interlocking "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" Schenker lines.

Another thing is the four voice chord that ends the piece. A perfect triad has four tones: Root, third, fifth, and a root doubling at the octave. This is also prefigured and built up to. At measure fourty-eight - over the dominant pedal, I first introduce a four voiced triad, but it is not in close position, and the octave doubling is not on the outside. Note that it is a brief sixteenth note's duration. The fugue goes into a kind of "free-voiced-ness" during the third episode, as the arpeggiation pattern hints alternately at four voices and then three voices, with the four voiced texture having the edge (It could even be considered incipient five/four voiced texture with the pedal point included).

So, the second four voiced triad at measure fifty-five, over the tonic pedal, is natural and inevitable. Note that it also is not in close position, and does not have the octave doubling at the outer extremes, so it is far from being a "perfect" triad. Then, it is a quarter note's duration, which matches up with the earlier reposes, and it is four times longer than the previous four note triad in sixteenth notes.

As a result, the third and final four note triad that is in close position and is perfect with it's exterior octave doubling also has a final inevitability to it, and is not just "there" to more convincingly end the piece. And, though it is notated in half notes, with the ritardando it is virtually in whole notes: Four times the previous four note triad's duration.

Other proportional things I noticed: The first episode is three measures long, the second is four measures long, and the third is seven measures long. 3 + 4= 7. In the MIDI version, where I programmed in the riatrdandos and accelerandos in, the pitch climax in measure forty-seven falls at... the 67% point. There are fourteen thematic statements including the harmonized version in the third episode. Number thirteen (Betrayal) enters early and starts the stretto. The first episode is 25% as long as it's preceeding entries, the second episode is 33% as long as it's preceeding entries, and the third episode is 44% as long as it's previous entries: This, as 8 + 11, is very close to the Fibonacci series' 8 +13, and in the temporal climate of the music is just as effective.

As you can see, analyzing your intuition can be a fruitful venture. Now that I've discovered that I do these things in my best pieces, I can more consistantly apply them in the future.

I need sleep. As usual, the piece is on my FileShare page



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