Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Fugue on a Serial Subject for Wind Trio

I abandoned the idea of writing this fugue for solo guitar, as the subject's stretto possibilities could not be realized in that restrictive of an idiom (Among other things). In one of those many "I was right the first time" episodes we all have, I returned it to the wind trio, which is the idiom in which I originally concieved this subject.

In case you have not crossed this thread before: This fugue subject is a twelve tone row (All twelve tones of the equally tempered chromatic system in a speciffic order with no repetitions) - Classic Serial Technique - but it establishes definite pitch axes and can easily be interpreted tonally.

The tessitura of the subject landed the fugue in D minor, and please note that this is a Concert Pitch Score: The clarinet part is not transposed (I have a hard enough time reading scores without that added complexity, which MIDI thankfully makes unnecessary).

Because of the inherantly chromatic nature of the subject - which is much more avant garde than any other subject I've ever come up with - the resulting fugue is in a very colorful style that is quite unlike anything else I've ever written. It is still quite conservative by atonalist standards, but I would be lying if I indicated anything other than that this piece is reactionary in nature: I am an anti-atonalist, and I don't mind "stealing" serial tech to give a "pie in the face" nod to that style. If you are an atonalist, please don't take that personally, as it is meant as a bit of good natured and humorous ribbing.



The clarinet is given the first statement of the tone row, and the flute get's the answer, which must necessarily be real to acurately reproduce the tone row on the dominant level. The bassoon comes in with the final thematic statement of the subject, and note it is at the same pitch level as the lowesd D that the clarinet had in measure eight (After which it leaps up an octave): This provides a nice effect of the chalmeau register of the clarinet versus the midrange tone of the bassoon and "spins off" the final thematic statement of the exposition.

I composed the countersubjects and counter-answers using my usual approach, which is more seventeenth century modal tech than eighteenth century tonal tech: The voice leading produces the harmonic effects while I think in a primarily contrapuntal fashion.

It is difficult to explain the balancing act I do with this approach, as it would be a mistake to assume that I am not totally atuned to, and aware of, each and every vertical sonority, but I get to them through multi-linear thinking. If you did a statistical comparison between my counterpoint and Bach's, I believe that you would find about 50% more stepwise motion in my fugues, which would probably be a lot closer to the music of Palestrina in that regard. One of the few criticisms I have about Bach's style is that he leaps around too much to get harmonic colors and effects, and through that sacrifices the purity of line that Palestrina exhibits in his work. And, the further down this path I get, the more I think that Palestrina was the epitome of contrapuntal purity of stylistic integrity (Easily on par with Mozart's style, which I addressed previously).

One of the things I did was to work up to a surface continuity of eighth notes, which is occasionally interrupted by the dotted-eighth/sixteenth figure that ends the subject, and which is also occasionally adorned with a few consecutive sixteenths (In the cumulative rhythm). Another is that I pull the piece back and forth from a primarily simple tripple meter feel and a compound duple meter feel: You can see this in the flute part from measures nine to twelve. It's a neat effect that fits in perfectly with the chromatic nature of the piece.



The first episode is non-modulatory, and introduces a feature of augmented sixths/diminished tenths that I will return to several times over the course of the fugue.

The first middle entry introduces an elaborated version of countersubject one, and tcountersubject two, which the flute had in the lead previously, is now in the bass with the bassoon: This is the primary arrangement of these elements, and the rest of the middle entries will simply display their invertible nature.

The second episode modulates to the dominant region, where another arrangement of the elements may be displayed. Though the elements are varied from the first episode, the augmented sixth element is still present. I love the slightly "wacky" feel of these passages.



The second middle entry at measure twenty-three displays a different inversion of the first countersubject set, now on the dominant level. Since this is a tone row, it cannot be translated to the major mode, so the middle entries simply cycle back and forth between the dominant and tonic levels.

Episode three is unique, and it just "happened" intuitively, but it sounds quite idiomatic for the wind trio and does not violate the style of the piece at all. In fact, it is a welcome variation being that the first two episodes are so similar.

The third middle entry displays the second countersubject set in a new inversion.



Episode four returns to the feel of the first two episodes, and modulates back to the dominant level.

The fourth middle entry exposes the second countersubject set in the original arrangement, but now on the dominant level, and with the lower voice moved up versus down in range, so it's tightened up overall range wise.

Episode five is of the same feel as one, two, and four, and returns us to the tonic level.



The fifth "middle entry" is unique in that the subject is varied: It is intervallically expanded, and the tail is modified. The "countersubjects" are also unique, and this passage almost feels like an extension of the previous episode in some ways. It's quite a nice lick.

Since we are already on the tonic level, episode six does not need to modulate, as we are approaching the recap. The overal decending nature of the episode tips the listener off to the fact that this is going to come to the final thematic statements of the piece.

The recapitulation itself was difficult to arrive at: The subject and answer work in stretto at one measure of distance with the answer below the subject, but the answer and subject only work at three measures delay with the subject above, which might seem anti-climactic. But, by giving the flute a soaring arch of a counterpoint to the initial stretto, I was able to set up a really cool bass counterpoint for the final combination that more than mitigates against that possibility.



As you can see, I was able to use the answer's tail figure - first in sequence, then in inversion - to extrapolate a bass counterpoint to the final statement of the subject. Combined with the clarinet's accellerating decending chromatic line in the middle, this gives rise to a quite exciting effect. The subject's tail then takes over this self-similar fractal process in measure fifty-eight, and into the tiny codetta that begins in measure fifty-nine.

Note that the outside voices arrive at their final resolution into measure sixty via an augmented sixth in the outer voices in keeping with the style of the rest of the piece. Finally, the clarinet gets in on the action with it's final flourish in measure sixty, and humorously feigns an end on the minor third just before introducing the final measure's tierce de Picardie in the final measure.

And yes, I noticed that the piece being sixty-one measures long and in tripple time means that at 61 beats-per-minute it would be "The Three Minute Fugue": I'll probably use that in keeping with my overall convivial approach to the piece as a whole.

I really like this little thing, and I get the distinct impression that it may foreshadow a more chromatic development in my integrated-modal style of counterpoint.

God forbid that I may be approaching the haut coture of contemporary mucic though!



"Huc, you make serialism sound as good as I make this goofy dress look!"

Thank you, Clinta.

This is now on my FileShare page as S_TRIO_3VOX_SERIAL_FUGUE.pdf/.mid if you want to take a listen.

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