Saturday, December 31, 2005

Four Gigs... Two Days

Newyear's weekend is the zenith of silly season. Today? A wedding at four, a dinner gig at seven. Eight-eight miles apart. Tomorrow? A wedding at four, a dinner gig at seven. Eighty-eight miles apart. Anyway...

Happy New Year from Hucbald in Lajitas (Where it was 78 degrees F this afternoon).

Too much of this kind of scheduling and I might take up smoking again.

Oh, that's great. Just... great.

EDIT: 01/15/06 Image re-sized for IE users having trouble with the sidebar.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Convertible Counterpoint III

In the previous post I explained the phenomenon of vertical shifting conversions, but Taneiev also covers horizontal shifting conversions. This is inextricably linked to the technique of canon, but the melodies are not copies of each other, rather, they are different melodies. So, for instance, with Taneiev's techniques, a two-voice contrapuntal combination could be written wherein the two voices start out simultaneously, but they will also make correct counterpoint if one of the melodies starts out a measure later (Or any other time-delay you might want: He is again exhaustive in his treatment of the subject).

For the present study of this book, I am primarily interested in learning to a competent level of facility the two-voice vertical and horizontal shifting technologies. This means that I will be leaving out significant portions of the book. The book is divided into two parts - Part One and Part Two - and each part has two divisions - Division A, Division B, Division C, and Division D.

In Part One, Division A covers two-voice vertical-shifting counterpoint, so I will work through that, but Division B covers the same subject in three voices, so that will be skipped. In Part Two, Division C covers two-voice horizontal-shifting and double-shifting counterpoint, so I'll go through that, but Division D covers those subjects for three voices, so I'll leave that out too. I may skip over the double-shifting conversions as well, depending on how confident I feel at that point, but the book sort of mingles the two subjects, so that may not be practicable. So, it looks like I will cover about 190 of the book's circa 350 pages.

The reason I only want to deal with two-voice vertical and horizontal shifting combinations is manifold: That is the irreducible essence of the technology (So I want to master that first), the two-voice techniques will more readily be applicable to the guitar (So I can start using them in compositions I'll actually perform right away, especially considering that a third free voice will often be needed to make them effective), I am anxious to get to Dr. Grove's translation of Taniev's Doctorine of Canon - where I'll also restrict myself to the sections dealing with two voices at first - and finally, by grasping these techniques first, I'll be able to cement the three voice techniques easier during a future study through both books. There is also the consideration that this will be a long enough book-blog as it stands.

I really want to get this stuff down. In the worst possible way. Have for years, but now I have the basic contrapuntal chops to do it (I pray).


In studying the difficult and involved treatment of counterpoint - especially double counterpoint - as presented in the textbooks of ancient and modern theorists, I encountered various obsticles that seemed to result from faulty classifications, too many useless rules and not enough essential rules. [This is what got me to start thinking about the difference between rule-sets that describe a style and the underlying laws governing contrapuntal motion. - Ed.]

The system expounded in the present work appears to me to be simpler, more accurate and more accessible, as the result of applying the process of elementary algebra to contrapuntal combinations, and by restating certain essential rules in terms of the conventional symbols of mathematics. This enabled me to take into consideration a far greater number of relevant facts, and to bring them under control of a comparitively small number of general principles.

For many years I have used seperate parts of this theory in my classes in counterpoint at the Moscow Conservatory, and I have tried to simplify the treatment at those places where experience has shown that difficulties were encountered by students.

The present book is an exposition, of the utmost comprehensiveness, of convertible counterpoint in the strict style. In using it as a textbook the teacher should select, from amid the detailed development of the subject, what is most necessary for the student.
[Exactly my goal in this autodidactic escapade. - Ed.]

I have dedicated this book to the memory of H. A. Laroche, whose articles (especially Thoughts on Musical Education in Russia) have had a profound influence on the trend of my musical activities.

Serge Taneiev

Klin, July 1, 1906

My musical activities ought to include more Country and Western dancing with partners who look like this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Convertible Counterpoint II

Convertible counterpoint can be defined as an all-inclusive phenomenon of which invertible counterpoint is just a special instance. For example, counterpoint that inverts at the octave is traditionally taught as simply requiring that no parallel perfect fourths be used in the original so that when the positions of the voices are exchanged, there will be no parallel fifths (I allow for no parallel fourths in two voices anyway, considering octave inversion to be a natural feature of counterpoint, but when one wants to think harmonically in three or more voices, they are acceptable. Some of my very early posts on this blog cover my thinking on that).

Convertible counterpoint does not require that the voices invert, just that the voices convert to a different intervallic distance. For example, if a two voice combination is written with the proper set of restrictions, it can make proper counterpoint starting an octave apart or starting at a perfect fifth apart. In Convertible Counterpoint, Taniev exhaustively lists all possibilities for conversion. In order to do this, he defines intervals of conversion in mathematical terms that take a little getting used to. The interval of a unison is not one, but zero; a second is not 2, but one, &c. By employing this terminology, Taneiev is able to reduce the process down to a mechanically precise technique wherein there is no needless and time-wasting experimentation: The convertible combination is properly written from the beginning with the possible conversions being known at the outset.

Familiarity with the rules of convertibility will also allow the composer to exhaustively list all possible conversions of pre-existing contrapuntal combinations: Simply analyze the intervallic progression, and the non-usable conversions will eliminate themselves and the usable ones will be revealed.

Obviously, this technological approach is never taught in any university or conservatory counterpoint classes (Unless Taneiev's book is being used as a text, and I've never heard of this being done), and that is a shame because the technology is obviously supremely superior.

The applications for this technology go far beyond fugue writing, as they can be applied to sonata process themes, song melodies and accompaniment, or anything else you can imagine applying them to. Taneiev himself said that in miniatures there are rich possibilities for applications of these techniques (I used convertible counterpoint in a sonatina where the second theme and it's counterpoint work an octave, a tenth, and a twelfth apart, which simply requires no parallel movement at all, and so is quite easy to do: In that piece the theme appears in E minor, G major, and C major, but always the theme is on the same tonal level; only the bass line's level and the respective key-related incidentals are changed. The theme also, therefore, works harmonized in thirds with the bass counterpoint: This is a very cool effect!).


by Dr. G. Ackley Brower

The works of Serge Ivanovitch Taneiev (1856-1915), both musical and literary, seem to be little known outside of his native country, though recent years have witnessed an increased interest of one who as a composer, theorist, concert pianist, critic, and teacher, became one of the outstanding figures in the musical life of Russia and who is now gaining the wider recognition that he deserves. Taneiev's compositions must speak for themselves; the present purpose is neither to attempt a critical estimate of them nor to give a biographical sketch of their composer, but to introduce to teachers and students of composition his work on advanced counterpoint.

It is difficult to discuss this book in terms of restraint. Since the fourteenth century, or earlier, many books on music theory have appeared. Amid a mass of indifferent writings and others of considerable value but not outstanding there are a few that have made history; one of the greatest was the Dodechachordon of Glanarious, another was the Gradus ad Parnassum of Josph (sic) Fux. Not without good reason has Lazare Saminsky referred to Convertible Counterpoint as "having the same meaning for for musical science that Newton's Principia has for cosmology." It may be said without reservation that the student has at hand the greatest work on counterpoint ever written. It is a book that will reveal possibilities for the art of composition that have hitherto been but vaguely realized or actually unknown. Though applying, according to the title, only to the strict style of the Polyphonic Period, it's principles, as the author himself says, may be extended to the free style of later times and to the modernism of today and of the future. To study and master its contents will give the student a command over the resources of composition that can be obtained in no other way. The variety of subjects in it, the thoroughness and clearness with which they are presented, their logical arrangement, the examples illustrating the text, and above all the outstanding originality of the author's thought - all this makes this a work compared to which other books on counterpoint seem elementary.

From this it may be inferred that Convertible Counterpoint is not a beginner's text, yet it's study may be undertaken sooner than might be expected. The author says (in § 175) that the exercises he suggests suggests should start as soon as three voice counterpoint can be satisfactorally managed
[I had to wait until I could manage three voices comfortably on the guitar - Ed.], and that thereafter simpls convertible counterpoint should be studied concurrently. To this I would add that there seems to be no reason why the exercises in two voices should not be successfully attempted as soon as two-voice mixed counterpoint (i.e. both voices in the fifth species) has been studied. [The reason Taneiev suggests that one wait until three voices are mastered is because to make the conversions effective, and to apply them in an actual composition, a third free voice must often be composed. - Ed.] The student should then be well able to cope with the simpler of the fascinating problems set by Taneiev in the earlier chapters of Parts One and Two, though the more difficult ones will require require skill in the manipulation of from three to six voices. [Exactly: I can handle five voices off of the guitar now, so I should be able to cope with writing purely theoretical examples with all of the conversion possibilities presented. I can't imagine a student who can write in only two voices being acute enough to grasp some of these concepts and apply them unless only the simplest possibilities are attempted. In my opinion, it's good to be exposed to these concepts early, but to study through this book thoroughly will require a fairly advanced facility with counterpoint in at least three voices. - Ed.]

The first thing that is likely to surprise the reader who may think that this is "just another book on counterpoint" is the proposition advanced by the author in his Preface - that the study of counterpoint is here put on a mathematical basis - algebra in fact.
[I score only in the forty-second percentile in numerical ability, and got D's consistently in math classes all of my life (Except for geometry, where I got an A), so hold on to your butts: This could get messy. - Ed.] Yet this is quite in accordance with present-day tendencies, and the fact that Taneiev thought about it as far back as 1870 shows that he is a pioneer in a field of research that now includes several prominent names in the musical world. But the student may be assured that he is not expected to know more than the fundamentals of algebra; of this more will be said presently. [I had to look up the definition of algebra! - Ed.] Taneiev's method opens up an enormous extent of untried resources, heretofore inaccessible because of the lack of an adequate approach - and only mathematics can provide it. Let no one get the idea that such an approach will stifle the imagination and yeild the unwelcome result of writing music that sounds mathematical. The effect of Taneiev's method is quite the opposite; it releases the imagination, pointing the way to endless possibilities that otherwise would never have been thought of. Here a few statistics may be enlightening, as showing how inadequately a vast subject has hitherto been treated.

Referring to eighteen standard texts that claim to teach double counterpoint *, I find that while all all of them deal with double counterpoint at the octave (or two octaves), none mentions double counterpoint at the fifth, only three at the sixth, two at the seventh, six at the ninth, seven at the eleventh, all except two at the tenth and twelfth, six at the thirteenth and five at the fourteenth. Two of them deal with double counterpoint only at the octave,. Several speak disparagingly of double counterpoint at intervals other than the octave, tenth, and twelfth. Not one mentions a use of combined themes that is found in Bach but which can be classified as neither simple nor double counterpoint. Put together, these texts provide for only nine ways of writing counterpoint in which the interval-relationship could be changed; Taneiev deals exhaustively with twenty-three, not by giving endless lists of rules and exceptions by by equations in simple algebra that eliminate all trial-and-error methods and that give positive results. All of them are practicable in the strict style, not to mention the free. Furthermore, none of these texts deals with tripple counterpoint at any interval other than the octave, and one of them (Jadassohn) definitely states that such a thing is impossible. Taneiev shows how it is done.

Of the authors cited in the first footnote and who could be expected to know about Taneiev's work only one, George Conus, mentions him. Conus' book A Course in Modal Counterpoint ** refers briefly to double counterpoint at the octave, tenth and twelfth, but he gives credit to Taneiev as having written the only complete treatise on the subject. After all, the sources upon which Taneiev's work is based were available to many who came before him, to his contemporaries, and to all who came after, and the fact that no one took full advantage of them certainly justifies the remark made in § 279 about certain theorists being exposed to "grave suspicions."

Nearly all these texts confuse the issue by treating double counterpoint at the tenth and the twelfth and duplication in imperfect consonances as belonging to the same category, whereas they do not. Again, the changes possible in the time-entrances of two or more melodies, called in this book horizontal shift, are ignored in all texts except Taneiev's, though some authors call attention to this interesting phenomenon in occasional quotations from Bach. But none of them throw the faintest light on how it is done. Finally, the principles of duplicated counterpoint and the horizontal shift combined with other varieties of counterpoint in both two and three voices leave one amazed at the enormous scope of the subject. An inventory of what is still untried in counterpoint would, by application of Taneiev's methods, run almost into astronomical figures.

Now as to algebra: the amount needed is very small - only a knowledge of the meanings of the signs +, -, and
[Those right and left arrows code is enclosed in, which vanish in the preview pane! - Ed.], the pribnciples of addition of addition and subtraction [I have enough fingers and toes, I think. - Ed.]; the transposition of terms in equations, and the rules for the removal of parentheses. Three hours spent with any algebra textbook should be enough for the most complicated of Taneiev's problems. [If I had a nickel for every math teacher who said to me, "This isn't really very difficult: Why are you having so much trouble with it?" I'd be a thousandaire. - Ed.]

A few additions of my own are in footnotes or at the ends of chapters. The musical quotations have been verified - a necessary measure as the original edition contains many misprints. On the last page of the original is the word konyetz, which I have omitted, as this book was not "the end" but was followed by a sequel dealing with the canon, doing (for - Ed.) this difficult style of composition what the present work does for convertible counterpoint - (it - Ed.) puts the study on a scientific basis.

I am indebted to several whose interest, advice, and information are in no small measure responsible for the appearance in English of the monumental work of Taneiev. First to be mentioned in (sic) Lazare Saminsky, who, about twenty years ago, told me of Taneiev's book and how radically different and superior it was to other texts. Without his description of the book and his enthusiastic recommendation of it I might never have known about it. Next are the obligations I owe to Alexander Siloti and Nicholas Orloff, both pupils of Taneiev whose reminiscences of their teacher were of the greatest interest. From Serge Rachmaninoff, Leopold Godowsky, Moritz Rosenthal, and Gregor Piatigorski I have received encouragemnent in a project that I entered upon with some doubts as to its interest to a publisher but none as to its value. Dr. Serge Koussevitzky, whose activities in the musical life in America were too well known to need further comment, contributed an Introduction. From books I have got valuable help from the Memoirs of Taneiev ,by Leonid Sabaniev, and from the second volume of the History of Music in Russia, a symposium on Taneiev, published in Moscow.

Tha (sic) manager of Bruce Humphries, Mr. Edmund R. Brown, and the members of the editorial and production staff have solved most successfully the peculiar mechanical problems that the printing of such a complicated text involves - the first of its kind to be done in English.

* The authors consulted were: Bandini, Bridge, Cherubini, Conus, Dubois, Goetschius, Haupt, Jadassohn, Jeppesen, Kitson, Krohn, Marquard, Morris, Prout, Richter, Riemann, Spalding, and Stohr; by no means exhaustive of the literature on the subject but, I think, a fair cross-section.

** In Russian; it is published by the Soviet Government.

I should get some kind of a reward for hunting-and-pecking my way through that.

"What did you have in mind?"

Uh... er... (Huc drops ball: punts)...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sergi Ivanovitch Taneiev: Convertible Counterpoint in the Strict Style

This is the greatest counterpoint book ever written. I discovered it back in 1987, way before I was ready for it (I had just composed the first couple of two-part countrapuntal guitar pieces that I still have in my repetoire, and I had barely enough counterpoint technique to write those), but I bought it anyway and read through it. I actually retained more than I should have, but I realized that it would take me fifteen to twenty years before I was ready to tackle it again. I didn't know when, exactly, I would be ready for it; but I did know that when that day came, I would know the time was right. As I was laying down for a nap this afternoon, I suddenly realized that time is now.

Convertible Counterpoint is the first of two counterpoint treatises Taneiev wrote (And they are treatises in the strictest possible sense of the word: Dense as molten lead, and breathtakingly unabridged), the second of which is The Doctrine of Canon. For many long decades after appearing in Russian in 1909 and 1915 respectively, both books remained untranslated into English, and then in 1962 Convertible Counterpoint finally appeared.

Doctrine of Canon continued to languish out of the reach of English-speaking musicians until in 1998, Dr. Paul R. Grove II - now at Gonzaga - translated it into English for his Doctoral Dissertation. I just got off the phone with UMI and have ordered it. The ultimate goal of this study is to get to the Doctrine, which I have wanted to study since finding out about it in 1997 (When Dr. Grove was still working on it as Mr. Grove), but since canons which can work at various intervallic and temporal distances will require understanding of the principles in Convertible Counterpoint there is no path to Doctrine except through Convertible Counterpoint.

Since I will be recording a CD, I will actually have plenty of time to do this: I require periodic rest during recording sessions, so I will read Convertible Counterpoint during these intermissions.


by Serge Koussevitzky

This translation of my late friend's labor of twenty years opens up to the English-speaking world one of the greatest musical treatises ever written, yet one that the barrier of language has denied far too long to countless students and composers whose careers might have been forwarded by it. If anyone ever raised the questionas to what author commanded the most comprehensive and ready knowledge of counterpoint through the ages I believe none other than Taniev could be named, because this work is the synthesis of two centuries of study and learning in the realm of counterpoint.

Sergi Ivanovitch was one of the most extraordinary intellectuals of the many to which Russia has given birth. In addition to music he acquired a really deep knowledge of natural science, sociology and philosophy. Russia's artists and thinkers sought him out all through his life - even flocking to visit him in the poor dwelling of his last years. Tschaikowsky (sic), fifteen years his senior, would submit to criticism from this pupil of his which he would tolerate from no one else. Rimsky-Korsakow (sic), with all his technical brilliance, felt like a student musician in the presence of Taneiev, and admitted it.

This great treatise was published in Moscow in 1909. Since I practiced composition in my early career I fairly devoured the book and urged on many others the advantage of doing likewise. When I had to devote most of my time to my career as a double-bass virtuoso, and later when my activities emphasized conducting to the detriment of composing, I found Taniev's Counterpoint was an invaluable asset on innumerable occasions in working out interpretation of orchestral scores - especially those of Bach, Handel and Brahms.

In Moscow we lived in the same neighborhood and frequently called on one another. We had long, interesting talks, and he amazed me by the boldness of his ideas; often in the field of musical interpretation he was daring to the point of radicalism. I recal, when I was preparing for the first time to conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that I used to go to Taneiev with the score. His conception was so striking and free from established traditions that even I, revolutionarily inclined, did not dare to accept it.

I knew him, of course, as one of Russia's formost pianists - although unknown to America. I have never heard the Fourth Concerto of Beethoven given a more brilliant and vivid performance; free and logical at the same time.

And I knew him as a composer of unique qualities. So much was he the master of contrapuntal theory and not it's slave, that his music concealed his immense technique in it's application. This is particularly true of his only opera, Orestia, his chamber music, and especially his cantata On the Reading of a Psalm.

It was my privilege to introduce this masterpiece to the public in two different ways. Taneiev in his last years was much reduced from lifelong affluence, and was living in a primitive dwelling with not even running water. In the beginning of 1913 he told me how he wished to compose a cantata which would require two years of intensive work, but that he could not even dream of doing it because he must make a living - giving lessons and so forth. I immediately offered to give him the sum he needed, and to publish the cantata in my publishing house, Editions Russe de Musique, which, by coincidence, had been founded the year before his book appeared. The sum he mentioned was ridiculously small even for those days. All he needed, he said, was 3000 roubles - equivalent to $1500 - for two years of life! This may well give an idea of how modestly he lived, but he positively refused a higher offer.

In two years the cantata was completed and I placed it on my program in both Moscow and Petrograd. It was indeed a masterpiece - a great and noble work. When I conducted two performances in each city in April, 1915, it was declared by all competent judges to be the finest work Taneiev had produced. I have never seen Serge Ivanovitch as happy as at these performances of his cantata. Later in the month he caugh (sic) a severe cold at the funeral services for Scriabin, and this produced a heart complication which caused his death on June 19, 1915.

The enlightenment on musical structure, the mental stimulus, in Taneiev's book are of far-reaching service. As counterpoint is presented by Serge Ivanovitch the reader finds himself, like the author, making of it not so much the analysis of a process as a habit of thought, a second thought, a second nature, which leads on to the creation of beauty - flawless in its form and proportions.

Ah, yes. Flawless form and proportions.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Extempore in A minor Redux: Creative Analysis

The Extempore in A minor is all polished up now, and I discovered some interesting things as I analyzed it. What I found lead me to make a relatively minor modification to it that added much more than the sum of the changes would suggest. Before I can explain what I did, however, I'm going to have to lead you quickly back through the piece.

For those not familiar with this from earlier postings, I'll offer a scant review. The piece uses the fugal process but boiled down to it's irreducible essence: Instead of a proper subject, it has the tiny do, ti, do motif that it starts out with. It is set up with immitative entrances on the tonic and dominant levels, so it has an exposition, but it's a very short one.

Without any stretto possibilities, suspension chains, or other common fugal techniques to work with, I employed a free fractal technique based on the diminution of the motif that naturally appeared in measure four. All of the elements in the rest of the piece are either this motif, or they are related to it as spin-offs in the counterpoint. All of the variations of the motif and it's contrapuntal spin-offs were recombined to create the body of the piece, which has a very well detailed and highly adventurous modulation scheme: The piece goes to regions that are far more remote than any regular fugue would.

If you want to see a motivic analysis, just scroll down a few posts and you'll find it.

What I did this morning was to analyze the keys that the piece went through to wrap my brain around the internal relationships. On the first page here, you can see that after starting out on the tonic minor, the first fractal episode of 2.5 measures length modulates to the subdominant minor region of iv in the middle of measure eight. The progression in harmonic terms is Progressive (Root progresses by falling fifth or rising fourth), hence the large "P".

The following 2.5 measures are a repeat of the previous phrase on the new tonal level (But in three voices), so it naturally progresses to the minor subtonic region of bvii at measure eleven. The new phrase here is only two measures in length, but it also moves progressively to the major mediant region (The relative major key) at measure thirteen. To this point the piece has been accumulating flats, but now with the relative major region, both of the modes of the natural key signature have been traversed: The whole modulatory scheme is organized on getting the relative major and minor modes of each key signature "taken care of": I'll put a breakdown of how it pans out later.

Aside: I was just interrupted my my next door neighbor, a very sweet little old lady, who brought pumpkin bread! YUMMY! I love living here. Anyway...

Measure fifteen hits the major submediant region of bVI, but it immediately returns to the tonic in the middle of the measure to set up the rest of the invertible counterpoint episode. This movement from bVI to i is a Mild Ascending progression in terms of root motion, so that is the reason for the "M+". The rest of the top system retraces the previous steps (Same keys as the beginning of the piece, but gone through more quickly) - again through progressive modulations - before arriving at the tonic yet again in measure nineteen: This repeat of the first regions solidifies the piece and makes the following launch to the edges of the stratosphere more followable. Note that the mild ascending motion of measure fifteen is answered - or rather balanced out - with a mild decending motion into nineteen: These kinds of meta-patterns in modulation schemes seem to me to add a lot to the cohesiveness of the whole of a piece.

The modulation scheme starting in measure nineteen is the exact mirror image of the earlier episodes: Here we have Retrogressive modulatory motions, and are accumulating sharps instead of flats. Note, however, that it is still the minor genders of the regions that this episode is dealing with. By the end of this passage at measure twenty-four, five sharps have added up: Far more remote an area than you would see in a traditional fugue (I'm going to go through this quickly now, and dig into the details of the regional relationships later, so hang on).

At twenty-four a chromatically modulating episode begins that traverses the tonic again. All of the chromatic motions are ascending, therefore the "C+". Measures twenty-seven and twenty-eight are variations of seventeen and eighteen, and land the piece back on the realtive where the episode of measure nineteen resumes, but now major gender modes are traversed.

This go-round both the retrogressively moving episode and the chromatically moving episode are foreshortened, and the supertonic major region is arrived at in measure thirty-four. Measure thirty-four is a varied version of measure twenty-seven, and it also targets the dominant tonal level. Though it appears to suggest that the dominant minor region will appear, it is in fact the dominant major region which appears in measure thirty five. One reason for this is that I wanted C-natural as the highest note in the piece: It continues the chromatic line that started at G-sharp back in measure thirty one, and it's also the highest note in the final fugue of Sonata Zero.

The reason I changed the dominant pedal episode to begin in E major instead of E minor, however, goes back to "taking care of" all of the key signatures. The rest of the piece explains itself, so let's get to a better look at the regional relationships.

I find it useful to put analyses out of the context of the musical score so that they can bee seen all at once: It's much easier to see patterns and relationships that way. Here is the piece without the music:

The numbers at the left are the numbers of the keys as they make their appearances; then those keys are defined, their key signatures are indicated, and the gender of the mode and it's place in the duet of relatives is indicated. So, for example, 01) is the first key to appear, it is the tonic minor, it has a natural key signature, and the minor mode (Small "m") is the first of the natural keys to appear.

When key 04) appears, it is the mediant major (relative), and it also has a natural key signature, so it is the major gender mode of that signature, it appears second, and it completes the duet of keys for that signature. Out of the first five keys to appear, four are relative major/minor pairs that are completed: Only the subtonic minor is "left hanging" without it's mate up to this point. Then, as I mentioned previously, the first four keys are revisited: The (C) indicates the key pair was completed previously, and the (1) indicates that it is a member of an incomplete pair that has previously appeared once.

After the third appearance of the tonic minor, the episode of accumulating sharps begins, and after the tonic's fourth appearance, the subtonic minor, 03), finally get's it's mate with the leaning tone major. As you can see, there are eight total key signatures and sixteen total keys: All pairs are complete.

But, it wasn't that way when I started this analysis: Where 16) appears - the dominant major - I originally had another appearance of the dominant minor (This is the pedal point episode). When I realized it was the only incomplete duet, I decided to try changing it, and BAM! (As Emeril would say): The missing ingredient was finally found. This change is the thing that adds more than the sum of it's parts.

Since the pedal point episode is closely related to the corresponding episode in the concluding fugue of the sonata, it now works better as a contrast, and that this episode has a lot more sharps to "shed" in it's modulation is also much more fitting considering how far afield the piece ventures. It's just oodles and gobs better, if you'll pardon the technical terminology.

I don't consider a piece finished anymore until I've analyzed it like this, and I didn't used to retroactively analyze anything at all (For many years). I believe the longer and/or deeper a piece is, the more important it is to do this.

The updated versions of the PDF and MIDI files are now on my FileShare page as Sonata_Zero_1.pdf/.mid.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Music Criticism II: Elements of Constructive Criticism

Since I have bemoaned errant music criticism for nigh onto thirty years now (And it is only the bad stuff that sets me off), I have also very speciffically defined for myself what I think valid criticism is.

First of all, criticism should be fair. I will not insist upon objectivism, because pure objectivity is impossible where human beings are involved, but simple fairness does not seem like too much to ask. Beyond that, some subjectivity is certainly necessary, and even a good thing: If a reader get's to know a critic's likes and dislikes - and finds himself in agreement most of the time - then that reader will have found someone whose opinion can be trusted to reflect his tastes. Obviously, this would be a happy state of affairs for both parties. This is the ideal goal of the critic/reader relationship.

There is simply no way to list all of the aspects of fairness, and anyone with a good conscience ought to be able to be guided internally in this. A few things do seem worth mentioning, however. Fairness demands that the circumstances of a particular performance or recording be taken into account. If the critic is attending the premiere of a new work that has ambitious elements complicating the execution and presentation, there should be some allowances made. It would be inappropriate to compare such a first performance to the well polished staging of an old chestnut that everybody is familiar with. Occasional "things that go bump" - which will obviously be corrected with subsequent performances - should not be harped on needlessly: Just mention them and move on, keeping them in the proper perspective.

Fairness also demands that varying tastes be recognized and accounted for: Just because the peculiar cravings of the critic have not been fully satisfied does not mean that others may not completely enjoy a particular work or performance. That is not to say the critic shouldn't point out his likes and dislikes, but to invalidate a performance or recording entirely based on taste seems a bit harsh. A simple, "This is not to my taste, but if you like so-and-so, you may also enjoy this..." would suffice (And you'd be performing your intended service to the community).

Allied with fairness is kindness. If a critic simply wants a soapbox to spew bile from, it seems to me that a personal blog that readers don't pay to access would be the appropriate format for that (I really don't mind withering criticism from bloggers, as there ought to be a place to vent like that: I do it too sometimes, and I certainly enjoy reading a well-written rant), and not a periodical that readers are paying for, and furthermore accessing to get useful information.

Meanness from critics who are not also practicing musicians is particularly inappropriate and irksome: No non-musician can ever possibly relate to - or comprehend on any level - the deeply quiet bravery that it takes to be a performer or composer. Musicians are my heros because I know what it's like to expose oneself to an audience and present creations that depict the deepest, unutterable truth of one's soul. A ranting critic seems like an insignificant buzzing gnat compared to the men and women whom I've met who perform and write music (Even the ones whose music I don't personally care for... Especially the ones whose music I don't care for, because plenty of people don't care for mine!).

Then, there are the dreaded comparisons: We all love and hate to make them, and we all know why they are useful and useless when it comes to music. But, to inform lay readers and musicians alike, comparisons are a necessity. Just do the reader the service of making them appropriate and useful, as far as is possible. I've lost track of the bizarre and silly comparos I've read over the years: If you think it's terribly clever, it will probably leave the layman scratching his head... and the musician shaking his.

Suggestions: By all means, make them! Is there anything more tedious than a critic who goes on for paragraph after paragraph running a subject into the dust without ever offering anything in the area of ideas that could help? When I read such reviews, I am left to conclude that the reviewer is simply bereft of any CONSTRUCTIVE ideas of any kind. Most of the greatest learning moments in my life have started out something like, "You know what might help here?" If the critic really wants to participate in the art of music - versus just shouting through a bullhorn on the sidelines - then he must offer something to the art in terms of ideas which can be put into effect. Not only do I have no problem with this idea, but I'd welcome it: I'm not performing for myself out there, and if I get a good suggestion that I think will increase the audiences enjoyment, I'll certainly entertain that idea gladly.

I could go on and on about this I suppose, but I'm actually taking away from some practice time I need to get to. Perhaps a simple example would help.

There is no doubt but that Marcia looks like a million dollars here - and just a few of those gowns would probably cost you that - but she really doesn't have the decoltage to pull of anything so low-cut. And yes, every hair is in place, and several hours of work most certainly went into the makeup, but the overall effect is too "fancy-schmancy" for my taste. If high-zoot arm-ornaments are your style, there's no doubt that she would break necks with some of the head-turners out there, but you may want to ask yourself where such a "need" for arm-ornaments comes from. I really think she would look better with a slightly higher cut dress and a more windblown 'doo. I must compliment the total absence of any glittery-baubles in the jewlry department though.

Now, that's what I'm talking about!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Music Criticism

There are too many jokes about critics to list, but my second favorite goes, "Nobody ever erected a monument to a critic."

OUCH! That had to hurt!

Kyle Gann (An official "disturber of the peace", to us Hobbits out here) started off what I consider to be a tempest in a teapot with this post about a particularly inane example of music criticism back on December fourth. Of course, I had to open my big, fat mouth in the comments with this:

"I simply don't understand the function of music critics. Unless they are composers themselves, I simply don't see that they have any basis for their self-serving "expertise."
I have a degree in jazz comp, and a degree in trad comp: I use a lot of "jazzy" materials in a trad comp context, and they create a completely different effect there. They do not remind me that they are jazz harmonies at all. But, I'm certain I'm a Philistine to any "edumacated" serious music critic. Thank God.


The idiotic critic singled out by Mr. Gann had complained about an added-sixth chord and brainlessly suggested that the sonority had a particular connotation. Of course - as any composer knows - context defines connotative associations in music: An added-sixth chord that sounds like a "jazz chord" in a swing tune (With it's swing feel and parallel voice leading) will not have the same effect in a prelude (With a straight feel and more traditional voice leading), for example. In fact, lay listeners with untrained ears will probably not recognize the sonorities as even being the same in those two examples. Simply put, the idea is preposterous.

Kyle's post (And my comment) lead Mark Geelhoed, who describes himself as a "Chicago Music Journalist" (Must be like Colombian Coffee: "The Richest Kind!"), to post this, and a more agitated Daniel Felsenfeld, who describes himself as a "Composer/Music Writer" (And an employee of "The Department of Redundancy Department", evidently... Oh! He meant that he writes about music. "Never mind!" - Emily Latella) to post this. Both on December ninth.

Now, I do object to Daniel's description of my comment post as "bile", because it was simply "spirited" in my opinion. If I had said something like - oh, I don't know - "Critics are zits on the ass of art who suck their livings off of the work of more noble men", or something like that, well then yeah: That would have been true bile eminating from a sincere spleen-venting cathartic episode. Compared to that, I think my comment was pretty reserved.

Then, Adam Baratz, who describes himself as a "Composer/Pianist" (Yay! Another guy with the actual balls necessary to perform his own stuff!) kind of summed it up here on December tenth.

Well, I've been waiting for the steam to clear from the teapot, and now it has, so I have a few words to say.

Over the years I have said the following things about critics at various times (I don't claim to have coined these, but I may have, for all I know):

"The only people who listen to critics are those who are too stupid to make up their own minds about something."

"Whoever said, 'Those who can't do, teach' must have been a critic trying to deflect attention from the fact that the real non-doers are critics."

"Critics have all the ego of a composer, but whithout any of the talent."

"Yes, opinions are like assholes: Critics have cornered the market."

And, the "zit on the ass of art" unmitigated bile quotation, of course.

As you have probably deduced, I don't think too highly of critics. But, I've mellowed of late. I can see where the layman might make use of intelligent and informed criticism to make purchasing decisions vis-a-vis one CD or another, or whether to go see a concert or not.

The problem is not only with the "intelligent and informed" part, or whether the criticism is intended to address the needs of a target audience who could actually utilize such evaluations, but the real problem is all tied up in the motivations of the critic.

Critics are "it's all about me" type people (And to be fair, so are composer/performers. At least, We are all about Us, anyway), and they are selling their opinions and analyses for cash. To sell them, they have to employ certain tactics: There's the "educated, informed, and widely-read beyond belief"-type who issues proclamations in an erudite tone from high atop Mount Olympus, imagining - I suspect - that his words have the impact of lightning bolts out of the hand of Zeus. Then, there's the agent provocateur-type who beats the pruning hooks of his opinions into swords on the anvil of his distain, supposing - again, just a wild-assed guess - that every performer, conductor, and composer is just cut to the quick by his mightier-than-the-sword verbiage. Between these poles there is a gradient of critics who combine relative strategies and tactics of each, but there seems to me to be a void at the center (With the possible exception of bloggers, who don't get paid much - if anything - for their efforts, and who definitely don't reach the eyes and ears of the audience who could use their advice most of the time).

No surprise, really: Who is going to pay for truely objective and rational evaluative opinion, right? Or, more to the point, who could convincingly and compellingly write in such a style?

I have always thought that composers are both the best and worst possible candidates to become critics: Too ego-filled and high-strung for the most part to pull it off (The composers I've met who are not ego-filled and high-strung usually aren't very compelling composers from my perspective, so perhaps those guys should become critics. I don't know). But, composers do understand music on a level that no performer, theorist, or musicologist can claim (I used to call musicologists "musical proctologists" years ago. That still makes me laugh! ;^)).

My proposed solution would be a group blog made up of music critics of all stripes in all of the major metropolitan areas of the country. Preferably there would more than one in each place so that blogging's famous ability to check itself would be in the back of the mind of every critic. This would mitigate against the more outrageous reviews, I think. You could sell this as a one-stop music review site for music lovers who are interested in reviews of CD's or shows (You could even expand it to be a one-stop cultural review site with critics outside of music). For the record, I want no part of it: I live in a county six times larger than the state of Rhode Island with a population of 10,000 - Not exactly a metropolis (Rhode Island has 4.5 million people... In 1/6 the area of Brewster county!). Besides, I would definitely become a lousy agent provocateur-type.

My favorite slam against critics? "Everybody's a critic." Precisely. No special skills are really involved at all.

You're not trolling, are you?"

Whatever gave you that idea?

It hasn't even got any hooks!

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Different Kind of "Mozart Effect"

This is a rare day off for me, so I thought I'd enter a post. This is a subject that I've been thinking about since I read an article by Kyle Gann.

Kyle is one of my favorite writers on music, and since he's a world-class composer (And a classy guy as well, it seems), his views carry a lot of weight with me. A few days back, I read an article of his at Post Classic that really got me thinking... about a lot of things, so be prepared for a rugged, stream-of consciousness type of deal here.

In Something that has Always Perplexed Me, Mr. Gann wonders why middle-aged composers are seldom, if ever, discovered. He explains a lot about truisms we are all aware of: The obsession of our culture with youth and beauty, the marketing maven's slavish pandering to same, &c, &c.

This is all very easy to understand, as child prodigies and youthful talent fascinates us all. But in the case of music composition, this should be the other way around, shouldn't it? History proves that composition is a late-blooming phenomenon: Without exception, all great composers wrote their best works at or near the end of their lives. I'm trying to think of an exception to prove this rule, but I can't come up with anything. Paganinni stormed the stage in his forties after a year or two of intensive practice, but he was still considered a virtuoso before that time, and 'tis composers who we're talking about, so he doesn't really apply... Or does he?

Even with the great virtuosi, the peak performances come later in life. Usually the forties or fifties (Or, even the sixties if they remain healthy) are a performer's best years. This is understandable because the same maturity and deep artistic understanding that manifests itself in the late compositions of the great composers are at work in the great performer's interpretations. But still - as Kyle laments (Or, was it a commenter?) - we get a constant parade of young performers with great technique and no depth because they look good and the promoters hope they'll fill seats (Has anyone other than myself noticed the increasingly overt sexual marketing of young female classical music performers over the last few years? Could the red sequin gowns cling any tighter or be cut any lower? That cut up the side, does it have to go all the way to the hipbone? I suppose that I, of all music bloggers, probably shouldn't have brought that up, but please!).

My hunch is that the reason middle-aged composers and performers don't pop out of the woodwork more often is due to the fact that many of them simply quit: Life, love, families, and finances force a lot of potential talent to abandon art for more secure income generating activities. It seems to me that if a truely compelling middle-aged talent were to appear - be it a composer or a performer - there would simply be no denying them their place in the limelight. If, that is, they were to seek said limelight.

Mr. Gann goes on to note that some older composers do get discovered, so some of the talented ones with sticktoitiveness are finally rewarded. However, he notes that these composers are often "discovered" by students, so perhaps there is more to it than the fact that many middle-aged family folks are former-musicians and former-composers.

Well, as I alluded to above, I'm guessing that the majority of middle-aged folks who don't quit have given up on the idea of being discovered: They do it "for the love, man", and have long since shed any big ego investments in potential fame (I don't know how great - or even good - I am, but I fall in to this category vis-a-vis my attitude about the whole thing).

But, why aren't the music industry "scouts" even looking for the middle-aged composers and performers that we all have a feeling are out there laboring in obscurity? Why don't they think that a good composer or performer could stand on their own musical merits without necessarily having to arouse the prurient interests of members of the complimentary sex? Why are they seemingly unaware of the fact that composing (and performing) are really late-blooming activities?

I blame Mozart. Not the real Mozart; the mythical one. And, even behind the mythical Mozart, there is another.

One of my favorite love/hate relationships is with the movie Amadeus, starring Tom Hulce as Mozart and F. Murray Abraham as Salieri. As I mentioned previously, I met Tom Hulce once and complimented him on his brilliant performance, and it was a very brilliant performance. But the movie as history is... well, it's fiction is what it is. How many laymen understand that? I'm betting not very many. Heck, I meet plenty of musicians who ought to know better who think Mozart was a hopeless man-child who conformed to all of the stereotypes presented in that feature. And hey, how about those costumes the females wore? Woo, hoo! All those tender parts bulging out and heaving with every breath. Looks like today's music marketing gurus watched Amadeus with pad in hand and took copious notes. Problem is, the women portrayed in that film didn't dress anything like that.

But anyway, was Mozart really the child prodigy he was touted as?

Back when I was making the transition from being a rock/jazz guitarist and songwriter into the classical realm, I bought just about everything by Mozart that I could find on CD. I first fell in love with the Piano Concerto No. 21, which has one of the most romantic slow movements in all of the literature, in my opinion. Most Romantic era composers never came close to that, as far as I'm concerned. I eventually came to some inexpensive recordings of the early symphonies of Mozart. I was impressed, but I was not impressed: Coming from a very young man, they impressed me; but as music compared to his later works, they didn't.

My first hint that something was wrong with the Mozart myth came when I was a doctoral candidate. I stumbled across some facsimilies of his notebooks from his time taking counterpoint lessons from Padre Giambattista Martini. They sucked! I mean, they sucked ass! By that time, my counterpoint was far superior. Just wacky weirdness permiated these notebooks: Abortive fugal attempts with inappropriate harmonic passages and... hopeless. At the beginning, that is. He was indeed... ah... a very fast learner. But he was a teen at this time, so what about all of that imposible-for-his-age early stuff?

Well, it now seems that his father Leopold probably corrected a lot of that early music, and he may even have written some of it entirely! (I can't find the article that mentioned some of the scholarship that came to this conclusion, so please forgive the "linklessness" here: If you know of articles that express this view, I'd appreciate a link in the comments).

Isn't it rich? The irony, I mean? Leopold Mozart was (In addition to the inventor of the double-dotted note) a promoter who padded his son's portfolio to sell him. And so, today's promoters have been had by one of their own antecedents. What's not the least bit funny is that both musicians and the music-loving public have paid the price for this ancient deceit.

"That really isn't funny at all."

I knew you'd agree.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

I'm Going to HELL!

Well, that's it I guess. I've been banished to the Second Level of Hell. But, I don't think it's possible to get to Heaven with this particular test, so I don't feel too bad.

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very High
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Moderate
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Low
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Divine Comedy Inferno Test

Very High in the Lustful category?

Well, DUH!

OK. You got me there.

Hat tip to everyone's favorite kazoo player over at Terminal Degree.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Crunch Time and "My Master's Blog"

Just a brief note to let you know I'm having a string of gigs over the upcoming days and probably won't be blogging very much for a while. Right now my hands are frozen from tonight's outing: Outdoor gigs in December are not a good idea. Even in Texas. Even with big natural gas fuelled heaters! Last night's "Birthday Gig" (My birthday) was much cozier.

Also, my original counterpoint teacher from my time at Berklee College of Music, Chris Frigon, has started a weblog of his own called Symphony Salon that should prove to be excellent. I credit Chris with planting the seed that grew into this obsession with all things contrapuntal that I'm now afflicted with. He is very well read in a lot of musicological areas I'm hopeless in, and he is a composer as well, so check him out.

Since my birthday is only ten days before Christmas, I tell my friends to just combine the two and get me one gift.

An introduction to any single friends you have who look like this and have a top 1% IQ ought to do just fine.

That's Ann Margaret at circa twenty years of age. I can't conceive of a more beautiful redhead.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Extempore in A minor: Applied Fractal Self-Similarity II

As I anticipated, I finished the Extempore in A minor within an hour of waking up this morning... OK... within an hour of waking up this afternoon. What I didn't anticipate is that this piece would solve a "problem" I have had with Sonata Zero: Namely, that the first sonata process movement did not directly relate to the following Scherzo or Fugue. This Extempore, however, is very closely related to the concluding fugue, and it is also contrapuntal in nature - as the Scherzo is - so by simply replacing the Sonata with the Extempore, voila: Sonata Zero is now complete as Extempore, Scherzo, and Fugue. The sonata process piece is now a Work in Progress, and I expect that it will eventually become a movement of Sonata One (Either the first movement of a sonata in A minor, or the third movement of a sonata in C major, which now seems more likely).

There are no changes to the first page, other than the layout vis-a-vis the numbers of measures per system. On that note, I group measures per system to reflect the phrasing, and I do not allow the music to decide the layout based on what "fits" where. So, I don't follow precident as set by engraving history and practice, therefore the music may appear "weird" to you. There is a lot of stuff about music engraving I don't care for, so I just set it up the way I want to see it, tradition be damned.

The expositional section with it's transitional measure - I wouldn't call it an episode - makes up the first two systems of five bars, and the first fractally generated episodic passage makes up the second two systems, which is also a total of five measures (Two 2.5 measure phrases).

At the bottom of the first page is the second episode, which is two phrases of two measures each, so as in imaginary number based fractal images, the fractal elements are becoming more compressed with repetition.

I have repaired the awkward page break, and the third immitative episode based on invertible counterpoint is now clearly visible. Measure eighteen is a fractally related transitional measure into the next episode.

Episode four engages in a constant sixteenth-note surface rhythm, modulates up by fifth each measure, and is five measures long, which takes the piece to the remote region of G-sharp monor at measure twenty-four. There, the fifth episode begins, which is a chromatically ascending modulatory sequence, and the home key of A minor is traversed in measure twenty-five before arriving at B-flat major in measure twenty-six: I managed to get the leading-tone minor and leaning-tone major regions in surrounding the tonic (The leaning-tone major region is traditionally referred to as the Neapolitan region, but this is kind of ridiculous since that appelation does nothing to really describe the function or relationship to the tonic).

As I noted in the previous post, measures twenty-seven and twenty-eight are slightly varried duplicates of measures seventeen and eighteen, and they set up the reappearance of the constant sixteenth note episode, only this time in major keys starting in the relative region. I foreshortened this episode to three measures (Or rather, the piece shortened it for me), because the final measure of the sequence starts in the major subdominant region, and modulates to the tonic major region. The structural significance of this should require no explanation.

Here's the final page. I again employed the chromatically ascending sequentially modulating figure - also foreshortened - to re-arrive on the tonic level of B which first appeared in measure twenty-seven. This time, however, it is B major instead of B minor. Other than that, though, measures twenty-seven and thirty four are exactly the same.

With the second arrival to the lowest E on the guitar at measure thirty-five, I begin the dominant pedal episode that sets up the recapitulation. This episode is exactly like the pedal point episode in the concluding fugue of the sonata, except instead of being a harmonized version of that fugue's subject in augmentation, this episode starts out as a sequentially decending harmonization of the motif in augmentation. This only required the insertion of two new measures into the previously written analogous episode from the fugue. When I gave up an went to bed early this morning, I had, in fact, cut and pasted the fugue's episode in here. I actually leapt out of bed this AM... er... PM saying "of course: Just add a couple of harmonized sequential repetitions of the head figure!" I had the piece finished before the coffee finished brewing. I love it when stuff like that happens. Nobody can tell me we don't compose in our sleep, because I do it on a regular basis.

The fact that the motif of this Extempore is the head figure of the concluding fugue, combined with the strong similarity between the two concluding episodes they both have, creates a series of powerful bonds of self-similarity between them that makes the resulting Sonata Zero triptych very effective and "of a piece", which I am perfectly satisfied with. Not only that, but since the Extempore is about one-third the length of the previously written Sonata (It and the fugue are, in fact, of the same duration!), the pitch climax of the whole is now at or near the 66.6% point. Nifty. I played them all in order after I completed this piece, and they are perfect together.

The recap is a true recap, being as it is an exact repitition of the expo, only starting over a tonic pedal. I only had to add two concluding measures to get the final statement of the motif in the penultimate measure leading to the final cadence to the perfect triad of four voices in close position with the exterior octave doubling. Note that this penultimate measure displays a 3-2-1 Schenker line, which is literally the entire piece in a nutshell.

There may be some very minor polishing of the piece throughout the upcoming days, but the Extempore and Sonata Zero are both basically signed-off on now. Nice thing to finish up on the eve of my birthday.

"I'll sign-off on it for you, Huc!"

Thanks Molly.

EDIT: Oh yeah. The PDF and MIDI files of this are now on my .Mac FileShare page as Sonata_Zero_1.pdf/.mid for those who would like to take a listen.

Extempore in A minor: Applied Fractal Self-Similarity I

Nice weekend. I ate until it hurt every day, all day, and mom and I had a splendid time. On with the show...

Writing the previous guitar fugue made me hungry to do a follow-up, and since the subject of that fugue was a decorated 5-4-3-2-1 Shenker line, I wondered how much further I could reduce it. I decided that by taking the do-ti-do head figure, I would imply an irreducibly primordial 3-2-1, and so that's what I decided to do.

Since the "subject" here is really nothing more than a motif, I didn't have any stretto possibilities or suspension chains to work with. In lieu of those kinds of techniques - since I have been thinking a lot about fractals, chaos, and self-similarity lately - I decided to create a new (For me) technique of letting the piece self-propagate from nothing but the motif. This is almost exactly the same process Beethoven used in the opening Allegro of the Fifth Symphony with his Fate Motto, only here the technique is more closely related to the polyphonic fugal process than the homophonic sonata process.

As you can see, the piece starts out with a traditionally laid out but much-truncated exposition of four bars. The main motif is labelled A. Note that the voice leading is totally smooth and stepwise until the bass leaps down a sixth in the transitional fifth measure. It was this desire to keep the lines smooth that lead me to the diminished version of the motif at the end of measure four, which is labelled A': I originally had two eighths there progressing from re to ti.

This diminution of figure A has basically generated the entire rest of the piece. Beginning in measure six, the diminished version of the motif tonicises the three degrees of the tonic triad in an ascending direction, which allows the bass line to progress smoothly by step for an octave and a perfect fourth. This leads to some nice effects, as the chord of "resolution" in the second half of measure seven is an augmented triad: bIII+(6/4). The progression of fourths involving the bass is not a problem because they are perfect, diminished, and perfect. This phrase breaks the "Tyranny of the Bar Line" by being 2.5 measures of length, and it modulates one flat in the subdominant direction, after which it repeats on the new tonic level of D minor, but with a third voice over the beginning of the motif figures. Note that if you consider the leap of a seventh in the bass as a simple octave displacement, the bass line has only one real leap in it until measure thirteen. Measure nine has some interesting and strange effects with the outer lines moving in stepwise contrary motion, and a second augmented triad appears on the downbeat of measure ten.

The decending sixteenth note figure was spontaneously generated, and is labelled B, and the chromatic figure that effects the modulation is labelled C.

Starting in measure eleven, the motif tonicises the degrees of the tonic triads of the moment in decending order, and the phrases are foreshortened to two measures in length by omitting the main motif in the bass voice. The parallel movement into seconds at the end of measures twelve and fourteen are OK, because they are augmented seconds: It is important to note the difference between intervals which are dissonant in name but not sonority and vice versa, as much freedom in counterpoint can be gained by following the rules for consonances where name-only dissonances can appear. I did the same thing with the diminished fourth (= major third) earlier to get smoothly into the augmented triads.

I called this an Extempore - Ex tempore: Literally "out of time" - because it's really kind of a written-out improvisation: I had no set plan, but rather allowed the piece to organically generate itself out of the sub-motifs that happened to spin off of the main one in the counterpoint. As a result of this, the modulations go very far afield compared to a real fugue, which I like very much. It's kind of like a fugal process Fantasia.

In measure fifteen, the third section starts, which is an immitative treatment of the A', B combination that first appeared in the bass (Sorry for the awkward page break, but this is still in the sketch phase).

This immitative section spins off figure D, and it's variants become quite important. After the bass gets the A', B figure, measure eighteen is transitional to the next section, which has a constant sixteenth note surface rhythm. Note the suddenness of some of the modulations: G minor to C major from seventeen to eighteen is particularly nice.

The figure of B+A' followed by B' that the section from measures nineteen through twenty three uses modulates up a fifth each measure: The sequence starts on the home key of A minor and goes all the way to G-sharp minor: Traditional fugues do not stray anywhere near this far from the tonic.

Starting in measure twenty-four, I re-interpret the roots in the lead as leading tones in the second half of each measure to get a chromatically ascending modulation sequence, which gets us up to the note B, which is the highest note in the piece thus far. Measures twenty-seven and twenty-eight are just repeats of measures seventeen and eighteen - slightly varied and on a different level - which returns us to the constant sixteenth note sequence, only this time it's going through major keys starting from the relative, rather than minor keys starting from the tonic (So, there is structural organization going on, but it's very fluid and... well... extemporized.

The piece continues for four more measures after the page break so far, and it's been one of those pieces where I write a few measures, sleep on it, and then write a few more. In that regard, it's much more like writing a prelude than writing a fugue.

I was thinking of combining this with the earlier fugue to make a double fugue, but the characters of the pieces have become too highly disparate as I have progressed through this one, so I dropped that idea.

"Did someone say 'desperate'?!"

No... "disparate"...

I'm going to wait to post this on my Fileshare page, as I anticipate finishing it in the next day or two.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Philosophical Pitch Redux: Verdi's "A"

After a couple of months of tuning to A=432 Hz for all of my practicing and gigging, I'm a total convert. Today, after almost a two month wait, my A=423 Hz "Sun Tone" tuning forks arrived from France (The only place I was able to find them was at Mercurius USA, and they are actually a wholesale outlet, but I convinced them to sell me four on a one-time only deal: If I could only charm pretty redheads like that). When I was talking to Daphne at Mercurius (Beautiful name with a rich history in literature and legend), I got the distinct impression that the forks were manufactured in France, but they are clearly stamped "GERMANY", and have a corporate logo that I can't decipher, even with my 2X reading glasses. Obviously the distributor for Mercurius is in France, but the source is actually German.

I also picked up a second Korg CA-30 chromatic tuner, which allows for calibration down to A=432: Now I have a tuning fork for every guitar case, and a tuner for each gig bag. I'm set.

Sticklers may note that absolute philosophical pitch equates to A=430.5 Hz in equal temperament, but A=432 was (And is still called) "Verdi's A"; and so it was Haydn's A, Mozart's A, and Beethoven's A. I was mortified to learn that A at 440 Hz was first formally proposed by Hitler's henchman Joseph Goebbels and - while I'm not the kind of person to be inclined toward activism in politics or music (No, really!) - I think it would be a good idea if we all went back to the old standard. Of course, this is easy for a guitarist to say (and do), but all of you "kazoo" players out there are probably not too keen on the idea. Oh yeah: And there seems to be a derth of A=430.5 Hz tuning forks for some reason.

Anyway, I have my "arsenal" all lined up now:

There will be a brief interruption in my blogging while I go to San Antonio to visit my mommy this weekend: We were not able to get together for Thanksgiving due to my gigging, we are not going to be able to get together for Christmas for the same reason, and her birthday is New Years Day, so we are going to take advantage of my only free weekend during this time to wrap all three holidays into one little shindig. Also, Beethoven and I share our birthday on the 15th (Conflicting info, but I heard Beethoven may have been born on December 15th, and baptised on the 17th).

See you next week!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Order in Chaos II


Told you so.


Guitar Technical Practice: Metronome Slow-Play

Though this post is primarily about technical practice for the guitar, there is no doubt in my mind but that this method would apply equally well to winds, brass, strings, and keyboard instruments: Anything where finger dexterity and precision is required.

One of the challenges I had when I switched from steel string guitars - where I used primarily plectrum technique - to nylon string, was that I was already twenty-nine years old, and so I had many years of exercises and scales under my belt. I simply didn't have the time, nor did I have the inclination, to play studies and scales for several hours per day only to work on my right hand.

The problem with the Sor and Giuliani studies is that they aren't - by and large - of high enough quality as music to stand on their own: Not the sort of stuff I wanted to perform in my set. As far as scales are concerned: Been there, done that, they are a part of me on a very deep level; I simply wasn't going back to where I was at eighteen years of age.

So, I decided to set for myself some basic criteria: 1) If it isn't music, I won't play it; 2) If I don't want it in my set, I won't learn it; and 3) No scales! I needed some kind of technical studies, so I began to write my own, but they had to stand on their own as music or they went into the trash.

This held me back for a few years. My left hand was way ahead of my right hand. Then one afternoon while I was sitting in on a guitar masterclass, I heard Tom Johnson (Classical guitar teacher at UNT) mention the technique of slow-playing pieces with a metronome. He didn't go into any detail about how to apply the technique, but he said that it added a profound level of solidity to your playing and very precise coordination between the right and left hands. This made logical sense to me, so I decided to try it.

I was amazed to find that if I slowed a piece down more than a little below where I played it, it completely fell apart. Vanished. Couldn't do it! So, I started the metronome just a tad faster than the tempo where I performed the piece, and reduced the speed by a single, solitary click each time through the piece. Before too awfully long, I was able to get the pieces in my set down to half speed with this approach.

Tom was right: This method allows one to deeply memorize a piece, and the reduced speed allows for the minutest details of the fingering choreography to be worked out in exacting detail.

By this time, I had already composed quite a few technical studies for the guitar that passed my musicality test (And I still perform them in my set to this day), so I worked on them using this technique until I had it down to a relatively precise system.

Now, you couldn't pay me to have a music stand in front of me when I perform: I memorize everything. One reason is because reading off of sheet music behind a stand distances me from the audience (I don't care how good a guitarist is, I absolutely hate it when they hide behind a music stand). The other is that I'm a pretty sucky sight reader (I'll have to do a post about the abject inappropriateness of standard notation for the guitar at some point). Further, I've never understood how a performer can emote a superior interpretation when reading: I have to work on interpretations for years before I'm happy with them (Some pieces I wrote over ten years ago are still in the process of revealing themselves to me). Keep that all in mind as I explain the details of the method.

The first step is to memorize a piece to the point where you can simply play it comfortably along with the metronome. For an example, we'll say that our imaginary piece centers comfortably at 120 beats per minute.

1) Play the piece five times through at 120 BPM.

Once you can do this, the piece should have reached what I term an initial stage of memorization (Remember, you are doing this with no music in front of you). The next step is to start slowing it down. The following day, continue with step two.

2) Play the piece starting at 120 BPM, and reduce the tempo by 5 BPM each time through.

At some point in this process, the piece will fall apart and you will be unable to continue. This is good. It's actually the goal. When the piece falls apart, increase the speed of the metronome by 10 BPM and play the piece five times through at whatever that tempo ends up as (Even if it's back at 120 BPM). The third day (You should probably be doing this process with two to five pieces simultaneously, depending on how much time you have to practice), repeat step two.

When you can get the piece down to 60 BPM (Even if it's a little rugged down there), you will have reached a secondary stage of memorization: This is the point at which I feel comfortable adding a piece to my performance set. Note that at 120 BPM gowing down to 60 BPM will take you through the piece thirteen times. Think this will help solidify your memorization and help to prevent "brain-fade" train wrecks? You bet it will. Now you are ready for step three.

3) Play the piece starting at 120 BPM, and reduce the tempo by 10 BPM each time through, and 5 BPM from 65 to 60.

These larger chunks may cause the piece to fall apart again. If that happens, increase the metronome by 10 BPM and play the piece five times through at that point. When you can get this done comfortably, you'll be ready for the final formula.

4) Play the piece starting at 120, reduce 20 BPM to 100, then 10 BPM per rep to 65, and then 5 BPM from 65 to 60: Reverse process.

By the time you can get the piece from 120 BPM down to 60 BPM and back up again, you will not believe how deeply you know it, how solid your fingering choreography will have become, and how precisely coordinated your right and left hands will be. This is the third and final level of memorization that I call tertiary deep memorization.

I go through this process once when I add pieces to my setlist, and then through all of the pieces in my set once or twice a year. It has done wonders for my technique, my confidence as a performer, and my interpretations. Not only that, but at big, scary gigs - If I happen to get nervous (Hey: It happens) - I go into a kind of autopilot and the pieces seem to "automagically" play themselves. It's a weird feeling when you memorize a piece that deeply: You can daydream, people-watch, or whatever, and the music just happens. Of course, when I'm really "into it", I can wring every last ounce out of a piece in terms of emoting an interpretation too (For someone who basically sucks as a performer, that is).

To keep on top of single line playing without having to resort to scales, I just memorized a few cello and violin pieces, and I treat them the same as any other piece in my set: They all get the slow-play treatment, both with rest strokes and free strokes.

As a result, I never bother with anything that isn't music anymore. If you've been playing less than ten years, keep working on those scales, but use this metronome technique! You'll be amazed.

Being a contrarian, I simply think that overly obsessing on scales, arpeggios, and non-musical studies gets one to a point where the returns have diminished to such a degree that you become bogged down. This approach keeps my interest up because it directly and positively relates to my performing, and the returns are staggering and appear very quickly. It's not a do-it-once-and-it's-done kind of thing, as memory can fade over time (Even if you perform several times per week as I do), and that is why it's good to cycle through all of your rep once or twice per year. It certainly keeps me fresh and interesting... er... interested, I mean.

I was thinking of something else when I said "fresh and interesting"...

What brought this up is that starting in January I am going to go through this process with all the pieces in my set as I prepare to record them. On that point, this process can leave your interpretations kind of dry and mechanical after the first few times you do it, but that effect becomes less pronounced with each successive forray into the technique. Still, if you are performing or recording, it's best to wait a few days after doing this to let your interpretations re-assert themselves (The last three days before significant gigs, all of my practice is performing only).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Order in Chaos

This isn't really a music post, but I think the subject is tangentally related.

I have already posted about fractals and self-similarity, and this is easy to relate to music, but there is also chaos theory. Simply, the boundaries of chaos are actually anything but chaotic or random: These bordering event horizons break into fractal patterns of self-similarity, so the two subjects are actually very closely related.

But what interests me are the larger chaotic formations, which appear to be only quasi-random to me. The inherant ability to recognize and comprehend patterns varies widely between individuals, and I know I have a fairly significant gift in that area, but I think virtually all musicians do. So, I am going to present as some compelling examples a few images in which I detect very fluid but significant patterns and correspondences. These images are from the field of astronomy and astrophysics, which has been an extra-curricular interest of mine since I was a boy (I was even in an astronomy Explorer Post once).

The first example is of a "small" explosive event (The aftermath of a supernova that is "only" about six lightyears across), and the other is of a "large" explosive event (The aftermath of the big bang, which is the entire cosmos as we currently understand it).

This is an image of the Crab Nebula, which is a compilation of about 25 different shots taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. This has been making the rounds on the internet, and when I saw it, it reminded me of another image I had seen, which I will post below. But first, I want you to notice the filaments of gas that permeate the nebula. This gargantuan explosion was of a fairly massive star, and it's core remains at the center, spinning thirty times per second, and it's poles emit radio waves (Which is how we know how fast it's spinning). The super-dense matter of this brown dwarf is only about the size of a large city, but it's mass is many times that of the earth.

When I stare at this image and disengage my left brain, I see all sorts of patterns and correspondences.

Now look at this image. This is a computer simulation of the distribution of GALAXIES in the UNIVERSE! Personally, I find this incomprehensibly astonishing: Each and every dot in this image is a galaxy, and the hot spots are clusters of galaxies. Note that there are the same kinds of filaments of galaxies as there were filaments of gas in the nebula.

My right brain percieves the very same kinds of patterns and correspondences in this image as are present in the photo of the Crab Nebula.

This is even more obvious to me in this closeup of a section of the simulated cosmological map.

When Schillinger said that a purely neutral pitch distribution could never be musical, I believe he was right. It would appear that there is no pure uniformity, randomness, or chaos possible at all in nature.

Notice how the strands of hair resemble the filaments in....

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Semiotics of Music

Semiotics is the study of the meaning of signs. As a study, it originated in association with hermeneutics, which is the study of text (Yes, I'm being simplistic, but intentionally so: It's a deeeeeep subject. To find out how deep, read the article on semiotics I added the the "Articles I Found Interesting" segment in the sidebar). As a result - in my opinion - semiotics as applied to music will always fall short of being anything like an absolutely certain science, and will always remain diluted by subjectivity and speculation: There is a certain inescapable arbitrariness involved which is similar to that I find associated with Schenkerian analysis.

In the case of absolute music especially, the music is the text, and it expresses the inexpressible and even the inexplicable: There is simply no linguistic text to hermeneutically analyze for semiotic signifiers. However, that is not to say that a keenly developed awareness of semiotics is not usefull for the composer or theorist. To the contrary, traditional analysis techniques have as their main shortcomings that they totally and completely remove all traces of the signifiers that elicit emotional response. It is the nebulousness of the responses elicited that is the problem: Different listeners with divergent cultural backgrounds or life experiences may experience quite different things. As a result, the signifiers in music will never aquire definitive labels, and that is simply that.

This need not hang up those of us who are composers, though I would think that a particularly rigorous theorist would be left with a certain uneasiness when dealing with such a slippery subject.

The last course I took at UNT during my doctoral studies was The Semiotics of Music. It was taught by a very cool and funny prof named Dr. Schwartz, if memory serves. Since it was just a three hour credit and a single semester course, I certainly don't claim to be any kind of a expert on this subject. However, I found the subject quite fascinating and useful if I - as is my usual practice with all things theoretical - took what I liked, flushed what I didn't, and bent the process to fit my method of working (Actually, semiotics created some completely new methodologies for me to use).

What works for me as I develop a piece is to decide what the materials I come up with signify to me, and how I can elicit various shades of meaning by varying them and contrasting them with other materials. Believe it or not, this works great as an approach to fugue writing. I kid you not. Writing different counterpoint to a fugue subject can radically change the feelings elicited, and this can add a great deal of charm to a fugue. Not only that, but episodic passages can set the stage for the appearance of these variations - while they function as signifiers themselves - and can put them into a sort of bas relief which only serves to increase their effectiveness. Needless to say, composers such as Bach and Beethoven have been doing this since long before semiotics appeared as a field of study.

In the guitar fugue I wrote a while back, I found that I could write countersubjects to the major mode variant of the subject that elicited smiles from me because the result reminded me of the kind of music that is often played on a steam calliope. I remain doubtful that this signifier would be relatable to very many people, and am certain that folks who have never heard a steam calliope (Or the music I've heard played on one) would recognize the sign for what signifies to me. That's not the point though: The point is to include semiotic elements that signify specific things to you as the composer.

In the case of absolute music which is not intentionally programatic in nature, the signifiers that you chose will relate something to the listener, and the variety of responses are really of no concern to you as a composer (Though I find audience members who share what my music meant to them to be highly entertaining, and their descriptions range from the absurd to the sublime. That's one of the most endearing things about music in my opinion: Everybody creates their own little universe within it).

The bottom line concerning semiotics in music to me, is that it gives me another set of tactical and strategic tools to use in the creation of art. Just as I've never met a redhead I didn't like, I've never found a music theory approach I couldn't make some use out of.

OK. I take that back.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Preparing a Major Project: Adding MP3's to FileShare

Note: I just noticed that the previous post was my 100th. It seems like just yesterday I started this blog, but it's been over six months. Neato.

After the first of the year, the next phase of my "plan" will swing into effect, as I have organized to re-record all of the material from my first CD, which was recorded back in Y2K. At that time I was working for FEMA and putting in well over 40 hours per week, so I didn't have nearly enough time to practice. Not to mention that I wasn't performing at all back then. Add to that the fact that I was playing a Gibson Chet Atkins CEC guitar - which I never liked the sound of - and that I was just learning how to program my Lexicon MPX-G2, and that old CD... well... it sucks.

Most of my friends have been advising against this, saying that I should just move on to the next one. However, I've come so far as a player in the past two years since I left my self-imposed musical exile and have returned to performing my butt off, that the previous CD's perfromances are just not acceptable to me any more. And then there's the fact that my sound has improved so much with the Godin Multiac GC SA and all the tweaking I've done with my programs in the Lexicon, so the previous effort now sounds WAY over-processed to me. So, I'm going to re-record it, and that's that.

The previous CD was recorded all on an Alesis Masterlink ML-9600, which is a fabulous stand-alone HD recorder and CD burner, but I wanted more precise control this go-round, so I decided to go with a computer-based solution. After weighing all the options, I decided that I wanted something that is as simple as possible. I don't need 24 bit/96KHz resolution to do what I want to do, so I went with USB rather than Firewire, and I ended up getting a fabulous deal on the Digidesign M-Box, as the M-Box2 has just been introduced, and the old versions were being blown out. Not only that, but since I bought it after 09/01/05, Digi gave me a free upgrade to LE 7. Since I'm just going to record stereo directly from the balanced outputs of the Lexicon, this will be ideal.

For an HD to record onto, I found the coolest combo HD and USB/Firewire hub from MicroNet that... looks just like my Mac Mini! It's called a MiniMate, natch. It's 250GB (!!!), which should give me tons of recording time at 16 bit/44.1KHZ, which is all the resolution I need, as turning the tracks into MP3's will reduce the bandwidth further than that anyway.

As an aside about HD sizes: Back in the early 80's when I was a Synclavier guitarist (And addict), the first Winchester disks appeared. They were 8" across and held a staggering... five megabytes. I remember that several of us got together when that was announced, and we were like, "What will we ever DO with all that storage space!" Of course, 16bit/100KHz Sample-to-Disk then appeared, and we had our answer. Too funny.

So, it's small (Very small), simple, and plenty powerful.

No, that's not a reflection under the Mac Mini, that's the MiniMate. It's still only 1/3 the size of my previous G4 Cube. Awesome.

Small is beautiful. Yes, indeed.