Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wedding Music

Well, I have an upcoming wedding with some musical requests - music that I don't know, of course - so, I've been learning some tunes that are not strictly speaking on my itinerary, but I'm sure they will come in handy later on anyway.

One "bleg" I'd like to ask for: One of the pieces requested is the Pachelbel Canon in D. I found a guitar arrangement of it on the web that I was able to download for free - and it seems to be pretty good - but if any of you think you know of an "ultimate" guitar arrangement of it, I'd be interested in aquiring it.


For a really small town Alpine gets some amazing musical groups touring through, and there are an awesome group of local musicians out here. We have a guy who used to own the most prestigious guitar shop in Dallas where Stevie Ray Vaughn bought most of his axes, a guitar builder formerly of Austin who's electrics start at about $3K (And who was in the Austin Lounge Lizards), as well as some former rock and roll/MTV jock who now plays "classical" guitar (That would be me). Then, there is the Railroad Blues, which is a great venue.

Well, one of us talked to another of us who passed word to an old friend and - OK, I didn't actually have anything to do with it - but anyway, Eric Johnson agreed to come down from Austin and do a gig at The Blues! Since San Antonio is my home town, I've been a fan of Eric's since the early eighties; long before the rest of the world knew who he was. I even play one of his pieces, The Desert Song in my set. Soooo...

I got a ticket laying among some of the other stuff I've been distracted with.


Yup... It's official: Spring Fever.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Blogging Doldrums

I'm progressing nicely with learning my new compositions on the guitar, but since the Fugue is in three voices - and it has a lot of technical requirements that are new for me as a result - it's pretty slow going. I figure the Fugue will take about three to six months to get performable, but then the Ricercare ought to be easier to learn since it will have very similar technical demands. The Extempore could be a PITA again, as it uses another novel (for me) set of techniques. Writing pure music for guitar is not easy, but it is rewarding. I've been through this process before with other compositions I've written in the past, so I know what to expect: It's no fun and it takes a lot of time, but nothing is easy that is worth doing.

Unfortunately, none of this provides much interesting material for blogging.

The G-Axis Study in E-flat Major is now re-memorized, and I'm deciding on the next new miniature to learn: I'm leaning toward one of the Lineal Studies since that is a new class of technical study for me, and I've noticed some interesting things about them which will allow for them to be performed in very, very "non-guitaristic" keys: This will further my goal of having at least one piece in all twenty-four keys in the Irreducible Essence series. That'll probably be the subject of the next post.



Thanks to Bart, I finally got a hit from Alaska! Now my little blog is five-by-five and corner-to-corner world wide, baby. LOL!


NO SURPRISE HERE: I'm a 100% perfectly pure Libertarian.

Take the world's smallest political quiz here.

It's funny: In my twenties I was a liberal-bordering-on-socialist; my thirties saw me becoming progressively more conservative, and then I realized that all forms of socialism are - in fact - social and spiritual poison, so now I'm a Libertarian. It's been a "long and strange trip", to borrow from The Grateful Dead.

If you read the writings of the founders of the US - Jefferson, Franklin, et al - they could only be classified as Libertarians today.


I think I really just have a simple case of spring fever.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Theoretical Past Tense

I had an interesting experience the other day: I dug out an old piece I wrote about ten years back to re-learn it (I haven't played it in probably about six years), and I was so surprised by the musical content in it that I had to analyze it to figure out what on earth I was thinking when I wrote it. Turns out it's a pretty nifty little idea this tiny miniature is built around.


This is the very last of the Eighteen Axial Studies that I wrote, and it's unique in a couple of ways compared to the rest of them. This is a free-vioced piece that ranges from two to four parts (Three to five if you count the G-Axis as a voice, which I do not do), and all of the others are strictly two voices by my reconning. There are also only two sections to this study, while the rest have three sections.

But, the cool thing about this little ditty is the theoretical device that I used: I introduced secondary dominants in the A section, developed them into so-called Italian Augmented Sixths in the B section, and topped it all off with a doubly-augmented fourth augmented sixth sonority at the climax.

Since I have a jazz harmony background, I'm always thinking of the sonorities created by neighboring tones and whatnot, and I have included those in the analysis in parentheses. As you can see, the simple parallel thirds device of the first line creates some nice passing and neighboring sonorities, some of which are very dissonant and colorful.

In the second part of the phrase I introduced a simple series of secondary dominant sevenths, and this phrase gives me the impression that it has existed forever, and I just uncovered it. It really is quite nice in a simple but elegant kind of way.

At measure ten the B section begins, and as you can see I started using a series of secondary so-called Italian Sixth sonorities, which I have given functional analyses as the altered dominants that they actually are.

The ascending series of simple augmented sixths is capped off with a doubly-augmented fourth augmented sixth over a tonic pedal point in measure seventeen. I'm never exactly sure how to analyze this chord functionally because it usually proceeds to a second inversion tonic chord - which is usually just functioning as a suspended dominant sonority - so it really has a secondary dominant function. In this case, however, it gives the impression of being more akin to the primary dominant chord because of the tonic pedal in the bass. It's a super-cool effect in any case.


The reason I have not played this piece in so many years is because that last lick is very high up on the guitar's fretboard, and on a standard non-cutaway acoustic classical guitar it's very difficult to execute accurately. On the cutaway Godins, however, it's not too bad.


I managed to work another secondary dominant into measure nineteen, and since the A-natural is an open string, the dramatically wide voice separation is actually a cinch to play. I used a fully diminished seventh on the second degree - spelled enharmonically - to split the voices off smoothly from two back to three again, and this phrase too has a kind of universal inevitability to it, despite the deep theoretical device the section is built around. I just love it when I discover that pieces I wrote years back have some cool and interesting features to them.

What is it with the high-heel shoe fetish, anyway? I've never understood that. It just seems comical to have a woman in a bathing suit on a beach wearing heels, doesn't it?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Slow Going

I'm kind of burried up to my eyeballs with learning the fugue I'm working on. It's sort of a watershed/seminal piece for me as it's the first of the pure music/non-idiomatic pieces that I've written for the guitar that I've decided to learn how to play. There have been remarkably few problems associated with the process, and I'm happy with how things are going. Unfortunately, there isn't much to blog about.


One thing I do think is cool is that even with a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty blog like mine, people from all over the planet can read it.

If I only had a reader in Alaska, I'd be completely worldwide from corner to corner. I'm sorry, but I think that's cool as hell: A composer/guitarist in Alpine, Texas - in a county six times larger than the State of Rhode Island with a population of only 10K (i.e. A little guy in the middle of absolutely nowhere) - can be "discovered" by readers all over Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America... and America. Well, it's neato, isn't it?


So, what's up with Africa? I don't think I've ever gotten a hit from Africa other than Egypt.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Fingering and Articulation III

Playing on the Godin-Reynolds eleven-string is coming along better than expected: I can comfortably play through six of the twelve suites in my set now, and most of the rest are coming along well enough that I may try to play an entire gig on it soon. I've been doing all of the fingerings for this fugue on it, and there's nothing like constant piddling with an axe to get one comfortable on it.


The PDF score and MP3 track for this fugue are now on my Downloads Page with the fingerings and articulations completed.


My philosophy with respect to fingering and position indicatiors in music this complex is to just include all of them in the score. I reached this standpoint after many years of agonizing over how much was too much and how little was not enough: If you put it all in the score, you don't have to worry about those decisions. Not only that, but when learning a piece you can start at any point and know exactly where you are (That's a weird sounding sentence, but you know what I mean). Obviously, using a two-stave system for the music makes this quite a bit easier to pull off without the result getting messy.

As far as position indicators are concerned, I use them to indicate not only which fret the index finger is on, but also which fret the index finger is over if it is not actually deployed: Reading music on the guitar is difficult enough as it is, so every little hint helps. The layout logic is just a practical matter: Whatever falls most immediately within the line of sight and doesn't look cluttered.

All of these pages are pretty much in the bag, but as I get the piece up to speed, there will undoubtedly be numerous minor changes to the details.

Arranging the left hand fingerings to allow for the ties in the suspension/resolution chains required a few more position changes than would have otherwise been required, but as you can see they actually worked out very smoothly with the 4-3 and 11-10 chains on this page.

Concerning the musical changes I was contemplating in the previous post, I ended up splitting the difference: The F-sharp was a good addition to measure thirty-five, but measures thirty-nine and forty-three - where there are third relationships versus sixth relationships - did not really need any changes. On the other hand, adding the B-natural to the interior voice of measure forty-seven - where there are sixths again - is a definite improvement leading into the sixteenths that go to the final episode. Neither the changes in measure thirty-five nor those in measure forty-seven ended up causing any significant complications vis-a-vis the fingerings. In fact, the changes were quite simple to make.

I made some minor changes to the right hand part during the final episode, and it seems to flow quite a bit better now. The position indicators here really help with the reading, that's for sure.

The fingerings in measure fifty-nine and sixty cause abrupt position changes, but it's really not a problem at this tempo. There was a similar abrupt shift back in measure thirty-nine which isn't really all that bad either.


I've never had any luck with flowers. In fact, a couple of comic-tragedies have attended me getting the idea into my head that giving flowers would be a good idea. Some guys swear by them though. If you get a reaction like this, I could see why.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Fingering and Articulation II

A lot of little errors seem to occur during this process, which are no doubt the result of the speed at which I try to get the task accomplished, and the "situation" I find myself in while performing it: I'm sitting in front of the computer on a performance chair, left foot on a footstool, and I have a guitar in my lap. As I work out a measure or so, I reach forward, grab the mouse, and put the symbols in the score. As a result of this, I have been catching a lot of little sh... er, stuff as I re-read my way through the score.

Since adding the right and left hand fingerings is just the first stage of this process - there are also position and string indicators to consider (Though this cute little fugue will probably not require any string indications) - I'm just going to add the second two pages today. There are a couple of minor changes to the first pages, but nothing significant enough to re-post them yet.

Another aspect of this process to consider is that the sheer number of possible solutions in some of the situations - especially with respect to right hand options - means that revising details of the fingerings really continues right up until the piece is ready for performance, and sometimes even beyond that point.


Happily, I was able to add the ties back in for the 2-3 and 7-6 suspension chains, just as I did for the 4-3's. This again resulted in less than the most immediately idiomatic fingering solutions, but the musical result is definitely worth the effort. Also in keeping with the overall scheme of pattern making with the articulations I again eliminated the ties in the concluding measures of the thematic phrases - measures thirty-five, thirty-nine, forty-three, and forty-seven on this page.

However, this has lead me to contemplate making an actual musical change to the piece: Since the removed tie is in the lead voice in measure thirty-five, the resulting re-attack of the open E string is now less than fully satisfying. It's as if the phrase now wants an F-sharp on the fourth sixteenth note of the measure, and since the upper two voices are a sixth apart, this would work out just fine from a musical point of view. Not only that, but at the the corresponding points in measures thirty-nine, forty-three, and forty-seven there are thirds or sixths in the same positions, so I could make a thematic element out of the change. Since this significantly adds to the fingering complexity, I'll have to think about it, but I am leaning toward making this change at this point.

For the non-contrapuntal episode which starts the final page (And which is a harmonized version of the subject in augmentation), I had two different goals: First, I needed to get from the upper reaches of the guitar's fretboard back down to open position, and second I wanted to achieve a keyboard-like effect akin to pedal and release on the piano to allow the harmonies to ring. So, I used a simple series of chord forms that just naturally descend back down the neck (This will be more obvious when I add the position indicators). As for the right hand fingerings here, I have used my "c" finger since before I played in the classic style, so this is just the natural way that I execute passages like this. I doubt any other classical player would - or could - use these right hand parts. My philosophy here is that I compose these pieces for myself, so they are going to reflect how I play them, and not how I think a classical guitarist would want to see them (The twin staves are likewise just the way I prefer to see and work with the music).

Finally, I was able to add the ties back into the final suspension chain in the concluding stretto section, and because of all of the open strings involved, this was actually the easiest passage to do that with.


Wonder how many errors I'll uncover when I go back through this again tomorrow.

I love this Armstrong: The first time I saw it I did a double-take because I thought it was a nude. I'm sure that must have been his intent. Clever use of color and texture.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Fingering and Articulation

The pinnacle of all polyphonic solo instruments is the organ: There is just no competing with two or more manuals and a bank of foot pedals blasted through hundreds of pipes in an acoustically gargantuan listening space. Infinite sustain and no breathing related phrasing limitations are also major plusses. Next to the organ is the harpsichord, since the piano has an overly strident timbre and a regrettably abrupt attack, neither of which are friendly to contrapuntal music (In fact, I've heard an arguement put forward which actually blames the piano for the decline of polyphony).

I absolutely love solo organ and harpsichord music from the Baroque through the Romantic eras (If you have never heard Franz Liszt's late solo organ music, you have no idea how significant of a composer he really was), and so I hold those idioms forth as my ideals... for the guitar.

As with solo music for any instrument, much of the solo guitar repertoire has been written by virtuoso performers. The obvious problem with this is that virtuosic technique creates it's own musical demands, and while the results may be exciting and idiomatic, they are often lacking in musical content or gravitas. That is especially true for the guitar repetoire: There have been no musicians of the caliber of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms who have written for it.

Obviously, if you are a guitarist/composer this can be viewed as an opportunity: But without quality models to study and learn from, where do you start? Well, I went 'round and 'round with this issue, and gravitated initially to the most obvious models, which were Bach's lute suite pieces. Despite all of the interviening centuries these have never been bettered, and yet they are not 100% idiomatic for the guitar because 1) They are lute pieces, and 2) Bach actually wrote them on a keyboard instrument which immitated the lute's sound (Yes, it has a name. No, I don't remember what it is). There is only one Sarabande where this transcribes into an impossible reach for the guitar (That I am aware of) - and it may be perfectly fine on the lute, I'm not sure - so that is actually better than the results which 99% of non-fretboard playing composers achieve. The quality of the music is, of course, superb; even in the smallest of the pieces.

Bach's examples got me off and running, but I wanted to find a different approach that would allow for the most pure musical conception possible (As close to the organ and harpsichord idioms as the guitar could get), and yet which would also allow the resulting music to be reasonably idiomatic (Playable but not necessarily idiomatic to the guitar in the strictest sense of the word).

What I came up with is a two-part process that basically involves composing a sort of an urtext first (A pure music version that is theoretically possible to play on the guitar) which doesn't make any more concessions to the idiom than absolutely required. Then, as I learn to play the piece, I allow the guitar to give some input as to the details of the articulations.

This is the simplest way I could come up with to describe what I'm doing here: Just keep in mind that over thirty years of familiarity with the guitar is involved in just creating the urtext version. And, even with all of that time in on the guitar, I still have the occasional D'OH! moment when I write something that is actually physically impossible to execute. It is that second time through when I add the fingerings and articulation details that I "catch" these things.

It would be incorrect to assume that I am diluting the original version in any way when I add the fingerings and articulation details, because exactly the opposite is true: The piece ends up being a better guitar piece and a better piece overall by having these character details added to it.

I am half way through fingering/articulating/learning this piece, and so I'm far enough along that I've gotten some pleasant surprises.

The first articulation details I changed were in the interior voices in measures twelve and fifteen: By re-attacking the A's in those measures a better effect was achieved: Both musically and idiomatically. That these were the only details which required changing in the exposition and first episode is pretty darned good: This means I'm getting proficient at fingering and articulating three part counterpoint in my head while I write, which I've been working on for years.

In what turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, I was able to add the ties back into the suspension chains on this page (Not sure about the 2-3/7-6 chains yet, but the 4-3's work out fine. When I was just piddling around with this, trying to use the longest string lengths/lowest fret positions for the notes made this impossible, so I dropped them. By simply using some shorter string lengths/higher fret positions I was able to get them back. These syncopations are excellent examples of effects that are not immediately idiomatic to the guitar, but when you pull them off the musical result is excellent.

I again re-articulated the attacks of the interior voices in measures twenty-three, twenty-seven, and thirty-one: When I make changes in articulation, I make sure the resulting alterations create patterns which are just as logical as the musical architecture is. When the music is purely conceived and logically laid out from the beginning, this isn't much additional trouble.


I'm not sure how scintillating a topic fingering and articulation logic is, but I've decided to simply blog on what I'm involved with. This approach is obviously also applicable to creating transcriptions for the guitar.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Phase Shifting

No, I'm not talking about the analog-cum-digital effect which has to do with out of kilter upper harmonics, but rather I am referring to the phase shifting which results in a change of primary focus in one's life. This is obviously related to the previous post on procrastination/prioritization.

It seems that I have now entered a "guitar phase" from my previous "composition phase" which was sparked by a "theory phase" which grew out of a yet earlier "guitar pedagogy phase." Pure guitar phases are rare and delicious for me, because I usually view practicing as a chore. Hell, I even view performing as a chore a lot of the time. I'm not sure how to handle this from a blogging perspective: Daily updates on my latest fingering and articulation solutions for pieces I've written over the last year seems like just about the most boring possible blogging material extant. This is bound to be compounded by the fact that - though rare - my "guitar phases" tend to be of very long durations. I mean, the last one of these guitar phases of mine lasted over eighteen months, and I haven't even been blogging for a year yet. You can see the dilemma.

I do not want to put off this decision or procrastinate, nor do I want to be redundant and repeat myself... over and over again... time after time after time... seemingly, without end... however, I really don't know what I'm going to do with the blog for a while. So, I'm going to do a post on an old fugue I wrote about ten years ago to fill some space... and put off this decision until I can come up with some sort of a solution: A direction for the blog for the next eighteen months while I'm in the woodshed practicing.


There have been several times over the past ten months when I have thought about creating an entry about this fugue, but one thing or another always re-directed me away from the idea. I have read various accounts by great composers over the years in which they have singled out certain pieces as being particularly significant to them. For Beethoven, it was his third symphony: Some critics claim that it was the greatest single compositional stride ever made by any composer in all of music history. I'm not sure if I agree with that or not, but Beethoven always had a special place in his heart for the Erioca, and he even intimated that he attributed supernatural origins to it. This fugue is no Eroica Symphony, nor is it among the greatest compositional strides ever made by a composer, but it was at the time I wrote it an unprecedented piece for me, and I have no doubt but that it has magical - even overtly spiritual - qualities to it. As you will see if you have any familiarity with the intricacies attending the creation of appropriate fugue subjects, this subject has to be one of the top ten fugue subjects of all time.


The first time I ever encountered Bach's Die Kunst Der Fuge, BWV 1080, was when I was attending Berklee College of Music. A drummer friend of mine (Who would later be my roommate in NYC, and later yet one of the founders of Digidesign) had a string quartet recording of it, and he whipped it out one evening just because he thought it was excellent, exotic, and cool. The experience I had when I listened to it was as though I was divorced from time, and the lineal continuum we usually experience was a free path I could look ahead or behind upon. What I mean by that is that I was totally absorbed in trying to be a hot rod burning contemporary guitarist at the time - and I knew that wasn't going to suddenly change - but I could both see ahead to a time when fugue would be my life, and back to my earliest musical memory, which was the sonata/fugue that is the scherzo to Beethoven's Ninth (The theme music for the Huntley/Brinckley Report when I was a baby). I got those chills like we sometimes get listening to great music, but also a bitter-sweet feeling that my "career" was not going to go as I planned... regardless of whatever efforts I might put into it.


Fast forward five years and Don and I were roommates, I was becoming disillusioned with being a contemporary guitarist, I was writing a bunch of contrapuntal solo classical guitar pieces, and I recognized that fugue in general and Die Kunst Der Fuge in particular were the pinnacles of contrapuntal artistic expression. His recording of The Art of Fugue became a kind of talisman for me: I could never get it out of my mind, and it seemed to be with me always... an albatross hanging around my neck, as it were.

I decided then that I understood exactly what Bach was doing, and that I ought to try to add to what he did. It took me seven years and a bunch of fugues of various qualities from profoundly lame, to half-assed, to not too bad, to good, and even excellent... but I finally did it.

Schillinger's Theory of Melody (As well as others among the books of his System) and Hugo Norden's The Technique of Canon (Which he STOLE from Taneiev with out crediting him!!!) were keys to this breakthrough fugue, because no fugue can ever be any better than it's subject is: This fugue is the ULTIMATE stretto fugue.


Instead of starting at the beginning of the fugue, we need to preview the recapitulation first, because this is what I composed first: The subject as a four-voice canon at the octave.

As you can see, the five measure subject was written as a six measure canon. The final measure with the written-out trill is an addition which I used as a thematic element in the fugue (i.e. The Subject is five measures in length).

I used both the ascending perfect fifth of the Kunst Der Fuge motto theme and the descending diminished seventh of the Musicalisches Opfer "royal theme" (Which was certainly composed by C.P.E. Bach in collusion with Frederick the Great in an effort to embarrass "old Bach"). By using a measure of tonic and then introducing the minor sixth, the subject has a deceptive rsolution built into it. This feature plays a huge role in the fugue, and is one of the main features which makes this subject objectively far superior to that of J.S. Bach in The Art of Fugue.

To be fair, Bach wrote the Motto Theme as a four-part compound fugue subject, one part of which is the BACH (B, A, C, B-flat) musical anagram, so he had a higher agenda for Art of Fugue - and I've never (yet) attempted a compound fugue - but in terms of pure stretto possiblilties, my subject is objectively and demonstrably superior. That was my only goal from the beginning.


The fugue is in F minor. The subject is five measures in length (Odd is better than even, and fractional is better than whole: This subject is odd and whole). There is no countersubject; the counter-voices are freely composed, but they use fractally realted elements to achieve unity.

In measure ten the "thematic trill" makes it's first appearance. The origin of this rhythm is interesting: MIDI couldn't interpret a trill back in those days (1995), so I had to write it out. Not being familiar with the details of trills, I asked a few profs about how they were actually played. Well, I was entirely unimpressed with all of the answers I got, so I decided that the most logical solution for this fugue would be to take the trill out of the hands of the performer, and make it a specific rhythmic feature of the work. This was a very good idea.

Note that in the exposition there is a stretto of one measure of overlap for all thematic statements except for the first one. This sets up the entire fugue.

Formally, the exposition takes eighteen measures due to the stretto overlaps. The first episode is non-modulatory and is based on the thematic trill figure.

The first middle entries begin in measure twenty-three, and are based on the original canon's stretto possibility for overlap at three measures of delay. Four measures of delay appeared in the exposition, and so this is another step in tightening up the stretto delay: The entire fugue is based on this ever-decreasing interval of appearance of the subject against itself in stretto.

Through measure thirty the stretto of 3m delay in the tonic minor key is worked out, and then the second episode begins. This episode is based on the tail figure of the fugue subject - an excerpt of which appears in the cello part in measures twenty-nine and thirty - and it modulates to the dominant tonic region. This kind of geometrically precise modulatory episode is something apart from the style of Bach. He was an improviser who wrote all of these sublimely introspective passages linking his thematic statements: I wanted a more mechanically effecient way that was more direct, had better musical punctuation, and yet still gave a satisfying impact to the process. I frickin' love this episode: It does all of that.

Though the chromatic decending line in the bass is never interrupted, I still managed to get the thematic trill into the end of the episode, and so the next section of stretto at two measures of delay can begin.

Since there are not particular countersubjects in this fugue, I used instead the thematic trill figure linked to the suspended figure to get a fractal relationship background. The more you look at the thematic statements in this fugue, the more of that you'll find.

Note how I worked a form of the subject in diminution into the third episode over a chromatically decending bass line. I avoided the can of worms that this opens up, but I realized that I could write an entire "Art of Fugue" series on this subject when I reached this point: This subject is that good.

Using only this suspended tied figure and the subsequent thematic trill means that no matter how close the immitation gets, those elements will always work as counterpoint! This realization almost gave me fart-hailure when it hit me.

Since the one measure delay stretto will be in the recap's concluding canon, and that will be in the tonic minor, I gave the one measure delay stretto here in the body of the fugue to the major mode. This is effective on too many levels to list: It really is absolutely fracking amazing. In ten years I've never ceased to get chills at this point in the piece.

The melodic peak also occurs during this closest stretto, and it is at almost exactly the 67% point, naturally.

After this major mode one measure delay stretto, the next episode is again based on the thematic trill figure, and it moves the piece to the subdominant minor region.

The fourth middle entries that start in measure fifty-five are set up as a false recapitulation. They unfold as the original exposition - which is the closest thing to a recurring countersubject set that you'll ever find in this fugue - but they are in the "wrong" key. Most listeners won't perceive this.

Instead of the expected answer however, the inverted form of the subject appears in measure fifty-nine.

After the inverted subject tips off the listener that this is not really the recap, the fifth episode returns to the tonic level over an ascending chromatic bass line (As opposed to the earlier decending chromatic bass lines). The geometry of this episode is also perfectly calculated, and its mechanical effeciency is far beyond the episodes of Bach. Whether you find it as compelling as the episodes Bach wrote is a matter of taste: To me superior logic is more compelling (If not always as "pretty").

This elongated version of the thematic trill into the half cadence leading to the real recap was the last thing I came up with for this fugue. In fact, I had completely finished it so far as I was concerned almost two months before I thought of this section. There is no doubt but that this completes the piece though.

Now, we are back to the canon I wrote to start off the fugue.

At the end of the canon/recap is the real killer: A three voice hyper-stretto. You may have never even heard of a hyper-stretto before. It is the technique of having two different versions of a subject start at exactly the same time. Traditioanlly, this has been done with the rectus and inversus forms of the subject, or with the rectus and augmentationem versions of the subject. Here, I combine both by having the rectus, inversus, and augmentationem forms all starting at the same time.

If you'll notice, the ascending chromatic line in the lead which starts in measure eighty-seven is exactly the same as the modulating bass line from the episode which sarted back in measure sixty-four. There are a lot of relationships like this which I have not pointed out, but you can see them for yourselves.

I wrote this fugue for a doctoral level Invertible Counterpoint and Fugue class at UNT back in 1995. I turned it in five weeks into the semester. Dr. Dworak said it was the best fugue he'd ever heard that was written by a living composer, he gave me an A for the course, and he also gave me the rest of the semester off. This is one of those pieces I'll never forget composing. When I wrote this, I realized I could do anything I wanted with fugue.

Bach's Art of Fugue and Beethoven's Gross Fugue are not safe from me. If I live long enough, I'll do better.

UPDATE: MP3 and PDF files of this fugue are here.

Man, I had a great gig tonight. Bunches of tourists, tons of tips, and one chick who looked exactly like this.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Creative Procrastination

This could also be called the art of prioritization, because some things are put off to their detriment in the short term, but to their advantage - and to overall advantage - in the long term.


Back in the mid to late 80's when I decided I didn't want to be involved with bands and ensembles anymore, I started composing an entire repetoire for solo guitar for myself. I really didn't have time to efficiently do anything other than compose and memorize the music I was writing, so the resulting set was... ah... a bit on the one-dimensional side, and my marketability as a performer suffered (a lot) as a result. But like the Cylons, I had a plan (Though it seems that the Cylons have changed their plan).

I spent almost all of every year from 1987 to 1996 just composing and learning my own stuff (And studying in a masters and a doctoral program). I ended up with about thirty-five guitar pieces and several chamber works out of this decade of work. Eventually though, what began as a quiet, nagging internal voice that said I should be learning some pieces by other composers became a screaming need to allow myself to be influenced in other directions through a variety of music that was very different from my own.

Even through additional complexities which life threw at me, I began to compile a list of guitar solos that I wanted to learn. The criteria were simple: I had to like them well enough to go through the trouble of learning them, I had to want to be influenced by them compositionally, and it would be a plus if they had a few technical challenges involved that would improve my playing ability. The resulting list had everything from J.S. Bach to Eddie Van Halen on it, and over the course of the next several years, I did almost zero composing for the guitar (Several other things though) while I learned that stuff.

Well, I have never gotten through that list, but I have made a pretty serious dent in it. Now however, I have written several new guitar pieces over the past twelve months which require my attention: Two preludes, a four movement guitar sonata, and now the Axial Fugue (Not a bad year's worth of work). I have only learned two of those pieces so far, so it's time to put the list aside, quit composing for a while, and learn the rest of them.


My strategy for learning new pieces came from my hate of the actual process. I get incredibly frustrated working on new pieces because while I love composing them, I really hate working out the fingerings and going through the memorization process. It's just no fun at all from my point of view, and if it weren't for the reward of being able to perform the piece at the end of the process, I wouldn't bother with it. Seriously.

What I do to blunt the effect this process has on me is that I work on two or more pieces simultaneously. That way, I don't get bored as easily, and when I do, I can work on something else for a while and still be in the process of getting the overall task completed.

To start off with, I have two old compositions I want to re-learn, and I want to learn the Fugue in A Minor from Sonata Zero. The older pieces have all of the fingerings in the scores already - and I've performed them in the past - so they will be pretty easy to pick up, so the fugue is the only one of the pieces which will be bitchy.

One of the nice things about writing solo guitar music on twin staves is that the fingering indicators go into the score completely and the result is not overly cluttered. For me it's actually easier to read this way (But then, I've been writing my guitar music on twin staves for almost twenty years now). The piece is only four pages in total, so it ought to only take about a week to get it finished.

Once the fingering indicators are all in the score, I usually have the piece memorized: Just the process of adding the fingerings helps me memorize the piece (Though it may take weeks, months, or even years to get the piece performable, depending on the level of difficulty: The Axial fugue will take over a year, this just a couple of months).


I hated the BSG season finale.


My fingers get tangled up just like that working on fingerings.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

At Last...

I never really wonder why it is that I write music anymore, because I know that I simply must do it in order to survive. I actually tried to quit music for seven years, but it never, ever worked: I'd be driving along during one of my job assignments, and out of nowhere I'd suddenly start singing a new fugue subject in solfege; or, I'd think of some harmonic interaction which would create compelling interference patterns, and then I'd have to pick up a guitar when I got home and write those things out. Through that failed sabbatical I learned that creating music is simply a natural byproduct of living for me.

No other endeavor in life rewards me with the deep and profound sense of satisfaction that music composition does. In fact, nothing else really comes close: Playing the guitar is definitely in second place, though it's a very distant second place. The first time I encountered the music of J.S. Bach, I understood it perfectly on an intuitive level. In fact, what I said out loud was, "That music is so logical!" I knew then that I already was a composer, and that all I had to do was get started doing it, and over the years one thing would lead to another and eventually I would end up writing music that seemed compellingly logical as well. I was twenty-nine before I came up with the first things that met those criteria by my personal standards, and thirty-six before I came up with something that I could objectively say was superior in many ways to a lot of pieces by the "great" composers of the past, including Bach.

I just love the purity of this pursuit: There is no real potential for financial reward, and there isn't really any potential for fame either (Except perhaps posthumously). I do it simply because I believe that it is the most noble and pure of all possible intellectual, artistic, and scientific ambitions, and I have been given a unique talent for it. This has lead to some humorous revelations about human nature over the years, by the way. I've had mediocre wanna-be composers actually get loud and verbally abusive when confronted with my abilities. Two university faculty composers notoriously among them. At first I found such reactions disturbing, but now I've learned to see the humor and even pathos in them. It's weird, that's for sure. One time this faculty composer at a university actually said to me, after listening to one of my fugues (He was actually much more sympathetic to my ambitions than most), "I can't believe you write in generas that invite comparisons with Bach." My response was, "Since my fugue subjects are better than most of his fugue subjects, I don't mind such comparisons." You could have heard a pin drop.

But, that's only logical, isn't it? I mean, you don't think Bach thought that what he wrote was the last word on everything contrapuntal or fugal, do you? Of course not. The very idea is preposterous, as Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven have proven. By studying all of Bach's fugue subjects (As well as those of many other composers), and figuring out which ones were the best and why, one could learn to write even better fugue subjects by coming up with criteria and methodologies for creating them. Well, that's what I did. After that point is reached, it's just a matter of time before the rest of one's fugal technique catches up to the newfound quality of the subjects.

For many years I've written solo guitar miniatures, and the best of those are as good as any of the little dance pieces Bach wrote in the lute suites. From a purely subjective standpoint, I like a few of my miniatures better than any of his. But again, that is to be expected, isn't it? The larger preludes and fugues among those lute pieces were another matter, however. Well, I certainly haven't eclipsed those larger lute works of Bach yet, but there are a few things of which I'm confident: 1) This is the best fugue ever written for the solo guitar, 2) This is a far better fugue than the D minor organ fugue that inspired it, and 3) This is certainly among the top ten or twenty sonata process pieces ever written for the guitar. I'd say it was the best sonata process piece ever written for the guitar, but there are a few sonatas by Sor for which compelling cases could be made.


Presented with a minimum of comment, the Axial Fugue in E Minor for Solo Guitar: An MP3 of it is here (The version labeled FINAL).

I have reduced the tempo to 160 to allow for the proper feel with the new sixteenth note elements, so it's gone from 180, to 170, and now to 160. It feels about right, and I actually like the metronomically perfect version of the MP3 a lot: I don't want a bunch of rubato in this piece.

The harmonic and contrapuntal generators I was looking for to create the rhythmic ornamentation I found at the end of measure eighteen, where the upper E-Axis wanted to move down to D to complete the E dominant-seventh sonority (Harmonic rhythmic generator), and at the end of measure nineteen where the subject "wanted" to be introduced over (Under, actually) a suspended fourth. The first step was to find all similar places in the fugue where this rhythmic fgiuration could be introduced (The end of measure thirty-two into thirty-three is the other place on this page where that works).

At the end of measure forty-six is the next place where the rhythmic figuration works, and you can also see where the end of the figuration also works at the end of the concluding episode of the first exposition in measure sixty. I originally had dotted eighth-notes, but decided I liked the effect of the re-articulated attack better. After placing these rhythmic elements, I added the "hitches" to measures four and seven of the subject, which naturally infected the following episodes.

In measure 106 it is important to note that I avoided a potential collision between two desired rhythmic patterns. By avoiding this collision I was able to allow the episode beginning in 107 to have it's own pattern undisturbed. Near the end of the fugue, I allow this rhythmic collision to occur.

This rhythmic ornamentation approach also allows for me to split off and rejoin all of the various melodic axial trajectories more smoothly, as for example at the end of measure 125 where the upper voice splits off from a singularity into a string of thirds.

I used the same device to split off the thirds in measure 151. The end of this page, at 165, is the end of the exposition areas.

The little galloping figure in measures 175 and 176 is something I use at similar places throughout the development area. When the figure is in the bass voice in the recapitulation, some nice funk guitar thumb-slap techniques can be employed to increase the level of thythmic drive (Or not: If you are a technically conservative player, you can forgo that, but this piece is impossible to play without using the "c" finger of the right hand, I'm afraid).

At 201 is the first of the two development section chromatic episodes, and the rhythmic additions to these section really add a lot: Especially the little run-up figure to the E minor statement in measure 216. This is further developed in the transitional measure to the second half of the development at 230.

The second galloping figure is at 240.

The measure of sixteenth notes from 230 reappears an octave higher in 294 to return the piece to the recapitulation.

All of the contrapuntal combinations appear together for the first and only time starting in 295 (Also as the exposition configuration in the major mode for the first time) where there are - appearing from top to bottom - the drone, the subject, countersubject two, and countersubject one. At 302 from top to bottom are the answer, countersubject two, and countersubject one doubled in thirds. To be blunt, this is so far superior to the material found in the D minor organ fugue that it renders any comparisons laughable.

In 322 is the first instance where the galloping figure appears in the bass, enabling some thumb-slap techniques if so desired.

It is at 360 where I finally allow the two rhythmic patterns to collide and set up the weird infection of the final episode. It's a neat little effect that is quite nice saved for the end as it is.

The last chordal section is to be played with rasgueados, which is a Flamenco guitar rolling strum technique. I've never called for this before, so I really don't know how to indicate it in the notation. I found a flamenco site a while back, and I'm going to have to do some exploration on it to figure this out.

This is the ninth completely different version of this piece, and I think it's about 90% done: I really don't anticipate any more radical revisions, as the last one was eliminating the sections with the chromatic elements above the axes. That just added too much material to the piece, which I think is fine at this length (404 measures/5:04 minutes) and with this perfectly balanced architecture. I do have a concluding cadential thing in mind that is sort of like the conclusion of Kazuhito Yamashita's guitar transcription of Stravinsky's Firebird though.

That piece of furniture gives me some ideas.