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.

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