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.

*****

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home