Friday, May 05, 2006

Three-Part Invention in D Minor for String Trio

One of the non-guitar compositional series I've been working on I have tentatively titled Fuga da Camera. It is a series of fugal pieces for chamber ensembles that starts with a string trio and ends up with a work for chamber orchestra. It is shaping up like this:

1) Three-Part Invention in D Minor for String Trio

2) Fugue on a Serial Subject in A for Wind Trio

3) Fugue in F Minor for String Quartet

4) ? in ? for Wind Quartet (Probably a piece in C)

5) Perpetual Canon in A Minor for String Choir ("In the Witch's Head")

6) ? in ? for Wind Quintet (Likely to be in F major)

7) Fugato in D Minor for Chamber Orchestra

The idea is that the same players would be used for the entire cycle, so the principle string players would start out with the trio, then the flute, clarinet and bassoon would play the wind trio, and so on. The chamber orchestra would be just the small string choir (4/3/2/2/1) and the wind quintet (Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon). Get it? I don't think anyone has ever done this before, and I've always wondered why a program is expected to be either all chamber music for one specific ensemble, or an all-orchestral presentation. This way the program would build up from the smallest ensembles to the larger ones, and every standard chamber ensemble would be heard (Excluding combinations with piano, of course) on the way to the orchestral finale. Run time will be about 15-20 minutes, so it could easily be followed by a full orchestra program. I like this idea.



Today I want to show you the opening Three-Part Invention for String Trio. The subject dates back to about 1988 - so this piece has by far the earliest point of origin in the cycle, so it's fitting that it is first - but I couldn't get the piece off the ground for the longest time because I was trying to make it a two-part invention and I was also trying to write it for the guitar. Well, when I met my ex-wife circa 1990, I decided to try to write it as a solo organ work (Since she was an organist and had access to a killer tracker pipe organ), and it fell into place about 75% or so. Then it sat around for, oh, about a decade or so before I dug it out of my archives (Which I'm guessing weigh over a hundred pounds now!). Surprisingly to me, I made very few revisions: It's transposed to a new key and some of the articulations are different, but it has finally found it's place after all of these years.


Most of us were taught that a fugue subject begins on either the root or the fifth of the tonic triad, but my study of The Schillinger System intimated to me that since the zero-axis of a melody could be the root, third, or fifth of the tonic triad, a fugue subject could begin on the third as well. This was my first experiment with that. One of the things I learned is that when the third is used, the piece wants accompaniment for the subject's initial entrance. That's why it's an Invention and not a Fugue.

This wedge-like subject also naturally requires an answer on the subdominant level instead of the usual dominant, which is another less-than-regular feature. Then, of course, the answer desired to be inverted. To top it all off, the countersubject and counter-answer parts just absolutely begged to be outrageously chromatic. The viola part starting on the second beat of measure four progresses through all twelve chromatic tones in sequence, for example. All of this combined to make this piece very expressive, and it strikes my ears as a lament. In fact, it makes me think of my late father, who was my hunting buddy, fishing buddy, and just an all-around transcendently wise human being and a Bogart-like man's man (Only my dad wasn't acting). Anytime someone tells me counterpoint isn't expressive, I believe I'll beat them about the head and shoulders with this piece.

The subject's wedge makes a perfect modulatory device, and the fact that it can be inverted at will makes any target reachable. Episode one takes the piece to the relative major, where I use a variation of the subject to get a "great big happy" section to contrast with the doleful mood of the opening.

For the major mode variant, I have the wedge starting on the tonic instead of the third. This means that it cycles down to the dominant degree instead of the leading tone, and I also have it opening all the way out to an octave here. All chromatic motion is expunged from the countersubjects, and so the mood is 180% shifted from the opening and triumph is in the air.

Episode two modulates to the dominant level, where I have set up a very dramatic pitch climax which is also the secondary dissonance climax (The primary dissonance peak is yet to come). The violin has, starting in measure fourteen, an ascending line which spans just over two octaves. It's quite a harsh passage, actually.

As the upper line descends from the stratosphere chromatically, the piece seems to enter the key of E minor (Since I used the inversion going to the rectus for this series of thematic entries). The level of dissonance is slightly ameliorated through here to allow the listener the chance to catch a breath.

The entry starting in twenty-four is the most dissonant from the standpoint of the harmonic interference patterns that are created, though I'm never sure if the listener will get these things or not. In any event, it's tense as hell here due to my forcing the inverted parts to work. Me likey.

After the dissonance climax, what's left but the concluding stretto? Exactly.

There you have it. There it is. The most righteous concluding stretto. Since the answer is subdominantly related to the subject and the piece is a lamentation, I used a plagel cadence to end it.


You can listen to an MP3 of the piece by downloading it here.

I love self-similarity.


I'm not alone, evidently.


Blogger John Lanius said...

Cool stuff there. The new sound fonts are such an improvement over the old midi->mp3 sound card voices.

Your string quartet fugue reminds me of Buxtehude in its style of counterpoint. Someday again, I'll find some time to get up to visit the church organ.

When I do, I'll take a crack at that trio and see how it sounds with a set of contrasting flutes for the top 2 voices and a light string bass in the pedals.

JohnL at TexasBestGrok.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Hi John,

It's amazing what we can do with our computers these days. I was a pioneer of digital synthesis back in the early/mid eighties and into the nineties as a Synclavier owner/programmer, and I had the awesome Yamaha TX-816 (8xDX-7's in a rack) in my rig as well. My room was filled with computers, one of which was a Commodore 64 that's mission was JUST to program the TX-816.

Now, I can create a piece in my notation program, export that as a MIDI file, drag and drop the MIDI file into iTunes, have iTunes convert it into an MP3, and burn it onto a CD. All within a half-hour. It really is amazing and soundfonts are improving all the time.

I would REALLY LOVE IT if I could come up to Big-D and hear you play some of my stuff sometime. Plus it would be nice to meet you, of course.


1:19 AM  

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