Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ricercare for Wind Quartet II: v1.0

One of the most useful work patterns I developed during my years as a student is what I call the hand-in mission priority paradigm. That's just an over-the-top way of saying, when you have an assignment to compose a piece, get a version that you can hand in finished first, and then worry about making a work of art out of the thing. If you are a composition student at a conservatory or in a college music program, there is no better advice available to you than that. To put a finer point on it, blunderbuss your way through the thing like a bull in a china closet first, and worry about being artsy-fartsy later.

Most of the seven fugal pieces in my Fuga da Camera suite started out as student works. A few of them found their final forms during the assignment period, but some of them took over a decade to reach their final, definitive, pluperfect forms. The single greatest cause of failure for aspiring composers (Assuming the presence of natural, intuitive musical talent) is lack of patience - and you simply can't be satisfied until you know a piece is perfect - but the second must common failure is not getting an initial working version "happening." Just going through the process of getting a beginning-to-end version workable makes one familiar enough with the material to the point where you can begin to sense what form the final piece "wants" to take on.

This is true with ALL composers, by the way: Mozart's notebooks from the time he took counterpoint lessons with Padre Giambattista Martini are full of abamdoned fugues that maestro Martini was able to complete quite masterfully. Of course, Beethoven's sketchbooks are repleat with examples of musical childbirth pangs spanning decades. The slow movement of the Fifth Symphony being a prime example of a sketch that transmogrified from a pedestrian idea to a sublime musical utterance over the course of some several years of work.

So, what we have here today is the initial hand-in version - or v1.0 in today's parlance - that I wrote during a thirty-some-odd hour marathon (I really hate it when I do that, but even thinking about trying to sleep is a joke when I'm "possessed by the muse.") that I went through over the past couple of days. It is basically improvised, as I just let one thing organically lead to another, but I guess you'd have to say it's actually extemporized, since I didn't create it in real time.

The MP3 and PDF files, as per usual, are on my .Mac Downloads Page if you want to take a look/listen.


Here's the updated exposition:

This is the same as before, except that I added rests in place of the earlier articulation marks.


In the first episode I use the primary countersubject's pattern in the bass, and the tail of the subject in the lead. There is only one free voice with the Clarinet. The modulation is rather startling as it goes to the relative major of the dominant region, but this sets up the increasingly closer strettos I want to present.

Starting at measure twenty-five, we are in B-flat major, and the answer comes in three measures after the subject. The major mode allows for simpler modal versions of the answers, so I am actually thinking about having the entire piece in the major mode, with the minor mode offered as contrast. Note that I modified the tail of the subject and answer to eliminate the descending chromatic tetrachord in the major mode versions of the subject and answer.

These major mode passages are strikingly beautiful to me - which is one of the reasons that this may end up a major key piece - and as Mahler said, "Interesting is easy: Beautiful is difficult." The entrance of the answer on a unison is so subtle and yet sweet. Hard to describe; you'll have to listen to the mp3.

In measure thirty I introduce a straight quarter-note free voice. These are very effective in textures in which the thematic material is highly syncopated. I'll continue with this.

In measure thirty-four I set up the first in a series of "deceptive motions" that allow for, 1) The modulations to proceed by descending thirds, and 2) Me to avoid the necessity of composing a bunch of pesky episodes, which is where I spend most of my time in fugal works: Episodes make or break the piece usually, and they had better kick holy ass. Like I say, I'll get all artsy with this thing later.


I decided right here that I was going to alternate between major and minor mode thematic statements, and also that the minor mode statements were going to be episodic in nature: No strettos, just a setup for the next major mode middle entries. I also discovered here that. 1) A chromatic descending tetrachord works against the head of the subject, and 2) So does the head of Bach's Die Kunst Der Fuge subject (In diminution), which you can see in the free voice in measure thirty-seven. Hey, I try to give a hat-tip when I can.

The deceptive motion from measure thirty-nine leads the piece to E-flat major, and here I present the closer subject-against-subject stretto that is two measures distant. Another very pretty passage with the flute's descending quarter-note line over the bass' countersubject fractal working gorgeously.

As this phrase ends. I introduce a leading tone at the end of the second subject's tail to arrive back at C-minor in measure forty-seven. This sets up the final major mode stretto in A-flat major.


Here is the subject-against-answer stretto at one measure of distance. Quite lovely, and the main countersubject's fractal element still works - and has for every middle entry stretto - which never ceases to amaze me. I think a lot of fugal writing consists of happy accidents that composers simply notice will work. Bach and Mozart become more and more human when you start to figure that out. The whole game is to become familiar enough with the material that you can present the coolest possibilities in the best possible light. This is the completion of but the first step. Next, I'm going to write out a major mode exposition and double canonic stretto, and then I'll tackle inversions of them. After that, it will be time to look at augmentions, diminutions, and combinations of all the aforementioned. Like I say: This will be my passtime for the rest of the year.

Finally, notice that from measure fifty-seven to measure fifty-eight I use a true "deceptive resolution": I treat the dominant as a subV, or a German Auegmnted Sixth, in the trad lingo. Here I'm able to present the subject - versus the answer - in a four voice texture for the very first time. This leads to a repeat of the original episode a whole step higher, which lands us back at the tonic for the concluding double harmonic stretto.


Here is the original double canonic stretto, only now it's dovetailed with the rest of the voices. I don't like this. It is just a temporary solution. I need to write an episode that ends on a dramatic half-cadence - like I did in the String Quartet Fugue in F Minor - to introduce this with the appropriate fanfare. However, "I ain't gonna worry 'bout no episodes fer just a spell yet."

We're at seventy-five measures and 4:24 here already, and I'm expecting the final piece to be at least twice as long.


Ever notice that French and American colors are the same? Americans say "red (blood), white (purity), and blue (honor)" while the French say "blue, white and red." I was going to write that in French - along with the equality and fraternity credo - but I'm rusty enough that I'd most likely embarrass myself. I haven't been to France since 1983 and the last French language course I took was in *gulp* 1993.


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