Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tocatta Sketch (UPDATE: Completed!)


UPDATE: 10/30, 10:30PM

Well, after posting this last night, I found a delicious idea for the middle section and finished the piece. I also re-wrote the first section after the second ending and came up with a very slick turn of phrase so that section now works to modulate to the relative and return to the tonic at the end. I'm not going to post on this piece again until I go through all four movements of Sonata One later, so if you want to see the PDF score (I cleaned that up a bit too) and listen to the MP3, it's now at the top of my .Mac Downloads page.

I've never written a piece of this magnitude so quickly before. It really has been like a bolt out of the blue.


I have - out of the blue, as is usually the case - come up with the beginnings of a Tocatta for solo guitar that very well may end up as the first movement in my Sonata One for solo guitar. It's in the very earliest stages of its evolution, but I thought it had some details worth sharing, despite the formative nature of the thing at this stage. Before you comment, yes, I know I misspelled "tocatta" on the score. I learn something from every piece I write, and which letter to double in "tocatta" is part of it for this one.

I've had the idea to write a tocatta using a lot of tap techniques for a while now. The root word for tocatta (I'm going to type it a million times in this post so I get it down. lol.) is from the Italian word for "touch," so it is, literally, a "touch piece": What better vehicle for a tap technique work? Back in the renaissance, tocattas were lute pieces, but organists appropriated the term, so what I'm doing here is actually returning the tocatta to it's righful place on the fingerboard.

The idea for the motif in the intro came to me as I was drifting off to sleep a week or so ago, and as it played out in my head, it was originally going to be a sonata process piece with some similarities to the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: You can see the similarity in the material, I'm sure. However, as I started noodling with it on the guitar, I came up with the intro after just a few minutes of work. Pardon the crudities of the notation here, but I don't bother cleaning up spacings, ties and the like until I'm much further along.

As you can see, the motif works it's way up three octaves during the introduction, and it is echoed in the harmonic arpeggiation at first. The chord on the first line is an e(Add9) to get this echo effect. In te second line I introduce an F major chord in first inversion, which is the secondary subdominant chord traditionally labelled as a Neapolitan Sixth. The dominant sonority on the third line is the vii(d7) in a 4/2 arrangement. I used this voicing so I could get the dominant root in the bass at the end of measure ten there (Again, sorry for the clashing stems and stuff).

As the motif traverses the second octave, the action speeds up, but the first two harmonies are the same as before. In measure fifteen, however, I introduce a root position dominant seventh in place of the earlier vii(d4/2).

In the third octave, things are quicker still, and the line ends with a half cadence to the V(6/5), which then uses an intermediary vii(d7) to accent itself (I should note that this would be very troublesome, if not impossible, on a non-cutaway classical guitar, which I why I don't play them anymore). In the final statement of the motif I go down to the leading tone instead of the root, and I make an augmented sixth out of it with the F-natural in the bass.

This augmented sixth started out as a joke, because the F-natural is at the first fret on the low E string, and the D-sharp is at the eleventh fret on the high E string: To play it, you must fret the higher note using the right hand "i" finger, meaning you have to also simultaneously pluck the bass with "p" and the treble with "m." I actually do this sort of thing quite a bit in the music I write when the bass and melody get far apart, so I've gotten fairly decent at it.

Remember, I thought I was writing a sonata process piece up to this point, so this joke - I laughed out loud when I did it - turned into the, "Heeeeeeey! Wait a minute!" moment. Once your hands are in position to make this interval, it's very easy to launch into the Van Halen-esque tap technique figures that begin at measure twenty-two. I'm taking this tech further, though, because I'm playing a bass part as well. Believe it or not, it's not that hard to play.

Keep in mind that each sextuplet figure is played on a single string, and the lowest note in each figure is an open string: You only have to pluck the first interval of each measure using the "p/m" deal, and then tap the top notes in the figures from then on. After that, all the descending arpeggiations are pull-offs, and the ascending ones are hammer-ons (Again, on a standard classical guitar with a punishingly high action, you can't do this at all, which is why I play electric nylon string guitars: Even Flamenco players can't get away with as low an action as I can).

Having to work around the open strings means the harmonies can get quite colorful: Measure twenty-two is just a tonic minor chord, but measure twenty-three is the minor subdominant with an added major ninth, and measure twenty-four is an augmented seventh. This sounds really, really cool. At measure twenty five, we're back to the tonic minor, and then the section repeats.

At the second ending I use a deceptive motion in the bass to make a major seventh chord on the minor sixth degree, and this launches the modulation to the relative major.

Measure twenty-seven has an A minor seventh, and I'm really not sure what to call the harmony in measure twenty-eight: It's really a F-sharp diminished-minor seventh with the fourth degree substituting for the diminished fifth, but it's more a result of the voice leading than anything else. It sounds quite exotic. Measure twenty-nine sounds rich too, as it is a C augmented-major seventh over D in the bass: I love brilliant colors like this, and with high velocity arpeggiation, they really shine. Brahms famously used a minor-major seventh arpeggio in his Fourth Symphony in like fashion.

Measure thirty is a tonic minor seventh with an added eleventh (Well, a fourth in this voicing, actually), but it is in third inversion, which gives it a kind of ghost-domanant sound. At thirty one we get a tonic minor triad in first inversion, but it already feels like we're leaving the key of E minor behind. Thirty-two has the old F-natural secondary subdominant in it, but this time as a major seventh chord in root position, and with the root in the lead (above the seventh), which is quite tense with the resulting minor ninth. This leads to the new dominant of D, but it's not a dominant seventh chord, rather the open E sting makes it a V(add9) chord. This same open E makes the new tonic actually the old tonic: Rather than being a triad on G, it's actually an E minor seventh in first inversion, but it does not sound like that at all: It sounds certain that we have modulated to G major. Us jazz guys know this as a "G sixth chord," and that's how I thought of it as I was writing this out.

Any remaining doubt is removed with the cadential figure in measures thirty-three and thirty-four: I, V(6/5), I in the new key.

This is as far as I've gotten: An intro and the "A" section. I composed a brief conclusion based on the intro, but the actual ending could end up miles away from here. One thing that probably won't change is the final cadential figure, and that is why I like to envision an ending ASAP when I'm writing. When you know the ultimate destination, it's easier to plot a course.

You can, as usual, download and listen to an MP3 of this at my .Mac Downloads Page It's right at the top (The PDF is there too).

More of the falconress. Regulars sure like her, and I must admit that she has a very wholesome naturalness going on.


Blogger SBH said...

I am enchanted! Thank you for sharing this!

11:00 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...



11:59 PM  

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