Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interesting Weather in my Back Yard: Snow

Last Saturday morning it began to snow. It's not unheard of to get snow in November in Alpine, but it's hardly ever more than just a dusting, and it almost never sticks to the roads. This one was different. We got about four inches and the roads were a mess.

I took this Saturday morning shortly after looking up from my practicing and saying, "Holy crap!" About 10:00 AM.

At about 1:00 PM I noticed it was beginning to stick to the patio.

By 3:00 PM the patios - and the roads - were completely covered.

This was, of course, a sign from God.

I heard a voice say, "Go! Thou shalt play with thine 4x4 pickup in this snow I have smitten thee with!"

I obeyed, naturally. Fun was had. I checked the local McDonald's, but Al Gore was nowhere to be found. Strange...

By the middle of the night, an impressive collection of ice sickles had formed along my roof.

The next morning, it was a winter wonderland.

The ice sickles continued to grow throughout the day.

The snow, however, vanished by dusk on Sunday with temps back up into the high forties.

This is the way snow ought to be done. Last Wednesday it was 84 degrees and by next Wednesday it's supposed to be back up into the mid-seventies. The snow stays around for a day to have fun with, but not long enough to get dirty and tick me off. I love Alpine.

Now that's what I call a bad hair day. I don't have those anymore.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pope Benedict Reforming Catholic Liturgical Music

The Telegraph has an interesting article about Pope Benedict's continuing efforts to reform Catholic church music today. It begins:

"The Pope is considering a dramatic overhaul of the Vatican in order to force a return to traditional sacred music.

After reintroducing the Latin Tridentine Mass, the Pope wants to widen the use of Gregorian chant and baroque sacred music.

In an address to the bishops and priests of St Peter's Basilica, he said that there needed to be "continuity with tradition" in their prayers and music.

He referred pointedly to "the time of St Gregory the Great", the pope who gave his name to Gregorian chant.

Gregorian chant has been reinstituted as the primary form of singing by the new choir director of St Peter's, Father Pierre Paul."

As Instapundit would say, read the whole thing.

Also in The Telegraph, Damien Thompson has a response agreeing with the Pope. He's penned a wonderful opening line:

"For decades, the standard of singing in St Peter's basilica has struggled to match that of a Gilbert and Sullivan society."

Again, you should read it all. And, try not to get too creeped-out that it's written by a Catholic guy named "Damien." *shudder*


First of all, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm not a Catholic: I'm a Missouri Synod Lutheran (A very conservative Lutheran church), baptized and confirmed. So, I'm speaking from the sidelines here. However, I took my Nom de Web, Hucbald, from Hucbald of Amand, who is the earliest Western music theorist known to us by name, and who was also a Benedictine Monk.

I chose this name to blog under because I've gone back to the beginning of Western music and have studied everything I could about it from Hucbald's point to the present day. As a result I am hyper-aware that the Catholic church was the birthplace of Western art music - Hucbald, Gregory, Leoninus, Perotinus Magnus, through Palestrina - and then, of course, we Lutherans produced sublime composers of sacred music as well: Heinrich Schutz and J.S. Bach, for example.

So, though not a Catholic, I feel that I have a vested interest in this topic, and so I thought I ought to weigh in.

First of all, I think Pope Benedict is on the right track here, especially for the central church in Rome. Not only is properly performed Gregorian Chant hypnotically beautiful, but it also puts one in the proper spirit for worship. Not only that, but it is the very singular root (Oh, David!), of Western music, so chants' value as a teaching tool and cornerstone is incalculable.

Now, the article does not mention Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, but since his work is considered to be the pinnacle of Catholic counter-Reformation polyphonic sacred music, I assume that he will be... uh, "resurrected" as well. I certainly hope so. Again, this music is sublimely beautiful, and it is entirely appropriate for worship services.

I would hope, however, that worthy modern works would not be excluded from consideration entirely. If they are, a lot of talent may be wasted, and an opportunity missed: If living Catholic composers know that one or more of their works may end up being played in St. Peter's Basilica, they may produce such works. Not only that, but if the models are Gregory and Palestrina, those Catholic composers might write in styles closely related to or derived from Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. I know I'd be up for that challenge. To me, this would be a very positive development in the compositional world.

We Lutherans have our battles with maintaining good liturgical music too, I might point out, but we never have lost sight of our musical foundations based on Schutz and Bach. That said, I really can't stand the harmonizations in our modern Hymnals: I wish we'd go back to the old Red Hymnal we used back before 1990, but oh well.

That said, we don't mind having good modern music played at our services either. I play my own compositions for a half-hour before services, and sometimes as the offertory music too (Though, admittedly, some may question our Pastor's taste for allowing this. LOL!).

So, in conclusion, I'm happy to hear that Gregory and probably Palestrina are going to be restored to their rightful places in Catholic liturgical music, but I hope that they are not to become the exclusive sources to the detriment of living Catholic composers who may be inspired to contribute to their services. Tradition is great, but Gregory and Palestrina were once living, breathing human beings who God inspired to worship Him in music: Today's living, breathing Catholic composers ought not to be denied the opportunity to do likewise if they are also so inspired.

One of my jazz musician fiends, er friends - and a former Berklee classmate - sent me this a couple of weeks back. I've just been waiting for the right opportunity to use it. Isn't it fantastic?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

My manager sent me this.

She's always thinking of me. It's what she's thinking of me I wonder about.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

David Brooks: Musical Ultra-Moron

This column was so impossibly bad that I simply had to exorcise myself with it. I apologize in advance to all of those who I am about to offend.


This is why people suffering from "Feck-Deficit Disorder" shouldn't be allowed to write about music and culture. The original column, as much as I detest having to link to it, is here.

And so, off I go...


November 20, 2007
The Segmented Society

On Feb. 9, 1964, the Beatles played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Or as Steven Van Zandt remembers the moment: “It was the beginning of my life.”


Me: OK, I happened to miss that when it first aired, however, I was six years old at the time and the first record I ever owned was Meet The Beatles, so count me in (The second was Beatles 65, and I used to love the Beatles movies).


Van Zandt fell for the Beatles and discovered the blues and early rock music that inspired them. He played in a series of bands on the Jersey shore, and when a friend wanted to draw on his encyclopedic blues knowledge for a song called “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” Van Zandt wound up as a guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.


Me: And I remember, from my high school days, when "Born to Run" came out and the cover of the Rolling Stone had Bruce with the caption, "The New Rock Messiah?" I'm in on this as well.


The 1970s were a great moment for musical integration. Artists like the Rolling Stones and Springsteen drew on a range of musical influences and produced songs that might be country-influenced, soul-influenced, blues-influenced or a combination of all three. These mega-groups attracted gigantic followings and can still fill huge arenas.


Me: Are you fracking kidding me?! I was the kid carving "Disco Sucks" into desktops with my Boy Scout pocket knife during class in the 70's. Live music venues went from R&B to Tony Monero's musically lobotomized Saturday Night Fever haunts over night and in droves. It was a very fractured scene and a horrible, horrible time to be a small time musician into substantive music. The integration you speak of, David, is a myth: It's all in your mind.

The Stones and Springsteen still fill large venues because of other nostalgic souls with rose colored memories. I've been to a few of those shows: The Stones and The Who in particular, and I was amazed by the gray-haired demographic there. Lots of "Lone Wolf" Harley cartoon dudes and dudettes reaching back for a stale slice of a youth they idealize beyond the old reality they lived.


But cultural history has pivot moments, and at some point toward the end of the 1970s or the early 1980s, the era of integration gave way to the era of fragmentation. There are now dozens of niche musical genres where there used to be this thing called rock. There are many bands that can fill 5,000-seat theaters, but there are almost no new groups with the broad following or longevity of the Rolling Stones, Springsteen or U2.


Me: Exactly backwards, David: During the 80's Paul Simon began working with African musicians, Sting began working with jazz musicians, C&W integrated progressively more R&R elements, and the young mainstream country guys stopped "kicking hippies' asses" and started growing their own damn hair.

Then, there was the full flowering of this thing called Jazz-Rock Fusion, in which guys like John McLaughlin ended up working with... masters of Indian classical music. Even jazz pioneers like Miles Davis hired fusion musicians as sidemen.

The 80's also marked the beginnig of the computerized electronic musical instrument, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), FM (Frequency Modulation) digital synthesis, and the sampling technology that lead, regrettably, to rap "music." I know, because I was on the leading edge of this as one of the first Synclavier guitarists: The 80's was the "golden age" of digital synthesis, and it was a GREAT time to be a musician.

One of the reasons there aren't many mega-bands around anymore is because they are dinosaurs: Corporate-sponsored schlok - not rock for the most part - with bazzillions of dollars thrown at promoting them. All of that technology I just mentioned has become cheap and ubiquitously available, AND THAT HAS DEMOCRATIZED THE MUSIC SCENE! Increasingly, bands no longer require record companies and/or corporate sponsorship. This is a GOOD thing.

I believe you are forgetting the late 80's heavy metal scene too, in which bands like Metallica filled huge arenas just fine, thank you very much.


People have been writing about the fragmentation of American music for decades. Back in the Feb. 18, 1982, issue of Time, Jay Cocks wrote that American music was in splinters. But year after year, the segmentation builds.


Me: Far from being a lamentable situation, the fact that audiences can now choose music that suits their tastes more closely is a wonderful development: It satisfies the listener better and it employs MORE MUSICIANS! I call chicken little.


Last month, for example, Sasha Frere-Jones wrote an essay in The New Yorker noting that indie rock is now almost completely white, lacking even the motifs of African-American popular music. Carl Wilson countered in Slate that indie rock’s real wall is social; it’s the genre for the liberal-arts-college upper-middle class.


Me: So, are you proposing forced integration in the music scene, or what? If so, why not decry the musical poverty of the rap and hip-hop scenes and the fact that those generas relate almost exclusively to only urban black audiences?... That's what I thought. I'm tempted to throw a STFU in at this point.


Technology drives some of the fragmentation. Computers allow musicians to produce a broader range of sounds. Top 40 radio no longer serves as the gateway for the listening public. Music industry executives can use market research to divide consumers into narrower and narrower slices.
But other causes flow from the temper of the times. It’s considered inappropriate or even immoral for white musicians to appropriate African-American styles. And there’s the rise of the mass educated class.


Me: This is a complete and utter crock of steaming, abject shite. As I mentioned previously, that today's technology allows more musicians to participate and serve specific audiences better is a VERY, VERY GOOD THING, and thank God Almighty that "Top 40 radio" is no longer the gatekeeper and arbiter of musical taste. Only legacy record companies radio stations could regret such a development. So, who's paying you, David?


People who have built up cultural capital and pride themselves on their superior discernment are naturally going to cultivate ever more obscure musical tastes. I’m not sure they enjoy music more than the throngs who sat around listening to Led Zeppelin, but they can certainly feel more individualistic and special.


Me: Just when I though this guy couldn't get any more asinine.

Yes, that's exactly what happened to me David. You've pwn3d me. After starting out getting the police called on me for playing too loudly in garage bands as a teen - yes, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix were to blame - I went and got a BM from Berklee in professional music, where I learned to play and compose jazz. You can just sense the inner snob coming out of me, can't you?

Not happy with this level of snot-nosed-ness, I returned to school for an MM in traditional theory and composition, during which time I fell in love with fugue writing. Now we're talking, right? My only regret ought to be that my little white guy nose isn't longer so I could look down it farther, correct?

Why then do I still play Led Zeppelin in my set... right alongside of Bach and Beethoven? How come I still play Van Halen in my set... right, smack dab in between some of the very traditional stuff I write? What reason could I possibly have for composing a sonata with a first movement that is based on rock tap technique, a second movement that is neo-Romantic, a scherzo that is a swing tune, and a finale that is a fugue?

Could it possibly be that I simply LOVE MUSIC? Remember Ellington's words, David? He was right.


Van Zandt grew up in one era and now thrives in the other, but how long can mega-groups like the E Street Band still tour?

“This could be the last time,” he says.


Me: Cry me a river.


He argues that if the Rolling Stones came along now, they wouldn’t be able to get mass airtime because there is no broadcast vehicle for all-purpose rock. And he says that most young musicians don’t know the roots and traditions of their music. They don’t have broad musical vocabularies to draw on when they are writing songs.


Me: Bwaahaahaahaahaaaa! Excuse me, I need to take a pee. BRB...

First sentence: Too bad/Thank God.

Second sentence: Young musicians have never known Dick Johnson. They'll learn, or they'll perish. Call it musical Darwinism.

Third sentence: This is ridiculous, and so I'll ridicule it. Kids growing up today are positively bathed in music from birth: It's virtually impossible to escape it. That's all the vocabulary they need to start out with. I know this, because that's what I started out with. And, seriously, look how well I turned out. LOL!


As a result, much of their music (and here I’m bowdlerizing his language) stinks.


Me: Since Thomas Bowdler became infamous for expurgating Shakespeare, perhaps you should think twice before sinking to his miserable level of mediocrity. Let me guess: Sucks?


He describes a musical culture that has lost touch with its common roots.


Me: Did you mean, "common root"? If so, there is no common root: You were right while being wrong (Unless you refer to the Western art music tradition, but since you never mention it in your article, I assume you mean popular music). American popular music has three main points of origin: The Scots-Irish tradition that leads to folk, bluegrass, and C&W; the negro spirituals that lead to blues, jazz, R&B, and rock, as well as the Western art music tradition. These things have been combining and re-combining for decades, and they will continue to do so. How can you not see this?


And as he speaks, I hear the echoes of thousands of other interviews concerning dozens of other spheres.


I deduce that you "live in a world without time: Where sound collides with color, and shadows explode." There are professionals out there who can help you with this problem. Either that, or tell me where I can get some of what you're smoking.


It seems that whatever story I cover, people are anxious about fragmentation and longing for cohesion. This is the driving fear behind the inequality and immigration debates, behind worries of polarization and behind the entire Obama candidacy.


Me: I love this phenomenon, and I notice it on a lot of liberal musician's blogs as well: It is almost impossible for liberals to write about any subject without mentioning leftist politics at least once.

What's behind the Obama candidacy is indeed new: An empty suit has been magnified into a perfect vacuum that sucks the brains out of any liberal that strays within 500 feet. Not that those brains would make a dent in that perfect vacuum, of course.

I thought John Edwards had done this last cycle, but I was wrong: Obama brings an unprecedented level of vacuousness to the term empty suit.

Look pal, I'm not anxious about fragmentation, because I actually do celebrate diversity, versus talking out of my ass about it while simultaneously lamenting it like you do. I also don't long for cohesion if it means snuggling up to idiots like you. I worry about real things like terrorism: I was in D.C. on 09/11 and watched the Pentagon burn out of my office window. That got rid of any lingering liberal sentiments I may have had.

What I worry about is that all of us remain free to pursue whatever kind of music we want, without the danger of censorship from fascists of any and all stripes. I want you to be free to be the Age of Endarkenment hairball you obviously are, so long as I can remain free to be the Age of Reason throwback that I am. Fair enough?


If you go to marketing conferences, you realize we really are in the era of the long tail. In any given industry, companies are dividing the marketplace into narrower and more segmented lifestyle niches.


Me: What on earth does the long tail have to do with marketing niches? As I understand it, the long tail is a term that relates to weblogs: If you've been around a long time and have posted a lot, you have a long tail, and so are likely to get more hits via search engines.

I won't be happy until lifestyle niches are so narrow that they are absolutely one dimensional and I can flip through them on my iPhone to chose the one I happen to be in the mood for at the time. Get it? I mean, at this point I have to wonder.


Van Zandt has a way to counter all this, at least where music is concerned. He’s drawn up a high school music curriculum that tells American history through music. It would introduce students to Muddy Waters, the Mississippi Sheiks, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers. He’s trying to use music to motivate and engage students, but most of all, he is trying to establish a canon, a common tradition that reminds students that they are inheritors of a long conversation.


Me: If you start with Leoninus and Perotinus Magnus and lead from there through Palestrina, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and then onto American popular music, count me in. Otherwise, piss off.


And Van Zandt is doing something that is going to be increasingly necessary for foundations and civic groups. We live in an age in which the technological and commercial momentum drives fragmentation. It’s going to be necessary to set up countervailing forces — institutions that span social, class and ethnic lines.


Me: At this point, I'm tired and bored, so I'l just get all ad hominem on your ass: What an intractable idiot!

I guess Steve does need something to occupy his time now that The Sopranos is history though.


Music used to do this. Not so much anymore.


Me: I can't believe 85 IQ BB-brains like this guy get paid to write this kind of insipid drivel.


Well, today's practice regimen is in the crapper, but I somehow feel better despite that fact.

That is one of the most beautiful and graceful profiles I've ever seen. Simply magnificent.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jay Greenberg: Finally!

I've said many times that if a composer appeared who I ought to hear about, I would. Well, I've heard the name "Jay Greenberg" around the web several times over the past year or so, usually associated with words like "prodigy" and "Mozart." This "hype" finally got my full and complete attention yesterday with an article at CNN, and so I went to the iTunes Store to download his first CD.

Ok, where to begin? Jay is currently fifteen years old, and this CD is of his fifth Symphony! He wrote this when he was twelve!!! He's already written over one-hundred works, evidently, and so his output is truly early and prodigious. He's already had some of the best teachers out there, including Samuel Adler, whose Orchestration text is indispensable to me, and it shows. He has a profoundly deep and organic mastery of the orchestra, and his compositions are extremely well structured and logical in their layout. He also has an effortless lyricism - doubtless my weakest link - and his melodies transition from dark and brooding to playful and/or joyous; sometimes startlingly, and sometimes so subtly that it actually takes a few seconds for you to notice that your mood has been changed.

It is impossible to escape the term "neo-Romantic" when trying to describe his music, but that term carries some prejudicial baggage with it that certainly ought not to be applied to Mr. Greenberg's work (It makes me laugh to call a fifteen-year-old "Mister"). He's obviously a fan of Bartok, and equally obviously, he's heard a few John Williams film scores. So, there is quite a bit of dissonance, but it never gets "ugly": Close enough to make me cringe though, especially in the String Quintet, where I was laughing at some of the wackier episodes. Oh yeah, he has an awesome musical sense of humor for such a young kid.

So, drag your digital carcass on over to Amazon or the iTunes Store and buy this CD. It really is the most amazing thing my jaded ears have heard in decades.

When I was fifteen all I could think about was girls... some things never change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Charting a Path Forward

After a week-long high upon completing Sonata One, I realized that it is, again, my least favorite time of the year: Daylight Savings Time is gone, Old Man Winter is bearing down (Though, it was in the low 80's here in Alpine today!)... and it's the "Holiday Season." Bah, humbug.

I imagine many middle-aged bachelors are not fond of the holiday season - it is all about family, after all, and aside from mom, I don't have any - but this year may suck more than usual because I turn fifty (?!) on the fifteenth of December. Then again, I may not give a rip, but I'm feeling rather glum this afternoon, in any event.

Every year at about this point I begin to assess my progress over the past twelve months, and since I work my ass off, that usually cheers me up a bit. I'm at the end of the third year of a five year plan I have, and things are going swimmingly, if I'm objective about it. In September of 2004, I picked up a guitar again after having not touched one in over four years. Six months later, in February of 2005, I played my first paying gig on over a decade. Two months later, I landed my first weekly gig (Tips and dinner only, at that point), and in June, I got one that actually paid. I still play there, and they have, of their own volition, raised my pay twice.

Then, in June of 2005 I played my first real paying wedding in almost fifteen years, and started being asked to private functions as well. Thanksgiving of that year was quite nice, as I was asked to play at a dinner out at a nice little ranch, they tipped me a hundred bucks over my pay, and fed me all the trimmings of home. God is good.

Not a bad fourteen months worth of of work.

I landed a second and a third weekly around Christmas, played at a few art galleries, and my repertoire kept on growing. By February of this year, I had memorized - and/or re-memorized - over fifty pieces in less than thirty months.

In case you're reading this and you're not a performer, let me put the above statement into perspective for you: That's just a whole shit-load of work, right there.

Add to all of this that I started working with a manager again for the first time since my rock guitarist days back in the late 1980's - and that has just worked out amazingly well - and you would think it hard for me to be down. Well, you ought to be right, of course. Problem is, there is just a ton of work still to be done, and two more years is a lot more of this to "look forward" to.

I re-recorded my Y2K CD Fossils - which was just a very rough demo before - this year, and I must admit that getting that out of the way is a huge relief (Some of those pieces are almost twenty years old now: Fossils indeed). I'm also only two pieces away from learning all of the pieces for my next CD, Heavy Nylon now, and so I can see the light at the end of that project now too.


Here's how Heavy Nylon is shaping up:

01] Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani
02] Classical Gas - Mason Williams
03] Desert Song - Eric Johnson
04] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen
05] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani
06] Bouree - Jethro Tull
07] Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos
08] Mood for a Day - Steve Howe
09] Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins
10] Heavy Nylon - Hucbald
11] Fighter Pilots - Hucbald
12] Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page

I've memorized ten of those in the past thirty-six months! Only the Tull Bouree (My own arrangement, including the second section, which Ian Anderson never did) and Mood for a Day left to go.


Well, completing Sonata One has been unexpected, and it has changed the entire plan I thought I had laid out (Man plans/God laughs, right?). Much of the past couple of days worth of agony has centered on how, exactly, to proceed at this point.

Ive been learning the first of the Lineal Studies in G major - a totally new class of pieces I started writing a year or so back - and that is coming along well (It's unlike anything else I've ever played before, so it's slow going), and then I need to "plug a hole" in the E minor suite of my set.

This has caused me no end of heartache. If I am going to learn something by another composer, 1) I have to love it, and 2) it has to fill a space I need it to fill in my set. I was thinking about the E minor Sarabande from Bach's lute suite in that key, but I just don't like that piece.

Well, I spent much of last night searching the internet for E minor guitar pieces, and I finally found something perfect: Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1. It starts out in E major but ends on an E minor chord, it's easy to play, and I love it! I should have it done before Christmas.

Then - and this will probably tic my manager off, as she's anxious for me to finish the Heavy Nylon project - I'm going to learn the Tocatta: I simply must start on Sonata One ASAP.

To-do list for 2008:

01] Tocatta
02] Jesu Mein freude - J.S. Bach
03] Bouree - Jethro Tull
04] Sleeper's Awake - J.S. Bach
05] Fugue (From Sonata Zero)
06] Mood for a Day - Steve Howe

I can hear God laughing already.

One of my manager's friends sent her this from Italy the other day. She said she thought of me immediately. I'm not exactly sure how to take that.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sonata One in E Minor for Solo Guitar: IV - Fugue

You can download the PDF scores and MIDI to MP3 conversions of all four movements of Sonata One here.


UPDATE: Since I first wrote this post in a single marathon session, I left some things out, of course. Scroll down for the updates at the appropriate places.


Fugue writing is by far my favorite compositional endeavor. Nothing else even comes close. I view it as the ultimate compositional challenge in general, and on the guitar - where imitative counterpoint is about as non-idiomatic as one can get - it's even lightyears beyond this.

I remember the first fugue I heard performed on the guitar quite vividly: It was Bach's A minor fugue for lute (Originally in G minor) performed by Christopher Parkening. This was in about 1978, and my teacher Jackie King turned me on to it. The first words out of my mouth were, "It sounds so logical!" I immediately went out and bought everything Christopher Parkening had recorded to that point: In The Spanish Style, In the Classic Style, and Parkening Plays Bach. To this day, I don't think anyone of the strict Segovia tradition guitarists is anywhere near where Parkening is at: His effortless command of the instrument, as evidenced by the exquisite nuances in his interpretations, is simply unmatched. None of the more recent virtuoso pioneers have this quality to their playing either: Kazuhito Yamashita's tone is quite strident by comparison, for example, despite his super-powerful playing.

Later, when I was attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, I had the amazing good fortune to have a counterpoint teacher named Chris Frigon. Though I was interested in becoming a famous rock guitarist at the time, Chris' class - a required course I admittedly dreaded when I registered for it - was a revelation in many ways. His seriousness about the subject and obvious command of it impressed me deeply: Chris was probably the first real highly educated musician I ever encountered of the traditional pedagogical line. And, what a line it was too:

1) Johann Sebastian Bach


2) Wilhelm Friedman Bach

-Who Taught-

3) Franz Joseph Haydn

-Who Taught-

4) Ludwig van Beethoven

-Who Taught-

5) Carl Czerny

-Who Taught-

6) Theodore Leschetizky

-Who Taught-

7) Edwine Behre

-Who Taught-

8) Chris Frigon

-Who Taught-

9) Hucbald

Is that cool, or what?

Though nothing came of it at the time, I had the idea to really master counterpoint in the back of my mind from that point forward, and a few years later - around 1986 - when I was in NYC, I started stopping by the Joseph Patelson Music House across from Carnegie Hall every payday to buy a counterpoint book. I became positively absorbed by the subject.

Some of the books I bought and studied during that time were: Riemann's History of Music Theory, Tenney's History of Consonance and Dissonance, Mann's The Study of Fugue, Gedalge's Treatise on Fugue, Zarlino's The Art of Counterpoint, Fux' The Study of Counterpoint, Rameau's Treatise on Harmony, and Taneiev's Convertible Counterpoint in the Strict Style. You get the idea: I wanted to know what just about everybody thought about the subject (And, there were other books by Benjamin, Kennan, Jeppesen, Piston and others I got as well).

This lead almost immediately to me writing just a bunch of studies for solo guitar, and eventually I abandoned the rock guitarist lifestyle and returned to school and a master's program in traditional theory and composition.

My first fugal works were for solo organ since my fiance at the time (then wife, now ex-wife) was a Lutheran Music Minister and virtuoso organist. I really wanted to write fugues for the guitar, but all of the subjects I came up with wouldn't "fit" on the guitar: This problem plagued me for over a decade.

It wasn't until 2005 that I came up with a new class of subject that was stately - as the Musical Offering and Art of Fugue subjects are - and also fit on the guitar. This subject is what became the three imitative movements of Sonata Zero.

Immediately after finishing Sonata Zero I had the idea to do a guitar transcription if the Organ Fugue in D Minor that is usually attributed to Bach: Just noodling around with it I figured out that the repeated note subject and answer at the fourth would work perfectly on the guitar in E minor, which would employ the open B and E strings. This exercise made me certain of at least two things: 1) There is no way that J.S. Bach is the author of this fugue, and 2) The original fugue was written by some unknown virtuoso lutenist. I am absolutely positive about that.

For a bit about the scholarly debate on this subject, you can start at the Wikipedia entry here.

While the opening Tocatta may indeed have been originally for the violin, this fugue was originally for the archlute, and was not written by J.S. Bach. It simply fits all too well on the guitar, and there is no real counterpoint in it: The countersubject, such as it is, merely makes parallel thirds or sixths with the melodic trajectory of the subject. This would be exactly the kind of thing a lutenist whose counterpoint was shaky would have come up with.

Since I liked the premise of the D Minor Organ Fugue, but not the lame execution of that premise, I decided to use the same premise, only make it a real contrapuntal tour de force. So, I composed a better subject and a real countersubject to it, and I used Sergi Taneiev's techniques from Convertible Counterpoint in the Strict Style so that the original combination would yeild derivatives at different intervallic distances.

This is easier than it sounds: If there is nothing but contrary and oblique motion between the subject and countersubject, both lines can be doubled in thirds - or sixths, but I don't use that here, because it wouldn't work out on the guitar - and so many possibilities exist.

In the D Minor Organ Fugue, the subject's repeated note, or Zero Axis as Joseph Schillinger called it, is always functioning as the fifth of the mode of the moment, but two other possibilities exist: The zero axis can also function as the root or third of the mode of the moment. I used those possibilities too, and I don't think any composer has ever employed this strategy to vary a fugue subject before. By doing this, I was able to modulate to a host of keys, some of which are quite remote from the tonic, while still using the open strings of the guitar for the zero axes.


It is worth noting that, to this point, the opening Tocatta ended on an E tonic with a Picardy third in it, which I deliberately did not confirm as a modal shift by using a fully diminished seventh chord in the final cadence. Then, the Sonata is in A minor, which is where the answer is in this fugue, and it ended plaintively in A minor, even though there was an A major section within it. The Scherzo was in the relative major of G, but the second phrase of it was in G minor, and it ended on a blurry G(6/9) chord, and so now we are set up for the final battle between major and minor.


On the top system is the subject, which has all of the most perfect dimentional attributes that a subject can contain: It is an odd number of measures in length at seven, and it is also fractional with the eighth note anticipation. Odd is better than even, and fractional is better than whole: There is almost nothing worse than a four measure fugue subject, which makes Bach's Motto Theme from The Art of Fugue a monumental anomaly.


UPDATE: I should have also noted that the original subject contains all nine notes of the nonatonic minor system, and it has the range of a ninth as well.


In the original subject and answer, the zero axis is functioning as the fifth of the mode of the moment, just like in the D Minor Organ Fugue's opening. One of the things I have done is to carefully manage all of the appearances and disappearances of the axes: The melodic trajectory of the subject merges smoothly into the counter-answer into measure eight, and - via the sixteenth note figure im measure seven - the zero axis also merges into the answer's melodic trajectory. There are no "loose ends" in this fugue.

On the second system is the answer at the subdominant level, and it is accompanied by the main counter-answer. As you can see, there is nothing but contrary motion between the answer and counter-answer from measure to measure, and oblique motion within the measures (Except at the end, where there is contrary motion with the lower quarter notes). This means both the melodic trajectory of the answer and the counter-answer could be doubled in thirds and all resulting contrapuntal relationships would be correct. This fugue is a progressive realization of those possibilities.

On the third system is the first episode, which I call a "release area." and this one does not modulate. As you can see in the final measure of it, the zero axis on E descends to merge smoothly with the upcoming counter-answer, the melodic trajectory merges into the bass line's A, and then the lower voice is free to begin another statement of the answer.

The octave inversion statement beginning in measure twenty does not use an open string for the zero axis: This is the only place in the fugue where I had to do that, so it is quite difficult to execute, but the fugue wouldn't work without it. We're still in A minor here, but this statement of the answer and counter-answer sets up the modulation to C major I want. Well, need, actually.

On the bottom system starting at measure twenty-seven is the first of the second type of episode, which I call sequential episodes, since they grow out of the final measure of the answer/counter-answer or subject/counter-subject. In measure thirty-three we have modulated to C.

As you can see, we are now in C major, but the zero axis is still the open E string, which means it is functioning as the major third here. This also means that the counter-subject (This is the subject form, with the descending trajectory at the tail of the subject, with the rising quarters in the counter-subject, which we get here for the first time) is a third closer to the subject in this statement: This is Taneiev's Convertible Counterpoint at work.

In the sequential episode starting on the second system, notice that the melodic trajectory fragments above always merge into unisoni with the bass line at the start of every measure, and the zero axis on E becomes an E-flat before continuing down to merge with the next counter-answer statement. This means we have not modulated, but we have changed the gender of the mode to C minor.

The C minor statement is in an octave inversion again, and it employs the open G string as the zero axis for the first time. That means it is functioning as the fifth again.

At fifty-five we get the third type of episode, which I call a concluding episode, because it concludes the exposition and the development to lead into the counter-exposition and the recapitulation later. At the end I've put a double bar line, because this is the end of the exposition.

As you can see, this is a combination of fugal process and monothematic sonata process.

On the bottom system the counter-exposition begins with the subject exactly as at the beginning of the piece, but now there is a drone on the high E string, the zero axis is on the open B string (as before), and the counter-subject is now in the bass. That makes the exposition a two-voice deal and the counter-exposition a three voice kind of thing: The recapitulation will be four voices, revealing the entire original contrapuntal combination. Note again how I'm careful to merge the axes and trajectories: The open low E at fifty-five is merely an octave transposition.

Here we get the answer, counter-answer one, and counter-answer two for the first time. Though counter-answer two does not follow the trajectory of the answer throughout - the voices actually cross in measure seventy-one - it does effectively double the trajectory in thirds, which is a further revelation of the original combination.

The release area episode on the second system is exactly like its counterpart in the exposition until the end, where a C-sharp is introduced to change the mode to A major. The sharps in A major will allow me to modulate to C-sharp minor at the end of the following sequential episode. So the third system is just like the earlier A minor statement except for the mode.

In the fourth system you can see how the modulation works out: We're at C-sharp minor by the end, instead of C major as before. This means the bottom system is exactly like the earlier C major statement in that the open E is the third of the mode of the moment, but now it's the minor third of C-sharp minor versus the major third of C. See how cool this is?

One of these accumulated sharps has to be shed, of course, and that's what the sequential episode at the top of page four allows: We're back to A major by the end of it.

On the second system begins the first of the fourth type of episode, which I call a chromatic episode because they are all over chromatic lines in the bass. Note that I left out the sixteenths at the end of measure one-hundred-six leading into it: I didn't want that rhythm to clash with the new placement in the chromatic episode... yet. This episode is nineteen measures long, and it acts as a release from the constant fugal struggle we've endured so far, and it also modulates to C major by the end.


UPDATE: I should have pointed out that, after all the painstaking management of the axes and trajectories up to this point, the C-sharp is abandoned for the first of the chromatic bass line episodes at measure one-hundred-seven. This creates a tension throughout the episode that is not resolved until measures 124-125 where the C-sharp resolves up to D and then the D progresses down to C-natural to effect the modulation.


The C major statement of the answer at one-twenty-six has the main counter-answer doubled in thirds for the first time, and it is in octave inversion as well: This was the C minor statement last time, and the open G zero axis is again the fifth of the mode.

The counter-exposition is longer than the exposition was, and all of the statements are now new. The sequential episode at the top was the concluding episode last time, and we modulate to A major by the end of it. The answer/counter-answer statement at one-hundred-forty has the counter-answer doubled in thirds again, but in the original octave arrangement.

Our old reliable release area episode keeps us in A major, and sets up the first appearance of the inversus form of the subject, which also has the low A string zero axis functioning of the root of the mode for the first time as well. The inversus form of the counter-answer is also doubled in thirds.

This leads to a properly unique sequential episode to lead into the development areas: It's inverted, and you get triad, diad, and monad as the trajectories merge. A second double bar line signals the beginning of the development.

The development is in two sections, just like the exposition and counter-exposition. Also like them, I modulate to closer keys the first time through, and follow the same pattern but modulating to the more remote keys the second time.

We begin with an answer statement on the same level as the original subject, but now the main counter-answer is in the lead voice, and there is a tonic pedal in the bass. This passage is only possible because the low E pedal and the zero axis B are open strings.

Since this is an answer form, we get a new version of the release area episode on the second system, and this modulates us to A minor.

The A minor statement on the third system has the answer and counter-answer two, but above an alternating pedal using the open low A and E strings: It's actually pretty easy to play.

In the release area episode starting at one-hundred-eighty-four, we get a modulation to G major. Note the chromatic movement of the D-sharp in measure 186 into the D-natural in 187: This is a setup for the next time, where the notes will be reversed. Since the bottom system is in G major and the zero axis B is the major third, that means the next time we get here it will be G-sharp minor with the B as the minor third. Shiny!

The final statement on the page is the subject form with a drone G in the lead, and the counter-answer below.

The sequential episode at the top is further developed with the G in the lead coming down to D-sharp at the end for the return to E minor. Next time, this episode will start out with a G-sharp in the lead, of course.

At two-hundred-one we get the second of the chromatic bass line episodes, and I again avoided the sixteenths at the end of two-hundred so as not to clash with the episode's rhythmic figure at this point. Note that between the low F-sharp and the D-sharp in the lead at two-undred we have a major sixth: I'll make that an augmented sixth with an F-natural next time, to set up the final development statement in E-flat major.


UPDATE: Again, a tension is created when the A is abandoned at measure two-hundred. It is not picked up and absorbed into the bass line until the G in measure 207, so the suspense only lasts half of this particular episode.


This chromatic bass line episode does not modulate this time, however, getting us to the E minor statement that starts on the fourth system. here, the open G zero axis is the minor third of the mode, the open B is a drone above, and the counter-answer is in the lead; all over a tonic pedal in the bass.

From 216 into 217 I have technically gotten myself a parallel stepwise dissonance between the F-sharp in the bass and the open G that launches the new answer statement. First it's a minor ninth, and then a major ninth, though, and since the answer immediately goes up to the minor third, I gave myself this single licence. Since it's a ninth, and the entire piece is based on nine and twenty-seven, it seemed appropriate.

The sequential episode on the bottom system is the most dramatic yet, and it leads to the exuberance climax of the piece with the appearance of the key of E major for the first time on the next page. You can see how I took the sixteenth duplets, expanded them in the previous episode at the end, and then added even more in the last measure of the page. A double bar signals the end of the first half of the development.

Here we have E major for the first time, and the combination is like the previous appearance of E minor at this point, except for the fact that counter-answer two is now present. You need to employ the right hand c finger to execute this passage, and yes, it's a bitch to play, but it is technically possible.

The release area episode on the second system takes us to A major this time, otherwise it is the same as before.

OK, *big sigh* the statement at measure two-hundred-forty-two has a pedal underneath that is alternated with the counter-answer above. You really don't need the c finger here, but it would help. And, as for myself, I plan to use funk bass technique to slap the low E's... but that's just me. ;^) This passage can be simplified by playing the counter-answer line as quarter notes versus the half notes here.

The release area on the fourth system now takes us to G-sharp minor, as I mentioned it would, and so we get that super-remote key area on the bottom system: Five freaking sharps!

Here's the sequential episode I mentioned earlier that starts with G-sharp in the lead. It sheds four sharps in its six measures, and there's the F-natural in the bass making the augmented sixth with the D-sharp above at the end there. This leads into a literal repeat of the earlier chromatic bass line episode (And I again avoid the clashing sixteenth placements)... until the very last measure: There you can see how I use the sixteenth note run to make the modulation to E-flat major this go-round, and the F-natural reappears, so the earlier setup is complete.


UPDATE: As before, the abandoned A in 265 is picked up by the bass at the G in 272.


Since the guitar only goes down to E-natural, I was able to avoid the parallel ninths this time by just abandoning the bass line. However, the F-natural does finally resolve to E-natural at the beginning of the next page.

The E-flat major statement is quite a challenge, since the B-flats are not an open string, and this leads to the second appearance of the concluding episode - no developed a bit - which returns us to the recapitulation.


UPDATE: Note three flats. The most remote keys are four sharps to the sharp side, and four flats to the flat side: a total difference of nine accidentals including the original key.


The high C-sharp in measure two-hundred-ninety-four is the pitch climax of the piece, and it comes at... the 72% point!

Here's the recap, and we are now starting in E major and have four primary voices. The subject statement has an open E drone in the lead, the subject below, counter-subject two for the third voice, and counter-subject one in the bass. For the answer statement we have the fully revealed original combination: The answer is in the lead, counter-answer two is below that, and counter-answer one doubled in thirds is below, but I managed to get the funk bass pedal on E in here too. This is an extreme passage that would take a Christopher Parkening or a Kazuhito Yamashita to play. Again, it can be simplified by playing counter-answer one as quarter notes throughout.

This fully formed original combination is what I composed first - without the bass drone, of course - and it only works in this octave and in the major mode which set the whole fugue up for me. I didn't think of the funky bass pedal until after I wrote out the development sections.

After the release area episode, which is a measure shorter now and returns us to E minor, we get the inversus using the low E string as the zero axis root for the first time. Since this is the answer form, it leads to another short release area episode which keeps us in E minor. Note that the inversus really doesn't work well in the minor mode: Raised sixth and seventh degrees are required while the inverted answer's trajectory is descending. It would work much better in the major mode... which is the point.

Now we get a statement of the subject in E minor, but with the high E string zero acis being the root for the first time. This requires a modification of counter-subject two.

In the second system the key of E minor attempts to "hijack" the fugue by ending it early with the first appearance of the ending episode (Versus the earlier concluding episodes, which just ushered in the counter-exposition and recapitulation). This has a descending chromatic tetrachord for three measures, followed by a return to the tonic through the raised sixth and seventh degrees. Beethoven used this figure at the conclusion of the first movement of the Ninth Symphony.

The figure repeats with me, re, do in the bass of the fourth measure each time, and it really does sound like the piece is building to an ending.

At the last possible second, E major interrupts and does the inversus statement in this preferrable form, followed by its major mode release area.

The major mode version of the subject with the root as the zero axis follows, and this too is a more satisfying arrangement of the material. At the end of this statement of the subject, however, the final chromatic bass line episode appears, and I let the sixteenth rhythms clash, because I have to: This episode is not coming out of a sequential episode, but a thematic statement! Note that this is also the first chromatic bass line episode that is built on a descending chromatic line, and that the E that begins it is abandoned. With all of the axes and trajectories so well managed throughout the fugue, this is noticible to an astute listener.

Well, that E is picked up at the return of the ending episode on the fourth system: A nice bit of tension.


UPDATE: The above mentioned tension is a part of a pattern I have created previously, of course.


This ending episode is different, however, because the fourth measure has MI, re, do instead of ME, re, do as before: The chromatic descending tetrachord implies a minor ending, but the mi, re, do figure implies a major ending. This is the final conflict.

The conflict is finally resolved on the second system where the chromatic tetrachord gives up and becomes diatonic to the key of E major, and in parallel thirds, which leads up to the twenty-seventh statement: The trajectories of the subject and counter-subject in augmentation harmonized with the axes of B and E.

As Emeril would say, "BAM!"

Twenty-seven thematic statements, twenty-seven episodes, and ten keys (Nine keys other than the original tonic).

That's how Adam got into trouble, right there: It all makes sense now; Eve was a redhead.

Holy mackerel: This post took over four hours!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sonata One in E Minor for Solo Guitar: III - Scherzo

You can download the PDF scores and MIDI to MP3 conversions of all four movements of Sonata One here.


My single favorite piece in the entire symphonic literature is the second movement Scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. In fact, that piece is my earliest musical memory.

When I was a very young child of three or four years, Arturo Toscanini's 1952 recording of this Scherzo was the theme music for the NBC news program, The Huntley-Brinkley Report. My dad would retire to his den to watch that show every night, and I remember standing in front of our ancient black-and-white TV transfixed by the opening music as vividly as if it happened five minutes ago. This is not only my first musical memory, but one of my first memories ever.


Scherzo translates into English as "jest," so a scherzo is basically a musical joke of some kind or other. The tradition of musical scherzi goes back at least to Haydn, who seems to have invented the term for classical musical works (Not to mention his inventing the string quartet and just about everything else we think of as "classical" in music).

In Beethoven's scherzo, he took the 3/4 menuetto and sped it up to the point that it sounded like it was in 12/8, and of course the opening is also a fugato. Since jazz swing is most accurately notated as 12/8, that gave me the idea of using a standard jazz swing tune as a scherzo.

A couple of years ago I dug out my oldest jazz pieces to make two-guitar arrangements of them for a couple of students of mine who had a jazz guitar duo. When I got to this Charlie Parker style piece I wrote in 1980, I noticed that the compass of the melody would allow me to play it on a single guitar with a contrapuntal bass line, and so the genesis of this piece goes back twenty-seven years.

If you look at what Bach was writing in the lute suites - dances such as bourrees, sarabandes, &c. - the tradition of writing popular styles in "serious" music goes back at least three-hundred years, so this idea is not new, but writing a swing tune in two-part counterpoint probably is.

Here is the thirty-two bar jazz tune I wrote back when I was twenty-two, and the contrapuntal bass line I wrote to it when I was forty-eight. I only changed two notes of the melody: The second note of measure six was originally a b-flat, which I changed to a d-flat to avoid a parallel minor seventh with the bass line; and the second note of measure nineteen was originally an e-flat, which I changed to G so the figure wasn't an exact repetition of the preceeding one.

Note that the opening interval in the pickup measure is an augmented sixth, and that the a-flat follows the previous movement's a-natural chromatically to link the two pieces smoothly. As I said previously, the first three movements are designed to be played as one big piece in three sections that are each very different in character and style.

I have actually had the idea of writing counterpoint in the jazz style for several years now - and I was originally thinking of using Charlie Parker's Donna Lee as a vehicle - but this is the first realizaton of that goal. It was important to me to retain stylistic integrity, so the melody is like something a jazz horn player might play, and the bass line is like something a jazz bassist might play. I've heard other composer's attempts at jazz counterpoint, and none of them have ever come across as convincing to me: This does.

My model for the style of the bass part was Ray Brown, who is fond of the eighth note pickups before new measures (As are legions of other jazz bassists). Since this is jazz, the counterpoint is freer with respect to the handling of dissonance compared to Bach's, but there are no parallel stepwise perfect consonances or parallel stepwise dissonances.

Since a classical scherzo is a compound form - a song within a song - I used the same idea here: After the tune is played, the melody takes a chorus of solo, and then the tune returns again at the end.

Here's the solo section. After spending so much time writing the bass part - it took about a week of writing and polishing - I decided to retain it as a good, old fashioned cantus firmus and write the melodic variations out over it. I just wrote this section a few days ago, in fact, after completing the Tocatta.

This solo is seriously old school, as it is simply a progressive elaboration on the original melody, which is how jazz soloing got its start. I was fortunate to have the late, great Herb Ellis as a teacher a few times, and he was already in his sixties when I met him in 1980, the year I wrote this original tune. He was a storehouse of jazz wisdom by that time, and one thing he stressed a lot was that a good soloist not only knows the melody, but where his solo is in relation to it at any given time. With that in mind, I made this solo as a tribute to Herb and his wisdom.

You can see how I used the opening triplet figure of the melody to decorate the original melodic trajectory in the first sixteen measures, and that eventually takes over to become nearly constant triplets by the beginning of the second sixteen measures. I would like to mention that, yes, I'm aware of the direct octaves in measure forty-one from the second to the third beat, but they are not parallel stepwise octaves, so they are really OK by me. Not only that, but when two melodies are moving in the same direction but at different velocities, as they are here, incidental parallisms are really not problematic at all, even if they would have been stepwise in nature. This goes back to Joseph Schillinger's idea that counterpoint is best thought of as a combination of complimentary melodic trajectories, and not as a mere sequence of intervallic relationships: Jazz gives a whiole new level of freedom for that conception, as I hope I've demonstrated here.

For the return of the tune, I just used the repeat. Most scherzi have foreshortened returns, and in some of Beethoven's late ones, the return is positively vestigal. I end the piece with a stylistically appropriate G(6/9) chord, which just compounds the joking nature of the thing, as it is even preceeded by an augmented sixth interval.

This is really what I think jazz composers ought to be doing, if they want to take their music to a higher level of sophistication, and I've often wondered why none of them ever have (None that I'm aware of, at least). Then again, it took me about twenty years of studying virtually every counterpoint text in the English language to get to this point, so perhaps it's not so much of a mystery.

The guy knows how to compose a photograph.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sonata One in E Minor for Solo Guitar: II - Sonata

You can download the PDF scores and MIDI to MP3 conversions of all four movements of Sonata One here.


Most classical guitarists today still follow the tradition started by Andres Segovia and continued by Christopher Parkening, John Williams, and Julian Bream. Pedagocially, that means most of them would not be willing - or able with the very high actions and non-cutaway lower bouts on modern acoustic concert classical guitars - to perform pieces containing tap technique such as the Tocatta in E Minor I opened Sonata One with. Even technical pioneers like Kazuhito Yamashita and Eliot Fisk have never embraced tap. Nevertheless, I wanted as much of this work as possible to be accessible to traditionalists, should they wish to perform it, so I designed it so that the first movement is optional: Sonata One works perfectly well as Sonata, Scherzo, and Fugue, leaving out the Tocatta.

How I achieved this was to begin the Sonata in A Minor out on its dominant of E at the beginning of the introduction: On the top system is the V(sus4) in the upcoming key of A minor, but the listener does not know that at this point.

In the second system, the bass begins to rise chromatically under the unchanging figuration above creating first a bVI(M7addA11) (The Lydian sonority that usually resides there in minor), but then a vi(m7/add11) when the bass rises to f-sharp. It really is a mystery as to where we actually are.

The third system does not help matters, as it progresses from a bVII(6/9) chord to a dominant seventh on that degree, suggesting a coming resolution to C major. I just love messing with listeners this way. ;^)

Note that the time signature changes from 3/4 to 2/4 into measure... nine: This prefigures the settup of the exposition, which has the first theme/key in 3/4 and the second theme/key in 2/4. At nine we actually get the real V(6/3) of the upcoming key, but then the g-sharp is thwarted. This g-sharp is never allowed to resolve into an A minor chord until the very end of the codetta that concludes the movement.

Measure ten is a vii(d) in relation to A minor, but what foloows implies a bII(6/3) (That darned Neapolitan chord again) to vii(d4/3) belonging to the key of D minor (!). We even get that D minor tonic in first inversion at the beginning of the bottom system, which then becomes a bIII relating to that key, but another bVI relating to A minor. Finally, the mystery is solved in the final two measures of the intro with a very clear i(6/4) to V(m7), and we're good to go.

The exposition proper begins at measure seventeen, and it is just a simple neo-Romantic tune in 3/4 time, or so it would appear. I ought to note that the progression starts out as a i, iv, V(m7), i, which is where I got the idea for the progression for the sections of the Tocatta.

After the second appearance of the tonic, I begin to introduce the colorful sonorities which will end up giving the piece its character: measure twenty-one has a bVI(M7/A11) - like we heard in the intro - and then in the third system the tension builds to an actual destruction of the simple little tune starting with a V(4/3/b)/bVI (Traditionally a French Augmented Sixth chord) into a bII(6/4) (Traditionally the Neapolitan Sixth chord, but in second inversion here), then a subV(9)/V (Which would traditionally be a German Augmented Sixth sonority), and finally, in measure twenty-five, all of this dissonance piled upon dissonance resolves to the V(m9) chord, and I accent the minor second between the minor ninth and the root at the top.

Now that I've destroyed the tune, I add a measure of 2/4 to re-launch it on the fourth system, and it's almost as if all that unpleasantness never happened. This is a very important point in the piece, as will be revealed later.

When the tune resumes, we get a V(m7)/iv to iv, and then at the end of measure twenty-eight the vii(d)/V into the V(m9) (again) that begins the bottom system.

Here I change time signatures again: We get a measure of 4/4 followed by a measure of 5/4. One of the things I was striving for here was a very elastic phraseology. I bring back the sounding second figure in measures thirty and thirty-one, and at measure thirty-one we thet the V(9) for the new key of C major.

We've now dovetailed smoothly into the second theme/key area of C major that is in 2/4 time. This tune too is interrupted by episodes involving the sounding second figure: Measure thirty-six it is on a IV(M7/addA11) chord, and in measure thirtyseven it is on a V(9) chord.

The new tune then resumes, and in measure forty I introduce another V(4/3/b) chord, and then the tune dissolves through measure forty-two into the V(m9) belonging, seemingly, to the key of C minor. This hint of things to come is brushed aside at the fifth beat of the measure, where the V(6/3) of the original key of A minor is introduced. Notice that we're at measure forty-three, and the introduction was sixteen measures: Forty three minus sixteen is... wait for it... here it comes... twenty-seven: Yes, the exposition is twenty-seven measures in length.

The most traditional sonata process pieces repeat the exposition - most of them by Haydn and Mozart, for example - but later sonata process pieces by Beethoven and Brahms often had varied repeats, or counter-expositions, in which new elements were introduced and some development took place. That's what I wanted to do - figuring why learn from the earliest and simplest examples instead of the later and more highly sophisticated ones - so the counter-exposition begins at measure forty-four.

Solo guitar - as an idiom - is highly restrictive compared to keyboard instruments. On a keyboard, you can take any theme and play it in any key just by altering the fingerings. With the guitarist's reliance on open strings, some themes can only be played in a single key, or at a single octave level. That's the problem with this piece right here.

I composed the exposition to this piece in 1996, but couldn't figure out how to proceed until 2005, which is the year I completed the movement. In terms of gestation period, this movement took longer than all of the others combined. I found fugue as a process relatively straight forward compared to sonata.

I came up with the idea of having the themes in the counter-exposition in the parallel opposing modes as far back as 1999, but I could never figure out how to resolve the second theme into the original key: It was just not possible to play in A minor.

Cluelessness abounded as to what to do about a development section as well.

Finally, I realized I could use the first interruption of the original tune to introduce the second theme an octave higher. That was a very good day.

So here we have the original tune, now in A major - and note that the g-sharp did not resolve into a minor tonic - and it progresses as expected until the interruption, where the second theme is introduced an octave higher and also in A major. This is really really cool, man.

At the end of the interruption of the second theme an octave higher, there is an extended dissolve, a return to 3/4 time, and a brief turn-around through a measure of 4/4. Afther which, the tune starts up again like nothing ever happened in measure seventy. Ain't it cool?

The tune then concludes as expected, setting up the second 2/4 theme in the lower octave and the parallel minor to the original relative C major.

Please note I didn't want to get bogged down with harmonic analysis here, they being what you'd expect for a major version of the theme. Besides, this is a huge post already.

And so here we are: The second theme in the original octave, but in the minor mode. Same deal: The harmonies differ as one would expect with a change from major to minor. In other words, we get different colors at the sounding second episodes.

In the final measure here, there is no g-sharp introduced, so the development will start out in C minor, as the key signature change indcates.

After finally figuring out the exposition and counter-exposition, I thought I knew what the recapitulation might look like, but there was still the question of what to do about the development. What to do, what to do? God only knows how many aborted experiments I went through to arrive at the solution, but it seemed to take for... ever.

As I mentioned previously, I couldn't just throw the thematic elements around willy-nilly because of the limitations inherent in the idiom of solo guitar. Not to mention the question of what to do with those elements, of course.

What I came up with was the idea of using not the earlier thematic elements, but the textural elements in a set of variations on a six measure progression. Starting at measure eighty-nine we get the progression with the texture and time signature of the original tune: i, iv, bVII, bIII, bVI, - with a V(4/3/b) thrown in before v. Does the resulting c, f, Bb, Eb, Ab sound or look familiar? It's the fourth/fifth progression I used employing the open strings back in the Tocatta!

The second variation starting at measure ninety-five has the progression embellished with the sounding second texture, and the added ninths required to achieve this. At the end of this variation it sounds like the second theme in the higher octave is going to appear (Remember this for later), but the dominant moves deceptively to return the piece to the home key of A minor for the third variation, which is in the texture of the beginning of the introduction, but in 4/4 time now.

The final two measures of the third variation sound again like they are going to lead to the second theme, but in an impossibly high register to play on the guitar, so I combine the texture of the second theme with the chord progression the development is based on.

The A at the beginning of measure one-hundred-seven is only a whole step below the highest note on a standard classical guitar, and this is the pitch climax of the piece. Note the open A, D, G in the bass, which I borrowed to bring unity with the preceeding Tocatta.

After this fourth variation, the texture of the second theme continues in a lower register back in C minor again, after which there is a dissolve back to the 5/4 measure which sets up the recap... but we can't let the g-sharp resolve to the A minor yet, so the second part of the introduction reappears to thwart it again.

Since we already heard the original theme in both A minor and A major, I decided to use the six measure progression from the development for the beginning of the recapitulation. This is so unusual that I laughed out loud when I thought of it, but i remembered that place at the end of the second variation from the development where it sounded like the second theme was going to enter, and so I used that to get the second theme in the higher octave and in A minor at last!

This gave me the oportunity to introduce the most colorful harmonies of the entire piece in measures one-hundred-forty and one-hundred-forty-one. In the first of the two measures is a IV(d5/m7) and in the second, V(m7/A9), which I call "the Jimi Hendrix chord" because he employed it so often.

After the second theme finally appears, there isn't much left to say... except for that g-sharp that never got to resolve into a minor tonic chord. So, where the tune resumed in the counter-exposition, the introduction reappears. Having the intro also function as the codetta is a nice touch, I think, and that g-sharp finally has its wishes fulfilled in the bottom system... where the final tonic is figured exactly like the first measure of the exposition.

That is just a whole lot of blond hair.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sonata One in E Minor for Solo Guitar: I - Tocatta

And so begins a series of epic posts...

You can download the PDF scores and MIDI to MP3 conversions of all four movements of Sonata One here.


This is the first multi-movement sonata I've ever written. I've worked up to it slowly and deliberately over the past twenty-seven years by composing first a series of jazz pieces in the primary styles: Bossa Nova, Samba, traditional Swing and Bebop, and then more modern Swing and Ballad forms. Beginning circa 1987, I started to compose pieces for solo guitar in the classic styles. I've written over fifty classical pieces total now, over forty of which I perform every week. These include over twenty pieces of traditional counterpoint, over twelve preludes in harmonic styles, and the two pieces that lead up to this specifically: Irreducible Sonata in A Minor and Sonata Zero in A Minor.

Of course, I'm basically a rock guitarist who loves jazz and classical music, and has studied those idioms intently for many years, so I've always been writing in rock-based styles as well.

The Irreducible Sonatina consists of a Sonatina in A minor, Menuetto in B minor (Basically a Scherzo sans Trio), Allegretto in C major (Another piece in the Sonatina form), and a set of six Trajectorial Variations in A minor (Experiments with melodic trajectories in two-part counterpoint). Sonata Zero is a strange beast, as the three main movements are in three-voice imitative - or fugal - texture, and these have two-voice pieces in between them, so there are five movements: An Extempore in A Minor (Basically, an imitative prelude), a Menuetto in B Major (Another Scherzo sans Trio), a Ricercare in C Major (A fugal form offering more modulatory freedom), a Scherzo in B minor, and finally a Fugue in A minor.

With all of the great composers of history who have written multi-movement sonatas looking over my shoulder - Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms &c. - I didn't want to write anything I actually called a Sonata until I was confident I could actually make a statement and bring something new to the table. So, I consider the Sonatina and Sonata Zero to be warm-ups, though they do stand on their own as perfectly fine music.

Since I really consider music to be music - all of the stylistic boundaries are artificial constructs to me - I wanted the first sonata I wrote to include all of my past experiences in music. So, the first movement - the Tocatta in E Minor I'll be discussing today - is based on techniques I learned as a rock guitarist: Specifically, the tap techniques I copped from guys like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. The second movement, Sonata in A Minor is a kind of neo-Romantic thing, but it has all of the colorfully dissonant harmonies I learned from writing modern jazz in it, it's just that I combined them with classical and romantic harmonic devices and used more traditional voice leading. For the third movement Scherzo in G Major I used a thirty-two bar jazz standard I wrote in 1980, but I composed a bass line to it in counterpoint without breaking any of the three fundamental laws of counterpoint (1] Only imperfect consonances may move together in parallel stepwise motion; 2] Perfect consonances may not move together in parallel stepwise motion; and 3] Dissonances may not move together in parallel stepwise motion). This idea actually goes all the way back to J.S. Bach, who was writing Menuets, Bourrees, Allemandes, Courantes, and Sarabandes - dances: The popular forms of his day - but in a sophisticated style. The finale, Axial Fugue in E Minor, is the tour de force of the work, and it is in a very modern, streamlined, and mechanically efficient countrapuntal style of my own devising. Besides the aformentioned guitar pieces, I have also composed fugal works for solo organ, string trio, wind trio, string quartet, wind quartet, string choir, wind choir, and chamber orchestra to work up to this piece.


If Blogspot gave me the option to add subtitles to posts, this one would be, "The Number Twenty-Seven." For some reason known only to God, the number twenty-seven has cropped up in my life in countless ways, often times humorous ones, and sometimes profound ones. I was born on December fifteenth: twelve plus fifteen equals twenty-seven. When I was a kid, my dad would always jokingly lie about his age whenever anyone woud ask, and at every birthday: He always said he was twenty-seven. The year he was twenty-seven, he married my mom.

There are twenty-seven books in the Protestant New Testament, of course, and the number twenty-seven is itself three to the third power: The perfection of the Holy Trinity to the power of the perfection of the Holy Trinity. And, twenty-seven is also nine times three: Nine is of course three times three; The Trinity multiplied by itself.

Multiples of nine have the interesting property that the terms always add up to nine or another multiple of nine: Two plus seven equals nine. The oldest music for this sonata (The Charlie Parker style swing tune for the Scherzo) I wrote in 1980: One plus nine plus eight equals eithteen, and one plus eight equals nine. I finished the sonata in 2007 - twenty-seven years after beginning it... you get the idea. I attribute this to God having the most devine sense of humor (And nothing more than that, really).

Every piece in this sonata is, in the numbers of measures, a multiple of twenty-seven:

The Tocatta is eighty-one measures long (3 x 27), the Sonata is one-hundred-sixty-two measures long (6x27), the Scherzo is eighty-one measures long (3 x 27), and the Fugue is four-hundred-five measures in length (15 x 27). So, if you add all of those together, the sonata is as a whole seven-hundred-twenty-nine measures: Seven-hundred-twenty-nine divided by twenty-seven equals... twenty-seven. The first three movements are designed to be played without interruption - one leads smoothly into another - while there is a break before the fugue starts. So, there are twelve twenty-sevens followed by fifteen twenty-sevens: 12/15 is my birthday (And as I said, twelve plus fifteen equals twenty-seven).

The fugal finale has twenty-seven thematic statements of the subject and answer, and there are also twenty-seven episodes in it.

Not all of this was intentional either: I just happened to notice that the Tocatta is eighty-one measures of music without counting the repeats and I also just happened to notice that the Scherzo is eighty-one measures if I did count the repeat.

I could go on like this all day: My favorite rifles are a .243 (27 x9), and a .270 (27 x 10). See what I mean? It's not just music!


As I mentioned, this Tocatta is based on the tap techniques that I learned as a rock guitarist from guys like Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani. In fact, I learned Eddie's Spanish Fly and Joe's A Day at the Beach specifically so I could cop those techniques. Learning tap technique on a nylon string guitar is not easy - I've worked my butt off at it for a few years now and it's still not perfectly focused for me - but it does lead to some interesting developments: The right hand i and m fingers callous up with Joe's two-finger version of tap, and this leads to a smoother engagement of the right hand fingers when plucking. At first this is disconcerting because, 1] You can't feel the strings as well, and 2] The engagement is "slippery" feeling. Like anything else, one can adapt, and now I actually like the feel of it.

I have extended these tap techniques to provide classical versions, however, by playing a bass line under the Van Halen-esque section and by plucking the bass part with the thumb in Joe's version (A Day at the Beach is all tap).

I also took a more formal and less improvisatory approach to the piece, which was my main point here: I believed that these techniques would lend themselves to a traditionally-oriented composer's approach just fine, and so I wanted to demonstrate that.

The term "tocatta" comes from the Italian word tocare (Pronounced - as close as I can come for an English-speaker - "toe-charay"), which means "touch" (Obviously, with the same root as origin). So a tocatta is a "touch piece": What better vehicle for a work based on tap technique? Not only that, but the tocatta was originally a work for lute in the Renaissance - before organists like Frescobaldi appropriated the term - so with this piece I'm just returning the tocatta to its rightful place on the fretboard.

This first page is the introduction, and it is based on the timeless progression of tonic, subdominant, dominant, and tonic harmonies, as are all of the subsequent sections. In the top section, the motif - which leads into all of the subsequent sections as well - produces an e(add9) chord when it is echoed in the higher octave. I just love chords with added ninths, becuse the second between the ninth and the third (tenth, actually) is a beautiful color to my ears.

On the second system, for the subdominant harmony, I used a bII(6/5) chord, but with an added augmented eleventh to stress its role as a Lydian harmony (This chord is traditionally, and nonsensically, called a Neapolitan Sixth chord). Major seventh chords with added augmented elevenths are also favorites of mine, as they have a very spicy taste to them.

For the first dominant function harmony on the third system, I used a vii(A4/A2) (A diminished seventh chord in third inversion) so that I could get the perfect fifth at the end of measure ten (Yes, I'm aware this makes a parallel perfect fifth with the motif, which is exactly the effect I wanted since this is an homage to rock guitar).

Though the pace picks up in the fourth system - and the motif is traversing a higher octave - the harmonies there are exactly the same as before. In the first two measures of the fifth system, however, I replace the earlier diminished seventh with a root position dominant seventh chord to lead into the final statements of the motif in the third octave. Note how I modified the third statement of the motif to lead into this chromatically from measure fourteen to measure fifteen, and I use that modified form again to lead into the half-cadence from eighteen to nineteen.

The motif appears to be headed to a fourth octave at measure twenty, but instead of landing a minor third down at the root, it overshoots and goes down a diminished fourth to the leading tone. This surprise is magnified by the hilariously wide augmented sixth interval that is created against the f-natural in the bass (A augmented sixth plus two octaves). In order to play this interval, the guitarist must fret the f-natural with the left hand 1 finger, and the d-sharp with the right hand i finger: The bass note is plucked with the right hand p, and the lead note is plucked with the right hand m: This is not as easy or as difficult as it may sound, but it isn't overly difficult to achieve with some practice (A callous on the right hand i helps a lot to get the d-sharp to ring well). This hand position sets up the following tap tech section perfectly.

This section is, formally, basically a non-rounded binary form, as is the following section in G major. The section within the repeats is again a tonic, subdominant, dominant, to tonic progression, but the subdominant harmony is now a simple iv(m7) while the dominant is an augmented seventh chord (With the augmented fifth spelled enharmonically, of course). The tonic in the first ending is simply a root position E minor chord, while in the second ending the dominant moves in the traditional deceptive motion to the tonic substitute on bVI, which creates a major seventh chord with the original figuration.

At the beginning of each of these measures, the right hand frets with i and plucks the bass with p and the lead with m. Then, all of the descending notes are pull-offs, and the ascending notes are hammer-ons: The bottom note in every figure is an open string, and the top notes where there is not an attack in the bass are tapped. This is how I extended the Van Halen-esque tech to take advantage of right hand classical technique.

The second section, which begins at - wait for it - ... measure twenty-seven starts out on a subdominant harmony in third inversion (A 6/4 arrangement). The bass line continues in this section in a series of ascending perfect fourths - with one descending perfect fifth - from E all the way to f-natural: E, A, D, G, C, and F. The E, A, D, and G are open strings, of course, which makes this section much easier to play than I originally envisioned. After the F major-seventh chord, which is functioning as a secondary subdominant bVII(M7) in the coming key of G major (See how stupid that Neapolitan terminology is?), the F natural goes down a minor third to the open D string again, and then up a final perfect fourth to the open G string and the new tonic of G major... but with the open E string as a sixth. Technically, this makes an E minor-seventh chord in first inversion, but it doesn't sound like that: It sounds like what jazzers call a major sixth chord, which is a kind of blurry sound in itself. I use this nebulousness in the upcoming section, as you'll see.

While the bass is proceeding in a series of perfect fourth/perfect fifth motions - with the one descending third - the top note in each figure progress up by step diatonically, with the single exception of the E, F-natural, F-sharp chromatic progression that leads to G. The harmonies are "weird," but some of this is intentional, and some of it is unavoidable. After the subdominant chord in second inversion at measure twenty-seven, measure twenty-eight has what is called a hybrid structure: A tonic minor triad over the fourth degree in the bass. This colorful sound is analyzed as an E minor/A. Measure twenty-nine has another hybrid structure, which is a C major seventh chord in a 4/2 arrangement with the major ninth, D, in the bass. This is quite dissonant with the high C creating a minor ninth with the open B string. I love it. In measure thirty we get an E minor seventh with an added fourth over the G (Making it a kind of first inversion), and in measure thirty-one is an A minor triad with an added second over the C (Another first inversion). I really wanted a G instead of the A here, but that is simply not physically possible to play: Sometimes the idiom simply forces some unusual solutions. The F major seventh chord in thirty-two is in root position, but the F at the top again creates a minor ninth with the open E string, so it is quite dissonant. In measure thirty-three we get a real and true dominant major ninth chord, which leads to the unusual "G6" in thirty-four.

At thirty-five we arrive at G, which is then confirmed with the cadential figure I developed back in the introduction. Then the opening motif appears again, but this time instead of going back up to G at the sixteenth note, it goes down to the open low E string, which sets up the middle section "in" G major.

I use the rhythm of the motif in the bass throughout this section, as you can see. The sixteenth notes are all open E or A strings - which blurs the key of G and relates it back to E minor - and they are plucked with the right hand p finger. Then, the dotted-eighths are hammered-on with the left hand 1 finger, the opening sixteenths are hammered on with two of the three remaining fingers of the left hand, and the final sixteenths are tapped with the right hand i and m fingers. Again, this is an extension of Joe Satriani's tap tech that takes advantage of classical right hand technique.

This section is again a non-rounded binary form, and the section within the repeats is a simple I, IV, V, I with the second ending being again the deceptive motion to vi. One has to make compromises with traditional voice leading with this technique simply to accomodate what is physically possible to execute on the guitar, and this combined with the open E and A string pickup notes gives the section an exotic kind of a feel. I thought it sounded like kind of a "surfer dude" piece, but my manager thinks it sounds Oriental, and I can even see how someone might think it had a Native American vibe to it (With TV and film composers using fourths to evoke these cultures, I can see how this happens). This is why I hardly ever give my pieces descriptive titles: I'd rather give the listener carte blanche to go wherever the music happens to take them. And, this is also why I detest "program music" most of the time (There are a few notable exceptions).

At the beginning of the "B" section, we start with a iii(m7) chord at forty-eight, then progress to a ii(sus4) in forty-nine. In the fourth system we have a V chord and a ii(m7) type of deal, and in the fifth system are the I and IV sonorities again.

To achieve the return to E minor, I use a ii, V starting at sixty, but I use a perfect fifth in the ii chord to keep the "fourthy" feel. The half cadence at sixty-three sets up the Cadenza, or rather, what will become the cadenza: Measure sixty-four is basically just a place-holder for what will necome an Art Rock style solo using legatto technique (Lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs, a la Allan Holdsworth et al). This, of course, in keeping with the whole "touch piece" premise.

At the end of the cadenza, the half cadence is reiterated as in the intro, and the opening motif - now back in its original form - returns to introduce the final section.

This is just a repeat of the second section, obviusly, but I use a clever turn of phrase to bring the second part of it back to the tonic: in measure seventy-eight I replace the D-natural from the first time with a D-sharp, which changes the sonority from the previous D dominant ninth to a D-sharp diminished seventh chord (With the open E string being an added minor ninth, which isn't really weird at all, it being a much-used anticipation of the tonic degree). Now the previous F major seventh chord is the traditional Neapolitan chord, only in root position. This allows the resolution to the tonic in seventy-nine, which has a Picardy third.

Since the entire sonata is a battle between major and minor - with the major mode winning out only at the very end - I resisted giving any decisiveness to the Picardy third by using a fully diminished seventh chord in the final cadence. Oh, and the Picardy third is a necessity, as the stretch to the minor third would be impossible with the fretted E in the bass: I really didn't want to leap down to the low E here.

The final low E is there for the cases where this piece would be performed alone. When it is to lead into the sonata's second movement, it would be an octave higher so that the low E in the second movement's intro would be the pivot point.

Not the Falconress, but the same photographer. Where does he find these statuesque natural brunette models? I'm only wondering because - you know - I'd like to move there.