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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I visited your .mac download page in search of the organ piece you mentioned. I couldn't find a piece specifically named for organ there, so I was wondering if you could point me to it? Congratulations on the launch of your other site.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Hi John,

Nice to hear from you. The organ pieces were the first three imitative pieces I wrote, and I wrote them for my ex-wife to play (She's a Lutheran Church Organist, and we had a nice tracker pipe organ in our Church). I never posted any of them here, but I did transcribe the only one I thought worth saving - the third one - for string trio.

I don't even think I changed the key, and it's available here -

- as string_trio_invention a ways down the page. Of course, there is a viola part, so there's an alto clef where the left hand/lower manual part used to be.



5:15 PM  
Blogger SillyBlindHarper said...

What a treasure you are, Sir!

I come by your site when we're relaxing and closing up the household for the night. It's been lovely to be able to read your musical explications out loud to my husband - we've been enjoying your work and words together.

Thanks again. Best wishes.

2:59 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Thanks SBH!

I really create these posts describing my own pieces as a self-edification type of thing so I can be sure I have the logic of the music all worked out properly. It's nice to know someone out there enjoys these posts!


4:36 AM  

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