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.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home