Friday, August 15, 2008

Sonata One in E Minor I: Toccata in E Minor

I've posted on this sonata previously, but now that I have added streaming audio to the blog, I wanted to go through it again. Now, readers will be able to read the description/analysis and then play the MP3 and follow the score simply by scrolling down.

Here is the MP3: Sonata One I: Tocatta

Clicking on the blue playTagger icon will play the MP3 in this window, clicking on the link will open up Quicktime, WMP or whatever media player you have set as your default in a new window. Obviously, clicking the player icon will allow you to follow the score. This is a MIDI to MP3 conversion I did in iTunes using the Realfont 2.1 classical guitar soundfont, which isn't too bad, really.

Toccata comes from the Italian root toccare, which is the same root as the English word touch, so a toccata is a "touch piece." Most people think of keyboard works when they hear the term toccata, but it was originally used for lute pieces before keyboardists like Frescobaldi appropriated it. So, I am simply returning the toccata to the fingerboard, where it rightfully belongs.

This Toccata in E Minor is based on the tap techniques that rock stylists like Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani developed, which goes along with the "touch" theme. In fact, I learned Eddie's Spanish Fly and Satch's A Day at the Beach to prepare for writing this piece (I've had this idea for years).

I expanded the rock versions of tap tech to take advantage of classical right hand technique: I employ the p finger (thumb) of the right hand to pluck a bass note while simultaneously fretting with the right hand i finger, and plucking the first note of the melody figurations with the m finger. The descending parts of the figurations are then pull-offs, and the ascending parts are hammer-ons. This isn't as difficult as it might sound, but it isn't exactly easy either. I used as many open notes in the bass as possible, but there are some fretted bass notes, which complicates matters significantly.

The form of the piece is, I, A, A', B, B', Cadenza, A, A''. The cadenza, at this point, is just an Alan Holdsworth style legato lick, so it's basically a place-holder until I get around to, you know, actually learning to play the piece. LOL! I believe it's #7 on my to-do list right now.

Here is the introduction, and it uses no extended techniques:

The little opening, me, re, me, do figure prepares a lot of what follows in the piece, as you'll see. The rhythm is echoed in measure two, as an e(Add9) harmony is revealed. Then, at the end of four, le, sol, le, fa introduces the subdominant function harmony, which is an F(6/3)secondary subdominant with an augmented fourth in place of the fifth. Traditionally speaking, this is an altered form of the so-called Neapolitan Sixth harmony, but to me it's just a bII(6/A4).

At the end of seven the figure becomes, do, ti, do, le, and this introduces a dominant function harmony, which in this case is a vii(d5/d7) in third inversion.

The entire figuration formula then repeats an octave higher, but with the harmonic rhythm quickened. The e(add9) reappears in 11-12, and the F(6/A4) 13-14, but this time the dominant harmony is a regular B(m7).

Next, the formula repeats with an even quicker harmonic rhythm in a third octave, which leads to a half-cadence on the bottom staff. Finally, the first figure appears in yet a fourth octave, which leads to an augmented sixth interval plus two octaves in the final measure of the intro. The F-natural in the bass is on the first fret of the low E string, and the D-sharp is on the eleventh fret of the high E string. To play this, the left hand 1 finger frets the F-natural, the right hand p plucks it, the right hand i frets the D-sharp, and the right hand m plucks that. I do this kind of thing for several pieces I play, so it's not that difficult in my view: It seems like a logical extension of traditional classical guitar technique to me.

Here are the first A sections:

This might look nightmarish, but it really isn't: In measure 22, the low E is the open low E string of the guitar, and it is plaucked with the p as per standard practice, while the high E is fingered with the right hand i finger, and is plucked with the m. Then, the B and G of the figuration are pull-offs to the E in that figure, which is the open high E string of the guitar. The ascending notes are then hammer-ons back to the high E, which is tapped: Only at the beginning of the measures is there anything beyond "traditional" rock tap tech.

Harmonically, the A section within the repeats is as simple as it gets: i, iv, V, i and the second ending is just the deceptive motion to bVI. After that, however, there is quite a bit of strangeness that is in large part idiomatically driven by what is and is not possible on the guitar. Measure 27 is a iv(m7) in third inversion, and in the succeeding measures I use all open notes in the bass: From E to A, D, and G. You can analyze the harmonies for yourself, if you wish, but they were largely intuitively and idiomatically driven, so there is a lot of strangeness. Sounds cool, though!

My goal was the F(M7) in 32, which, in a weird way, facilitates the V(add9) to I(Add13) into the key of G in 33-34. Later, I'll make this phrase turn around to E, which will be quite nice. On the bottom staff there is a confirmation cadence that echos the previously heard half-cadence, and we're ready to launch into B. The opening figure from the introduction then returns, but it goes down to E at the end.

And now for the killer B's:

The last open low E of the previous page is plucked with the p, and then the G in 37 here is hammered on with the 1 of the right hand. Then the first notes of the upper sixteenth note groups are hammered on my two of the remaining fingers of the left hand (depending on the figuration), and finally the top two notes are tapped with the right hand i and m. This is just a mild enhancement of Satriani's technique used in A Day at the Beach.

Harmonically, to be consistent, within the repeats is just the relative major echo of the previous section as, I, IV, V, I. Again, you can analyze the following harmonies for yourself if you wish, but there is a lot of intuitive and idiom-driven stuff going on. The goal is, of course, the B(m7) in 63, which brings the piece back to E minor. As I mentioned previously, the place-holder mini-cadenza in 64 is just an Alan Holdsworth kind of legato lick - lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs - in keeping with the "touch piece" theme. I'll probably elaborate on this later... or not.

The cadenza lick ends into another half-cadence leading back to E minor. Then, the opening figure returns again, this time in its original form, and we're set for the return of the A section.

Everything here is exactly the same as before until measure 78: I changed the D-natural from before to a D-sharp this time, which makes the final resolution to E major instead of the previous G major (And I should point out that the E major here is required: E minor is physically impossible to execute!).

Now, go back up, play the MP3, and follow the score.


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