Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sonata One in E Minor II: Sonata in A Minor

This is the second of the four movements of Sonata One in E Minor for solo guitar. The first post in the series is here.

To review, the four movements of Sonata One are, Toccata, Sonata, Scherzo, and Fugue. In the first piece, I slightly extended the tap techniques that rock guitarists developed - Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, et al - and brought a traditional composer's sensibilities to their application. In this Sonata, however, I wanted to combine traditional sonata process - and, sonata is a process, not a form - with the harmonic concepts I've picked up through my studies and writing of contemporary jazz as well as classical music. In a nutshell, I'm using all of the colorfully dissonant harmonies I love, and combining that with more traditional voice leading.

One of my main beefs with the music of Claude Debussy and other Impressionist composers is that, while the harmonies are strikingly beautiful, the overall vigor of the music suffers from lackadaisical voice leading. Part of this was a reactionary movement against the perceived confines of traditional technique, of course - and so it was a natural and inevitable occurrence - but some of the reaction lead to music that was, well, a bit flaccid in its drive and organizational aspects.

Now, this is, strictly speaking, free composition, so I'm not afraid to employ some parallelisms, but I'm aware of them and am employing them to effect. In any event, the voice leading is far more "normal" than that which the impressionists allowed for.

Here is the MIDI to MP3 conversion of the score: Sonata in A Minor

As usual, clicking on the blue playTagger icon will allow you to listen while following the score, while the link will open up the MP3 in another window.

The piece begins with an introduction.



Keeping in mind that the listener doesn't know where he or she is at this point, the beginning harmony on the top staff is a v(sus4). The chromatically rising bass line begins redefining this on the second staff, first to a bVI(M7/addA11) and then to a vi(m7/add11). At measure seven the upper harmony begins to transform against the chromatically rising bass, which first creates a bVII(6/9), and then that becomes a bVII(m7), which makes the listener expect a modulation to C major. This is thwarted at the time signature change, however, where we get a V(6/3) into a vii(d5). After that, in measure eleven, there is a secondary subdominant, which is functioning as a traditionally so-called Neapolitan Sixth to the vii(d4/3)/iv, which resolves into a iv(6/3) at thirteen. Then we get a bVII in fourteen, a i(6/4) in fifteen, and finally, the tritone gives us the V(m7) in the final measure.



The exposition begins with a tune in A minor and back in 3/4 time, and the first four measures are a simple, i, iv, V(m7), back to i at measure twenty. At the end of twenty, however, another V(m7) appears, and then the harmonies begin to get more interesting. Twenty-one has a bVI(M7/addA11) which goes to a bVII(m7) in 22. This chord picks up an augmented fifth on the final eighth note of the measure, and then in 23 we get a V(4/3/b)/bVI - the traditional so-called French Augmented Sixth, only targeting a degree other than five - and then this becomes a bII(6/4) in 24 - basically a traditional so-called Neapolitan Sixth, only in second inversion - then this, ultimately, morphs into what us jazzers call a subV(9)/V, which is a so-called German Augmented Sixth in traditional parlance. This gives the V(m9) in 25, which pauses on a sounding second. This sounding second will become a major feature of the sonata's developmental process.

I also injected a measure of 2/4 in at 26, as you can see, and this will lead to many more metric modulations later in the piece. One of the things I am going for here is a very natural, organic plasticity of phrasing. Before the "tyranny of the bar line" and "primacy of four" eras, composers such as Palestrina exhibited a very elastic sense of phraseology, and I think much was lost with the end of that era in the "breathing music" department.

The "tune" resumes at 27, at which time I begin to effect a modulation to the relative of C major. Twenty-seven itself is a V(m7)/iv), which dutifully resolves to iv in 28. The last quarter of 28 introduces a vii(d5)/V, which hits a V(m9) in 29. There is then a deceptive motion to bVI(M7/addA11) at the 4/4 measure of 30. The sounding second again reappears, and the last beat presents a vii(d5)/bVII, which is the V of the new key. The final 5/4 measure then has the V(M9) of the new key of C, and we're ready for the second key/theme area.



The main thrust of the sonata process is that of contrast: Contrast of key, tempo, texture, or any other musical element you chose. So, here we are not only in the key of C major now, but I have gone from a primarily homophonic texture to a contrapuntal one. Nonetheless, I'm using harmono-contrapuntal effects, so there is a chord progression: I, V(6/5), vi, V(m7), into IV(M7/addA11) at the first 4/4 measure 36, and then V(M9) in 37.

Then, the tune relaunches, only this time I used a descending chromatic line to get, I, V(6/5), V(4/3/b)/vi, V(m7)/ii into a ii(d4/3) at 42. The 5/4 measure than has a V(m9) which appears to signal C minor, but that becomes a V(6/3) of the original key of A minor at the last beat.



A minor isn't the key I give, however, as the counter-exposition starts off in A major. This is the same tune as was in the exposition, only now in the major mode, so the harmonic progression is what you'd expect of a major key variant.

Since the idiom of the guitar is so restrictive, composing a sonata process piece for it is several orders of magnitude more difficult than composing one for a keyboard instrument: There are many things that will only work in one key - or at only one pitch level - on the guitar. My solution for this piece - the first sonata I've written for the guitar - was to simply reverse the mode genders for the counter-exposition.

Measure 51 is a new element - I needed it to deal with the F-sharp in the bass - and I'll use this measure more in the coming sections. Harmonically, it's just a vi(m7). After the "Neapolitan" and "German" sonorities in 52, the sounding second on the old V(m9) reappears, only this time it launches into the second theme, but in the key of A major at a much higher pitch level. It was a major breakthrough coming up with this idea: I had the exposition done as far back as 1996 and the idea to reverse the mode genders as for the counter-exposition by Y2K, but this idea didn't hit me like a ton of bricks until 2005! That was a very, very good day. Talent is great to have - I'm glad to have been blessed with some - but there is simply no substitute for pig-headed stubbornness and a refusal to quit. LOL!

Having the second theme at this higher pitch level allowed me to get a new IV(M7/addA11) at 59, which goes through a vii(d5d7)/V to become a regular V(m7) at the final measure of the page, but I managed to work in the sounding second element in both sonorities.



The second part of the second theme then appears - the part over the descending bass line - and because of the higher pitch level, I had to add a new measure at 66 to bring the melody back down to restart the first theme tune in A major. I'll use this again, too. Right after that, in 67, I use the previously added measure to set up the relaunch. I give the V(m9) witha sounding second in 69, and then the tune restarts in 70 and begins the modulation to the upcoming key of C minor. Tthe 5/4 measure at 75 gives the V(m9) to finish the setup.



Now we have the second theme at the original pitch level, but now in the minor mode. Again, this is primarily a contrapuntal section, and the harmono-contrapuntal details differ from the previous appearance of the them as you'd expect a minor mode variant to do. Measure 80, the one in 3/4, introduces a #iv(m7/add11), however, and I take advantage of the minor mode to get more "beautifully dissonant" harmonies whenever I can.

By the end of the page I present the V(m9) of C minor, and I make the key change "official" with a change of signature leading into the development area.



As I mentioned previously, the fingerboard is such a restrictive idiom that you just can't toss tunes and themes around at will on it, like you can on a keyboard. So, the solution for the development didn't come to me for a long, long time, either. What I finally came up with was a six measure chord progression - related to the progression for the first theme/key area, but extended - and i set it up as a variation set: I'm using the previous textures, not the tunes.

The first variation is the original texture of the first theme - but in C minor - and the progression is, i(add9), iv, BVII(add9), bIII, bVI(addA11) - which becomes a "French" chord at the end of 93 - and finally a v(m7) in 94. Then, the second variation introduces the sounding second element, and it metrically modulates to 4/4 in the last two measures, where we get some more "French" action leading into the V(m7) of measure 100.

I then use a deceptive motion from that dominant to return to the home key of A minor for the third variation. Tres cool, non? This variation uses the texture first heard way back in the introduction!



The end of this variation leads to the pitch climax of the piece, and I move to 2/4 to double the speed of the harmonic progression here: This is the texture of the second theme/key area, obviously. At the end of this variation, I modualte back to C minor for the fifth and final variation, which again uses the texture of the second theme.

I then restate the second half of the introduction to lead the piece back for the recapitulation.



Since we've already heard the original two theme/key areas in both modes, but not the first two variations from the development in the home key, I decided to ditch all of the original elements but one for the recap. The first twelve measures here are almost exactly like the first two variations of the development, but I put some more (add9) chords in. Where it is supposed to launch into the third variation/texture, however, the second theme in A minor comes in, which is the only element from the counter-exposition we haven't heard in the minor mode. This minor mode variant allows for the introduction of the most colorful harmonies yet - always save the best for last - so in 141 I present a IV(m7/d5) and in 142 I give a V(m7/A9). Neato! Then, we get the second trajectory of the theme with the descending chromatic bass line.



When the second theme ends, I need that extra measure again to bring the pitch level down, only this time I can make it a more interesting V(m7/A9), which I call, "the Jimi Hendrix chord" since he was so fond of using it. It doesn't sound like a rock or a jazz chord here, however, due to the overall context and voice leading.

Finally, I present the first additional measure from the counter-exposition for the third time, and the following "French" action leads back to the first part of the intro, which I use here as a coda also. Instead of the full second half of the introduction, I just present the first two measures of it, which resolves to the tonic, which echos the beginning of the first theme. BAM! as Emeril would say.

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