Monday, April 13, 2009

Guitar Concerto Sketch: One Giant Leap

You know how I know when it's time to start really working on a piece - when I've reached the "critical mass" point with it? It's when I start playing the piece in my head as I'm drifting off to sleep at night. This piece has been filling my pre-dreams for over a week now, and I'm hearing some really nice possibilities, so it's time to break it out and start actually writing out some of the ideas to see where they lead.

Since I completed my first guitar sonata a little over a year ago, I've been wanting to start working on a guitar concerto. I actually have too many ideas for it, most of which will get tossed, but the one movement I do have a pretty good handle on is the scherzo. Like the scherzo of my guitar sonata, this one will be based on a jazz swing tune that I wrote many years ago.

Whereas the swing tune I used for the guitar sonata was based on a melody I wrote to a preexisting jazz standard chord progression, just rendered into two-part counterpoint many years later, this one will be based on a more modern swing style piece that I composed from scratch, and I'm taking the "beautifully dissonant" counterpoint between the melody and the bass line to a whole new level.

I wrote this tune my first semester at Berklee back in the fall of 1980 (!) for a Jazz Theory class, and the teacher, Mr. Friedman, really liked it, so I kept it around (Actually, I'm a musical pack rat and have boxes of tunes and sketches going back over thirty years now). Later - much later - I dug it out of the archives back in 2005, and I did a guitar duo arrangement of it for two students of mine. The version you'll see and hear today is based on that arrangement, but after writing the scherzo for the guitar sonata, I rewrote the bass line to eliminate all of the illegal intervallic sequences so that it is in true two-part counterpoint.

Keeping in mind the underlying laws of pure counterpoint...

1) Primary Prescriptive Law: Only imperfect consonances may move together in parallel stepwise motion.

2) Deduced Secondary Proscriptive Law 1: Perfect consonances may not move together in parallel stepwise motion.

3) Deduced Secondary Proscriptive Law 2: Dissonances may not move together in parallel stepwise motion.

4) Deduced Tertiary Exceptive Law 1: Perfect consonances may move by parallel stepwise motion into imperfect consonances or dissonances.

5) Deduced Tertiary Exceptive Law 2: Dissonances may move by parallel stepwise motion into perfect or imperfect consonances.

6) Deduced Quaternary Law 1: Contrary stepwise motion justifies any intervallic sequence.

7) Deduced Quaternary Law 2: Dissonances require no preparation or resolution.

... you will find that there are many highly unusual intervallic sequences between the melody and bass line in this piece, but none of the laws of pure counterpoint are broken. Despite the fact that there are so many dissonant successions - things you'd never ever find in the music of Palestrina, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, or even Beethoven and Brahms (Well, perhaps in the late Beethoven quartets, though I doubt it) - the tune is quite "pretty" because the underlying logic of the background harmonic continuity is so clear.

Note that the Guitar I part is on a non-transposed G clef, so it sounds an octave higher than guitar music is usually notated - I did this to avoid too many ledger lines - but the Guitar II part is as usual.

Guitar II is playing a very old fashioned bass line plus guide tones accompaniment texture, which has been used in jazz for many decades. The bass line is just the sequence of roots targeted by diatonic and chromatic leading and leaning tones, which is what creates so much of the riot of dissonance in the counterpoint. The guide tones - usually the third and seventh of the tetrad of the moment - allow the mind's ear to fill in all of the blanks, despite the spare texture.

Please note that I am aware of the illegal parallelisms between the guide tone successions and the melody and base line, but the harmonic background is out of the picture here: The two-part counterpoint between the melody and bass line is all that concerns me (At least at this point).

Here is a MIDI to M4A conversion I did in iTunes of the piece using the RealFont 2.1 Nylon Guitar soundfont:

One Giant Leap

Unfortunately, the playTagger code I have embedded in the blog template will not recognize M4A AAF files, only MP3's, so you'll have to open up a second window or tab to follow the score. Sorry about that, but Apple, in their infinite wisdom, has decided iTunes will now only convert to AAF, and not MP3.

And here's the score of the very basic arrangement:

This tune is from back when I was really into the music of Larry Carlton, so it is in a style inspired by some of his songs like Room 335.

Here's the vintage Montreaux Jazz Festival version, if you like vintage fusion and have ten minutes to spare.

I played Room 335 at the very first recital I did at Berklee, on a red dot neck reissue Gibson ES-335 and through a Mk I MESA/Boogie, no less. Ah, the memories. ;^)

More on this piece when I get some of the orchestration done, but note that the title, One Giant Leap is in reference to the tritone modulation from D-flat major to G major, as well as to John Coltrane's Giant Steps, which modulated in a series of major thirds (I also worked Neil Armstrong's first words on the moon into it. LOL!).


Blogger Minicapt said...

The First Rule is always: Last lay in elevation.


10:56 PM  

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