Friday, August 13, 2010

Imitation Study Number 3 in F-sharp Minor

Here's the third entry in the series, but I must mention that the sequence of these in the final set of pieces will surely change. That will depend on the keys, time signatures, and types of pieces these end up being. This one happens to be an actual two-voice fugue with a tonal answer at the fifth, as opposed to the previous two, which were two-part inventions, per Bach's definition, with real answers at the octave.

Number three here also ended up in the tres cool key of F-sharp minor, whereas the previous two were in the boring and overworked key of A minor. This being a collection for solo guitar, at this point I'm thinking that A minor pieces will probably end up alternating with those in other keys... if I end up with enough pieces in other keys. lol.

Since these are solo guitar pieces written in open score, they can also function as duets for students too, which is a nice feature.

The subject of today's fugue was created one day while I was driving from San Antonio to San Marcos when I was a masters student at Texas State. I'm not positive anymore, but I think it was 1989 or 1990. It just came to me while I was daydreaming on the drive, and I sang it out in solfeggio.

First it became a rather lengthy and undisciplined string trio piece, but later it became a very tight fugato for chamber orchestra. I'm sure I'll still use that fugato in a larger piece at some point, but it's nice to have a solo - and duet - guitar version of it.

This is not simply a transcription of the fugato, though: I had to do quite a bit of re-composing to get this guitar version... or perhaps rearranging would be more accurate: The orchestral interjections are gone, naturally, but some of the episodes are redone as well.

Here's today's MIDI to AAC conversion:

Imitation Study Number 3 in F-sharp Minor

As you can see if you read the previous posts in this series, this isn't the stately Musical Offering/Art of Fugue type of subject I used for those pieces. This is a sprightly type of subject with lots of leaps and tied notes that nonetheless gradually accelerates to become a head/tail type of deal.

One of the coolest things about the answer is the counter-answer that works with it: There's a descending chromatic tetrachord at the beginning, and the ascending version at the end. I remember being amazed when I discovered this... and, well, it is kind of amazing. There's an eighth rest at the beginning of the last beat of measure 6 to avoid the unison on G-sharp, but it remains implied and a duet performance could actually execute it. Oh, and I have the high notes in the head of the subject and answer notated as harmonics, but it is technically possible to execute them as normally attacked notes.

If you are writing a two-part fugue, many times - but not always - the exposition will work out better with a third statement so you end up with the subject twice: That's the case here.

Note also the even more amazing feature of the countersubject's beginning: It's yet another ascending chromatic tetrachord!

The first episode, such as it is, is just a single measure spin-out of the subject's tail. One of the things I got better at here was register shifting: To get this kind of music to work on the guitar, it's necessary to shift registers to keep the music within the guitar's quite limited contrapuntal range. The descending minor seventh from F-sharp to G-sharp makes the required adjustment smoothly.

By not chromatically inflecting the sixteenths on the final beat as la and ti, they become fa and sol to effect the modulation to the relative key of A major. The low E's in this section are why the piece ended up in F-sharp minor.

I needed a new version of the countersubject at 11 because the descending chromatic tetrachord wouldn't work there, so it's a simple diatonic accompaniment. Same deal at 14, as an ascending chromatic tetrachord wouldn't work there either, so I used another diatonic version of the countersubject. I had to make another range concession at 15, but it sounds very natural; as if it's a natural part of the piece. Bach was a genius at this, but I'm just now getting really good with it.

Note that these are both subject statements and not answers.

Measure 17 is another single measure episode, and I used another octave displacement to set up the final statement in the relative...

... which is finally the answer, complete with descending and ascending chromatic tetrachords in the counter-answer. This sounds really awesome in the major mode, as you usually don't get this sort of thing in that context. I like it a lot. Love it, even.

The episode at 21 is now two measures: 21 modulates back to the tonic minor with the introduction of the raised submediant and leading tone in the final four sixteenths - a new figure for the fugue - and then 22 allows for the required register adjustment. Note that measure 22 is just like the first episode that modulated the piece to the relative, except that the raised sixth and seventh degrees are retained on the last beat, so there is no modulation.

The recapitulation at 23 is a super-close stretto between the subject in the bass and the tonal answer above: Only a single beat of delay. This is an extraordinarily difficult thing to pull off, and I really don't know how I make these things happen; I just "notice" them for some reason. Remember, I just sang this subject while on a boring drive up the interstate: I had no idea the chromaticism would work, or that this stretto was possible at the time. I didn't even work out the tonal answer until later.

I've never had a student who could do this, unfortunately, and in fact, I've never met or heard of anyone else who can do it either (Nobody living, anyway). It must be an inexplicable and rare gift, I guess. Too bad it's not worth any money in today's world. lol.

Notice that I had to make a register adjustment even in the subject to get this to work on the guitar there in 25: One hardly notices it. I hadn't acquired this skill when I came up with this subject twenty years ago, and that's part of the development of the craft aspect of contrapuntal writing: It's nice to have the gift of natural talent, but only time and effort can give you mastery of the details of the craftwork.

The final episode beginning at 26 has a gnarly contrary motion dovetail between the tail of the subject and the tail of the answer; it moves into major seconds and out to octaves. In the orchestral version, these are ninths and double-octaves, which are smoother sounding, but his is really excellent on solo guitar (Or, between two guitars playing a duet). the straight sixteenths that originally appeared back in 21 no reappear in 27, and the piece resolves out to a six-note F-sharp minor chord at 28. That's it: 28 measures and about a minute and a half. Very tight and efficient.

I'm sure I've used this image before, but she's just so striking and natural.


Blogger Minicapt said...

Needs more trombone, the new cowbell ...


12:43 AM  

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