Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mary Barbara Pepper: 01/01/1929 - 02/15/2012

My mother died this morning after a very long illness. She was an awesome woman, and I loved her deeply. Born Mary Barbara Daugherty on New Year's Day in 1929, she grew up during the Great Depression on a farm in northern Indiana. She was ahead of her time in many respects, and wanted to go to college from a very early age. So, she applied herself, worked hard, and was accepted to George Washington University in Washington, D.C. in 1947. It was there that she met my father, Hobart Garrett Pepper Jr., who was a World War II veteran and a pilot in the Army Air Corps. They were married after graduation in 1950.

Dad was recalled to the service because of the Korean Conflict, and mustered into the newly-formed United States Air Force as a first lieutenant. After their first duty station in Waco, Texas, they were transferred to Pepperell AFB in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada in 1956. I was born December fifteenth of 1957 in St. Johns, and since mom had found out she couldn't have children, they adopted me in 1958. I only ever needed one miracle in life, and I got it at the very beginning: Being adopted by Hobart and Mary.

Dad didn't want me to ever know I was adopted, so I grew up completely convinced that I was their natural born son (Dad and I had the same steel-blue eyes, so I even looked the part). It wasn't until mom started suffering from dementia back in 2010 that I found out: I was 52 years old by then. What an awesome gift they gave me.

Mom was a traditional housewife and mother - since dad was off flying so much, there was no way she could work - and our home life was much like the, "idealized" fifties and sixties households you see in old TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons. The main difference was we were stationed in a series of wonderful places as I grew up: Denver, Colorado; Fort Walton Beach, Florida; the Panama Canal Zone; Tacoma, Washington; and Tokyo, Japan: I had a magical childhood.

When dad retired in 1972, we moved to San Antonio, where mom ended up spending the rest of her life. Now freed up, mom became a very successful real estate agent, and also a breeder of champion lhasa apso show dogs. In fact, her dog Lulu won Best in Breed at Westminster the day before she died. Anything mom put her mind to, she got good at: She was a golfer, and hit three holes-in-one in her career, two of them on the same hole of the country club that is in the neighborhood I now live in.

I will miss her, and I will love her forever.

Here are some of my favorite photos of her.

At the top is mom and dad shortly after they were married. Lower left is mom's high school graduation photo, and lower right is mom as a little girl. She was such a happy little girl that everyone called her Mary Sunshine.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

And, the Hits Just Keep On Coming /sarc

Yes, I have gotten sidetracked from the Freestyle Convertible Counterpoint series, but composition is little else than side tracks; some of which lead to completed compositions, but most of which don't. So, when I get into a groove of completing pieces I've thought on for a long time, I go with it until I reach some sort of conclusion.

Today we have yet another Imitation Study - as J.M. pointed out in comments, I should write real studies instead of just imitation studies (lol) - which are what Bach called two-part inventions, and this is the fourth in the series. This is also one of my all-time favorite fugue subjects, as it is a twelve-tone row, albeit one that is easily interpretable as tonal. I came up with this for a graduate level Twentieth Century Counterpoint class when I was a doctoral candidate at UNT, and it became the final project for that class, which was a wind trio. You can see and hear that piece here.

To get this subject onto the guitar in two-part form has been a serious challenge and an amazing learning experience. I first tried it out as a fugue with an answer at the fifth/twelfth, but that lead me to noting but frustration. Then, I did complete a previous octave-answer version back in 2010, but it ended up in B minor, and the material was all drawn from the wind trio, so it really wasn't a very good guitar piece.

There turned out to be three missing elements: I needed a constant quarter-note countersubject to fit into my spartan, objectivist guitar fugue style, I needed an interlude, and I really needed the piece to be in A minor instead of B minor. You'll see why as we go through the piece.

Once I got the interlude, the new countersubject happened almost immediately, and in a single session, the piece was 90% done, with just a few minor tweaks here and there left to do. After struggling with this for years, it was so easy to write that it was almost anticlimactic.

Here is the AAC audio file then: Imitation Study Number 4

This also happens to be only the second fugue subject I've written in 3/4 time, but since you need twelve attacks to get the twelve pitch classes presented, it was a natural thing. The opening interval is also a tritone, which you would never find in a traditional subject.

The breakthrough constant-quarter countersubject is in the bass of the second system, and it outlines the harmonies that the subject implies: i, V/V, V, V/IV, IV, iv, i(6/4), iv, IV, v, V. The second note of measures one and two imply the root, and the final notes imply the seventh, so I got the chromatic notes into the head with secondary dominants. The final measure - the tail - is a chromaticized IV, V, and I was able to get a diminished triad under that in the countersubject.

It should be obvious that a subject that is serial - super serial! - would require chromatic episodes too, and so that's what I created there at the bottom: Both augmented sixths and diminished tenths are in there, but it doesn't modulate.

The first middle entry has a different countersubject over the subject, and it allows the subject to enter under a tied fourth (A re-attacked fourth in this case), which is the traditional slick way to do it. Since I didn't compose this subject as a canon, as I did with the previous three, I don't have a bunch of stretti to work through, so varied accompaniment is the ticket.

The second episode starting in sixteen is a modulating version of the first one, and that takes us to the dominant for another statement with the original countersubject. The third episode needs to be different, of course, and it returns us to the tonic for the next statement.

For the third middle entry, there is a fully developed version of the second countersubject in constant eighth notes over the subject, and then the interlude appears. It is so much easier for me to come up with these homophonic interludes that I usually avoid them until I can use all contrapuntal material for the sections between thematic statements, but this piece really, really called out for a relaxing chordal section. In later versions of these studies - versions that are actual fugues with answers at the fifth/twelfth - I'll introduce some homophonic sections into the previous three as well.

At thirty-six we finally get the contrapuntally inverted version of the original combination, and that leads back to the exact same episode that modulated us to the dominant previously. Obviously, this subject does not yield a major key version, so the relative is out of the question.

One stretto does work, and it's a doozy: One measure of delay/three measures of overlap, and at the twelfth above or eleventh below. Because the subject is completely chromatic, this sounds fantastical in the sense that it is perfectly clear counterpoint, but very, very outside of the diatonic system: Two tone-rows a fifth apart in stretto. Pretty bad ass, IMO, and it sounds awesome.

The lower subject does something else verboten in fugues, and that is it tonicizes the, "dominant of the dominant" that fugue books warn you against. In this case, that's a B minor statement in an A minor fugue. It works fabulously well though, and for a tone-row subject with the opening interval of a tritone, why not?

In the lead voice we also get two consecutive statements of the subject (!) on the dominant, which ameliorates the distant region just touched upon, and it also sets up the return to the tonic. Note how a sequence of the tail makes a nice new countersubject, and hints strongly that, "the end is near."

In forty-nine is the figure I had to transpose up an octave to keep the piece in A minor. There is no doubt but that it sounds better connected to the previous sequences - of which it is an inversion (!) - but the piece won't work in B minor now because of the homophonic interlude. That simple move was actually the toughest nut to crack for this piece to fit on the guitar properly.

At fifty-one is the final episode - filled to the brim with augmented sixths - and then the final statement, which has yet more new material as a countersubject.

I have at least four more subjects I could turn into studies like this, so we'll see where things go from here.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Fifth Element

No, not Leeloo, but an interlude.

I enjoy it when a piece takes on a life of its own. It's genuine fun when that happens. Again, just after the previous post - in which the four elements were subject, countersubject, episode, and coda - I came up with the fifth element I was searching for, which ended up taking the form of a six measure interlude.

Fugal terminology can be fuzzy with respect to definitions, and at no place is this more evident than when trying to describe the material that comes between thematic statements. Here, I find it useful to have two broad - and yes, overlapping - categories: Episodes and Interludes. A typical episode will be short - one to four measures, usually - while an interlude can be quite long, so duration has a lot to do with the definition. Also, typical episodes will be based on tight, sequential material that is extracted from, or that is closely related to, the subject and/or countersubject, while an interlude can be composed of highly contrasting or even completely unrelated material. Obviously, there is usually a deft transition into these sections that makes them work, and they virtually always appear when they have to. One of the nice things about these little thumbnail fugues - I may end up calling them that - in the two-part invention format is that they provide clear examples for these definitions.

Here is the new AAC file: Imitation Study Number 3

Only a format change here: There are now four systems on this page. The elements remain the same: Subject on the top system, subject and countersubject on the second, a four measure episode on the third, and then the contrapuntal inversion of the subject and countersubject at the bottom.

Note how the episode springs organically out of the augmented version of the subject's head, and it is based on a sequential statement of a rising chromatic line. Since there are two complete descending chromatic tetrachords in the subject, this is an effective contrast. Also, the eighth-triplets are obviously from the tail of the subject. Very tight.

The contrapuntally inverted second episode statement on the top system is also unchanged. Now, at this point - the end of measure twenty-three - we have heard ALL of the elements so far presented in both of their orientations, or inversions, and so it is time for a new feature to appear.

As is so often the case, the most obvious solution worked out the best: Since the sequential episode is based on a partial chromatic tetrachord that rises, I made the interlude over a full descending chromatic tetrachord. You can see where the distinction between an episode and an interlude can be unclear: Both the episode and interlude are based on chromatic bass lines, and they are both sequential - and in this case the sequences even share the same rhythm - with the main distinction being one of greater length for the interlude.

I would call the listener's attention to another factor, though, and that is one of attitude: The episode sounds like a brief respite from the thematic material, and it seems anxious to get back to that material, while the interlude seems to be taking its sweet time with no particular urgency for a new thematic statement until the very end.

As for the structure of the interlude itself, I was able to get a lot of nice counterpoint into it. If we isolate the eighth-triplets and just look at them, the end of twenty-four into twenty-five reads, major sixth, minor seventh, octave, minor tenth - very conservative and conventional. The end of twenty-five into twenty-six reads, diminished fifth, minor sixth, diminished seventh, major sixth (plus octaves), which is much more interesting. Then, twenty-six into twenty-seven is, octave, major ninth, major tenth, minor tenth, which is conservative again. Twenty-seven into twenty-eight cements the alternating pattern with a major ninth, major tenth, perfect eleventh into another major tenth, which is quite delicious, and then I've set things up for the climactic penultimate measure. There, from twenty-eight into twenty nine, the counterpoint reads augmented fourth, augmented fifth, and augmented sixth - plus octaves - into the double octave on the dominant degree. This is just a killer little climax, and in a later version of this fugue I'll use this interlude to modulate to the dominant with this device. Oh, and sorry I had to cram all six measures onto one system, but it's a formatting issue: Didn't want to get into a fourth page for this post.

From thirty on then, things are unchanged from the previous version: This is the perfectly dovetailing stretto section with two measures of overlap (The only perfect dovetails I've been able to get to work out perviously had just a single measure of overlap).

The top system here is the sequential episode back in its original orientation, then the canonic stretto recapitulation followed by the concluding coda, which is the augmented subject head with modified tail over an ostinato, which is the full tail of the subject.

This piece is now complete in the octave fugue/two-part invention format. Next I'll turn this into a two-voice fugue with the answer at the fifth/twelfth, which will require at least a modulating version of the interlude, and probably a pedal section as well. I'll have to use a real answer with this subject because of all of the stepwise motion in the head and the chromaticism, but I have discovered a very humorous major key version of it, so that could end up in there too. Time will tell the tale.

I do think I'll snag that DVD next time I'm at Amazon. It's an old favorite I just never got around to picking up.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

And Then There Were Three

When I wrote Imitation Study Number 1 back in 2010, it was the realization of my very first goal when I began learning counterpoint: I naively though writing in the two-part invention format would be a good place to start back in the late 80's, but it wasn't. First of all, I needed to develop basic counterpoint technique back then, secondly, I needed to learn fugue, and finally, I had to figure out a way to put it all on the guitar.

Now, I think I have completely changed my fugue writing technique to start with an octave fugue for the guitar first, and then develop further versions. This one now makes three that have reached states of balance, and I'm currently working on number four. In fact, I'm going back through all of the fugue subjects that I've ever composed, and realizing two-part invention format pieces for the guitar with them. If I can get most of them to work out - some really need answers at the fifth or fourth - that will be a nice collection of some ten odd pieces.

Aside from the fact that this two-part style is too ascetic for most musical tastes, there is also the fact that almost all of these pieces will end up in A minor or A major due to the idiomatic requirements of the guitar, nevertheless, I really like how these are turning out, and hey, that's really all that matters.

So, mere hours after the previous post, I tried the most obvious solution to presenting the second stretto I wanted to display - I just inserted the twelve measures of it - and it worked.

Here's the new ACC audio file: Imitation Study Number 3

No changes here except for formatting: There are now only three systems on this page, which are the exposition and first sequential episode.

The contrapuntal inversion of the subject, countersubject, and sequential episode - which is on the top two systems - is also unchanged. It's at 24 that the incised material begins, and this is a stretto at three measures of delay/two measures of overlap. Not only that, but this is also a perfect dovetail: The countersubject is unmodified until the point of interruption in the lead, and then it continues without modification in the bass at twenty-nine.

The way this works at twenty-six into twenty-seven is interesting: The final interval of twenty-six is B over C-sharp - a minor seventh - and this proceeds in parallel motion into a major sixth at the start of twenty-seven - A over C. Noticing these unequal-parallel opportunities is one of the things one learns in pursuit of contrapuntal understanding.

The end of the overlap in twenty-nine puts the music back to measure eight of the exposition...

... complete with the original version of the sequential episode. So, the sequential episode is stated in its original form, then contrapuntally inverted, and then back in the original: Nicely balanced, and it keeps with the extreme economy of expression I strive for in these initial fugal constructs.

From thirty-six on then, the piece is as before.

As I mentioned previously, this subject makes a five-voice canon with itself, but for this guitar version I had to avoid the version with three measures of overlap. The reason is because that version puts the dotted-quarter/eight figures of the third measure against the quarter/eighth-triplets of measure five: Those cross-rhythms are trivial for individual string players to execute, but nightmarish for a solo guitarist.

So, forty-eight measures and no modulations. The elements are subject, countersubject, sequential episode and coda. To make this a fugue with a real answer at the twelfth, I'll need to add an element, which will be a modulating interlude. No joy there yet, but I have other projects demanding attention now.

Before anything else, however, midnight marks Groundhog Day, and every year I watch the old Bill Murray comedy of the same name. It really is a comedic masterpiece, and the beer is chilled.