Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sonata Zero: III - Fugue in A Minor


Eighteen years after coming up with this fugue subject, I've, at long last, arrived at the perfect two-voice arrangement. If you remember the Fugal Science posts, I started out with this subject in a two-part invention format - I just call them octave fugues, or subject-only fugues, since there is no answer (Or, the subject is the answer) - and went on to develop it through a two-voce fugue with the answer at the fifth above, and finally a three-voice fugue. Well, by taking it back to the beginning and using the octave fugue exposition and some of the material discovered and developed in the two and three-voice versions, I got it all to make absolutely perfect sense. This is what a composer strives for: Beautiful music that makes perfect sense.

The key, remember, was the two-voice fugal texture for solo guitar I invented with Imitation Study #1, and I've continued that here.

Here's the MIDI to AAC audio: Fugue in A Minor

The five-measure subject starts out in the bass, and is answered at the octave above in two-part invention fashion. This really is the best solution for two-voice fugues with these types of subjects, as the addition of an answer begs for a third statement with the subject: Tonal answers really belong in fugues of three or more voices.

Under the subject is a countersubject that is every bit as perfect as the subject. In fact, it could be a subject.

Starting at 11 is the episode, and I mean THE episode: It is used, in different forms, for all of the episodes. Here, it does not modulate.

At the top here are the first middle entries, and the subject makes a stretto with itself with one measure of overlap. This stretto would be trivial except for the fact that it is a perfect dovetail between the subject and countersubject, which is here modified with an ascending diminished scale lick in the second measure. I did this because it sounds cool and it makes the dovetail easier to perceive when that lick appears in the bass at 22.

From 23 on, everything is as it was in the original exposition, and that leads to a seeming repeat of the first episode. That repeat is cut short by a measure as the music modulates dramatically to the dominant region, however.

Note the seemingly minor rhythmic variation in the bass at 29-30: This makes the descent more adamant, and it syncs up with the sextuplet better. There is still a tasty - but hard to pull off - cross rhythm with the triplet, though. This is also a preparation for the third and final time you'll hear this episode on the tonic level before the recapitulation.

That spicy little cross-rhythm comes upon an augmented sixth, which makes the modulation to the dominant particularly dramatic. Then, the soaring variant of the countersubject ads to that, and at 33 a closer stretto with two measures of overlap appears (I composed this subject as a four-part canon, so it is really destined for a string quartet or a symphony).

The third episode must be different, so I present the subject over the bass line of the episode. This hilariously comes to a dramatic pause on a diminished twelfth in 42, at which point everything suddenly modulates to the relative region.

The subject sounds beautiful in the major mode, and here we get another closer stretto with three measures of overlap. The original episode formula then reappears, but this time coming out of the major, it has a very different effect. The B-flat introduced in the bass at 53 was hinting all this time at a modulation to the subdominant, but I didn't see it until I got way, way into the Fugal Science series of posts. Well, it ended up being THE THING that makes this piece not just good, but a real work of art: The first episode was six measures, the second was five, the third was the bridge, so this is the true third episode, and it's now whittled down to four. Concurrently, the ever close stretti have been shortening the middle entries as well, so the pace is ever quickening. This creates a subtle but awesome effect.

With the subdominant begins another dovetail section, but this one modulates back to the tonic by using the answer form of the head - relative to the subdominant - in 59. Since it's another dovetail, I bring the diminished scale lick back to bring it out again.

This is great, and the listener isn't positive the piece has modulated until the confirmation into 64, where the original episode formula appears in the tonic for the third time. This time, however, it isn't shortened, it is lengthened with the addition of a pedal section. here is where that subtle rhythmic variation in the bass gets its full say, and to great effect.

The recapitulation is the closest stretto, a canon at one measure of delay.

By splicing the final measure of the countersubject onto the subject, I was able to extend the canon slightly to 6.5 measures. When that concludes in a false and unsatisfying ending, the coda is then introduced. This is a two-part hyper-stretto wherein the subject and the subject in augmentation start simultaneously. Yes, it's epic.

So, if you set out to master fugue writing, plan on working for years and years to get to perfect arrangements of your materials. When you end up with something like this, it's all worth it.