Friday, December 11, 2015

Fugal Science, Volume 1: Introduction, Part 1

And now we turn to the five-measure subject that is, chronologically, the earlier one. I came up with this theme back in 1993, and completed a four-voice fugue for string quartet on it while a doctoral candidate at UNT in 1994, initially. This was early on in my quest, and the piece was a big breakthrough for me. The problem is, that piece looms large in my development, and I was trying to master Bach's late style then, not really develop my own. As a result, I wasn't really able to key in on how I would reimagine it as a mature composer until I wrote this solo guitar arrangement back in 2010. Then I attempted a three-part fugue on it, but it was not successful, and I wasn't able to put my finger on why until just recently: The problem was, I was trying to bring the four-voice version elements back, instead of bringing the two-part discoveries forward, so it sounded too Bachian, and just not me.

The elements of style I've developed since '94 include continuous - and primarily contiguous - voices: No resting voices awaiting another thematic statement. Also, I was keen on the traditional practice of introducing a new subject appearance over a suspended fourth back in the '90's, which I'm not interested in anymore. Finally, the cumulative surface rhythm in the string quartet is quite a bit more busy than the way I write today, and so after I do a modest revision to the four-voice fugue - I'm free to do that now that the unmolested original is the Andante in Fuga Electronica - I believe I will be ready to tackle the three-voice fugue with continuous voices and a more restrained cumulative rhythm. Then I may be ready for the final five-part Grand Fugue finale. Still up in the air about doing a ground-up re-composition of the quartet arrangement.

Here then, is the sound file for the two-voice Fugue for Solo Guitar

The usual notice applies: This is an AIFF file, so you'll need to have QuickTime Player activated in your browser, and opening the file in another tab will allow you to listen and follow the score simultaneously.

I composed the five-measure subject on the top system as a four-part canon at the octave, only briefly noting that it would work in five voices as well (I was nowhere near ready for five parts then, as the quartet was actually my first four-part fugue).

As mentioned previously, an answer at the octave is really the most natural arrangement for a two-part fugue, so that's what we get here (Answers on the subdominant are an exception to this, by the way, because that's like starting with the answer. The Finale of Fuga Electronica is a perfect example of that). Whereas the string quartet version had no real countersubject or counter-answer - I was way into fractal thinking at that time, and was using small fragments - here, sixteen years later, I composed a conservative walking-bass type countersubject for the guitar arrangement, with the written-out trill figure at the end.

On the bottom two systems is the interlude, and this is both the interlude and the episode for the piece. I was able to use only one intervening element because of all of the upcoming modulations, as you'll see. The original here does not modulate.

Beginning in measure seventeen, we get the first stretto, which is also a perfect dovetail between the subjects and countersubjects. There are four measures of delay, so only one measure of overlap, but the fact that it's a perfect dovetail makes it compelling enough, and I added a diminished-scale lick in the second measure of the countersubject to spice it up. That lick then appears in the bass at twenty-two, precisely at the joint of the dovetail, and by the end of the stretto, where the trill figure appears, we are at exactly the same place as the end of the exposition.

This sets up the second appearance of the interlude, but this time it's shortened from six measures to five, as I affect the modulation to the dominant level into thirty-one.

The modulation is nice and dramatic sounding, and this is the second stretto at three measures of delay/two measures of overlap. It's not a dovetail configuration - and the diminished-seventh arpeggio only appears once - so I eschew the diminished scale lick this time, but add an ascending chromatic line in measure thirty-six. When this has played out, we get the third appearance of the interlude, but this time I put a statement of the subject over the descending chromatic line in the bass, and it suddenly modulates to the relative major by the end of forty-three. The diminished fifth (twelfth) at forty-two is particularly nice, and the section has a slightly forced and humorous effect, which is what I was going for entering the playful major key segment.

As an aside, the five-measure subject of Volume 2 does not lend itself to a major mode variant, which, along with the fact that it requires a real answer, is what makes the chronologically later pieces simpler in terms of both modulation and architecture. My move toward a simpler style here does not mitigate where the fugue wants to go, so whereas the guitar fugue of Volume 2 is only fifty-four measures long, this one stretches out to ninety.

This major key stretto at two measures of delay/three measures of overlap sounds quite sun-lit, and is very pretty. A nice respite from the darkness of the minor mode. It leads us to an arrival at the fourth version of the interlude, but this time it's truncated to four measures, which is within my definition for an episode (Episodes= 1-4mm, Interludes= 5+mm). It also has an entirely different effect coming out of the major, and it modulates to the subdominant perfectly at the end. So, with the strettos getting ever closer, and the interludes getting ever shorter, the pace of the fugue has been accelerating, which keeps interest piqued in the listener.

The subdominant entry at measure fifty-five is the original dovetail stretto, so the diminished-scale licks return, only this time I use the head figure for what would be the tonal answer in fifty-nine to cleverly re-modulate back to the tonic. This produces a marvelous effect.

At sixty, then, we are right back to where we were at the ending of the initial dovetail stretto, which in turn sets up the final appearance of the interlude in the tonic, here lengthened with a tasteful resistance section before the final resolution into the last traditional stretto of one measure of distance/four measures of overlap at seventy-two. This section is canonic in its entirety.

I extend the canon to six full measures by using the written-out trill - the final measure of the countersubject, remember - after the subject statements. This goes all the way back to my fractal thinking of the 90's, when I composed the string quartet arrangement.

After the canonic stretto, I present a two-part hyper-stretto (simultaneous entries) between the subject, in the lead, over the subject in augmentation in the bass. Note that the f-natural in measure eighty-one is the pitch climax of the piece, and that it makes a naked minor ninth (sixteenth) over the e-natural in the bass. This makes a piquant effect on the mild-mannered guitar, but it would probably sound harsh on the less-elegant piano (Pianos stink for counterpoint, in my opinion). It is perfectly justified contrapuntally and harmonically, of course, because it is outlining the compass of the dominant-seventh/minor-ninth. I have also left this section slightly idealized, as a guitarist with average-sized hands would need to put a dotted-quarter rest in the bass at the end of measure eighty-three to reach the d-natural in the soprano (Well, alto, since this is a guitar). Then I use an articulated rising chromatic line over the middle of the augmented theme, and a rambunctious ending to a different version of the written-out trill that ends on a fifth position barre chord for a big, fat final punch.

Beethoven once said something to the effect that it was easier to start with a new theme and compose a new piece than to revise an existing work - the thinking being it is more difficult to rediscover where you were than to continue from where you are - and I can certainly understand that for the vast, sprawling sonata-process pieces he composed, but it is also true, to a lesser extent, with fugue themes that you've worked with for many years. That's really what these blog posts are all about: Getting me re-familiarized with my previous modes of thinking, so I can bring them into my present.

Not positive where I'll take this next, so the next post will have to await the new year.


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