Friday, July 15, 2005

Composing Fugues and Fugattos

There are as many ways to approach composing fugues and fugattos as there are composers who have worked in those generas, but the basic elements are pretty much constant due to the requirements of the process. I say process and not form because writing fugues and fugattos is not something where you can pour the music into some kind of a mold, like say for instance an A, A', B, A'' standard song form, or something like that. Basically, the subject and the possibilities it has are going to determine the form. Nevertheless, there are certain formal elements present: The required exposition, where the subject, answer, and countersubjects (Or free voices if strict countersubjects are not employed) are first presented, an optional counterexposition, episodes (Either non-modulatory or modulatory), middle entries, some sort of a recapitualtion, and an optional coda or codetta. The possible characteristics that each of these formal elements may take on are literally infinitely varied.

If you followed the link from my previous post to my Fileshare page and took a look at the string quartet fugue I wrote, there is some basic formal analysis there that will give some idea of how I used each of the aforementioned elements in a very strict Art of Fugue-style piece. The piece I wrote for today's post is a fugatto, which is a fugal episode within a larger work; usually a sonata-process piece. Beethoven was very fond of fugattos, and the Scherzo of the Ninth Symphony actually begins with one. There is also a fabulously brilliant fugatto in the finale of the Ninth as well. Beethoven used fugattos to bring a certain level of intensity to an episode within a larger piece, and he used subjects with jagged outlines and great rhythmic vitality to achieve these periods of exuberance. As a result, his fugatto subjects don't lend themselves to very many contrapuntal combinations: Beethoven was not interested in lengthy developments here, but rather brief episodes of great vitality.

My aims are slightly different, as I am interested in writing fugal works that show off the way I can compose subjects and answers that lend themselves to ingenious combinations. For a fugatto I'll have to keep it short and sweet, but I would still rather write it as a complete fugue reduced to it's most essential components than just make it an intense exposition that quickly dissolves into some powerful cadential gesticulations as Beethoven was fond of doing. Of course, it will still have to serve a logical function in the larger context of the piece, which is shaping up as a battle between the minor and major modes in this case.

Since I'm only going to have time to present one contrapuntal "trick", I wanted to make it one of the best ones possible. Above you can see the fugatto's subject underneath it's tonal answer in canon at the extraordinarily close distance of a quarter rest's delay. This is done in exactly the same manner as the canon technique I explained in the last post, but is several orders of magnitude more difficult to pull off: One beat's distance at the octave is not too bad, but this close at intervals other than the octave is quite a formidable challenge. I have never managed to teach any of my students how to do this, because while I can demonstrate the technique, I can't explain in words exactly how I can make something like this "happen". Admittedly, it gets into the area of intuition at this point, and it just takes a lot of practice and determination to master this, as with everything else in music.

Note that the subject is a desireable odd number of measures in length and that it is essentially in a head-and-tail type of configuration. Note also that I have managed to get the rhythms to accelerate into a nice dovetail in the course of the canon. Finally, note that there is quite a bit of rhythmic vigor to the subject and it's answer: Not as much as Beethoven would have used - with all of the insistantly repeated notes and whatnot - but more than the majority of Bach's subjects had. This makes it very suitable for a fugatto.

Above is the first statement of the subject and answer in the exposition of the fugatto. Note that my sonata-process movement has found it's pitch level at D now. After the first statement of the subject, I repeated the cadential tail figure for a measure and let the string choir interrupt the action with some cadential hoopla. In a strict fugue, this would have been left out, and the answer and counteranswer would have started in measure four. This is not just an empty gesture though, as the end of the fugatto will finalize the development of this figure, and this measure also serves the purpose of a modulatory episode in subsequent iterations. A variation of this measure is again present after the first statement of the answer. Again, if this was a fugue for a wind trio or something like that, the second statement of the subject would replace the cadential episode there. Note that I managed to work both decending and ascending chromatic passages into the counteranswer: This relates back to the chromaticism in the six-voice simultaneous diatonic mirror of the first theme that I have already sketched out.

Continuing with that idea from the mirrors, I used some chromatic linear motion in the countersubject above the final statement of the subject for the tonic minor region. This time the cadence serves it's purpose as a modulatory episode: By not raising the submediant and leading tone at the end, the figure ends up on sol of the relative major, enabling a modulation with the support of the other voices in the choir. Below the opening statement of the subject in the relative major, I have a diatonic variant of the countersubject, as starting on sol in the bass does not give a pleasing effect to my taste. Note that I have "fattened up" these two cadences with a decending line in the interior to counterbalance the ascending ones and add progressively more "punch". This relative major area could be called either a middle entry or a counterexposition, as the definitions of those two terms have a degree of nebulousness to them, but I consider it a counterexposition since both subject and answer are present.

With the second appearance of the answer in the relative major, all elements of the fugal exposition have been presented: Subject, countersubject one, countersubject two, answer, counteranswer one, and counteranswer two. Since this is a fugatto and bervity is of the essence, the last cadential episode modulates us back to the tonic minor for the presentation of the subject/answer canon. This is an amazing passage, if I do say so myslef, and when the cadential tail figures dovetail into simultaneous statements in contrary motion, a quite powerful effect is achieved. This is the final climactic development of all of those cadential interruptions that came earlier. That the movement slows temporarily at the beginning of the phrase and rebuilds only adds to it's effectiveness. This disolves into an angular cadential gesture, which will be followed by one or two more, and that will lead into a statement of a contrasting theme. Now, all I need to do is compose the lyrical theme, and I'll have all the basic elements to sonata with (Yes, I'm using sonata as a verb).


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