Monday, October 24, 2005

"Onward, through the Fog": Blundering Toward Perfection

Back in my highschool days, there was a famous "head shop" called Oat Willies in Austin that all of us long-haired, hippie-types bought our paraphernalia at. They had these equally famous bumper stickers (Or infamous bumper stickers, depending on your personal perspective on psychoactive substances) which read, "Onward, through the Fog". The reference was to a "stoned" fog, of course, but I got a chuckle today when I remembered that in the context of this guitar fugue.

Previously, when I was not working within the hyper-restrictive idiom of solo guitar music, I composed fugues in a very rational way by sketching out all of the possibilities, organizing them in the sequence I wanted to present them, and then "constructing" the fugue. I wrote enough fugues in that way that I developed a tried-and-true methodology that I could count on. I've had to throw most of that out the window with this piece, and rather than composing it, I believe that what I am doing is closer to extemporizing it.

Also back in highschool, I was on the Speech and Debate Team, and I was a Texas State Finalist one year in... Extemporaneous Speaking. For extemp, you were given a subject and you had thirty minutes to prepare (Or, was it twenty minutes?), while in Improvisational Speaking you had to speak immediately. I hated improv, but I was quite good at extemp. Oratory was the category analogous to composition: You had your subject chosen, and your speech written coming into the competition, and you could hone it throughout the season. Strangely, I found Oratory boring.

Well, the process I'm going through with this piece is somewhere betwixt and between composition and improvisation: I'm making it up as I go, but working it out as well. It's like slo-mo improv, or seat-o'-the-pants comp. Take your pick. In any event, I am enjoying the process emensely and am quite happy with the results so far.

One thing you must be to wite successful fugues is a ruthless perfectionist: Saying "that'll work" and leaving it at that just won't do. I must admit to being kind of over-the-top in the perfectionism department in some regards (For the unabridged story, please see my ex-wife). Ahem... Anyway: Every single note must function in a way that contributes to the perfect cohesiveness of the whole in a fugue. One of the countless stupifying aspects of Bach's fugues is that they fulfill this requirement while simultaneously maintaining an easy, relaxed, quasi-improvisatory feel: Especially in the episodes. I've barely scratched the surface of that effect only once or twice before, but this piece is getting there (In my opinion). Cool thing about being a perfectionist composer is, it's your personal ideal of perfection that is the only thing that matters. The relative merits of your particular esthetic are for time and history to judge, but your contemporaries are excluded because it's impossible for them to have the perspective that time alone can offer: If they like what you do, fine. If not, equally fine. My attitude is, "don't matter/don't care": I'm my own harshest critic anyway (But not to a crippling degree, which many folks suffer from). But, I digress...

No changes to page one: Exposition and episode one are at 100%.

One of the nice things about the subject/answer combination I'm working with is that the subject begins with a cadence to the dominant and ends with a cadence to the tonic, and the answer begins with a cadence to the tonic and ends with a half-cadence to the domnant. That's one of the features that makes the dovetail effect in the entries. The first episode begins after a statement of the subject, so it begins on a tonic chord.

No changes to page two: First middle entries and episode two are now at 100% also.

With this cadence/half-cadence difference between the subject and answer in mind, you can see here that the inverted form of the answer (Which starts on the tonic degree) also ends on a half-cadence. That's why the second episode is four measures, versus the previous three: I has to traverse a measure of dominant harmony before arriving at the new tonic to get to the point where the first episode began. Thing is, both of the inverted froms end in half-cadences because of the asymmetrical division of the diatonic octave: To get a cadence to the tonic with an inverted from of the subject (Or answer), it would have to start on the subdominant degree. I toyed with doing this, but didn't like the effect, so...

First change is that I simplified the CP to the first entry in G major by going back to the version of the free voice in measure 20 and writing a variation of that. Not only does this add to the cohesiveness of the piece, but hearing the 2-3 suspension/resolution chain more clearly is a big bonus. The overly humorous effect of the deceptive resolution is also greatly attenuated now. It's more of a fresh surprise that brings a smile rather than a slapstic event that causes belly-laughs now. I also dropped the sixteenth notes in the bass at measure 35, deciding that building up to the constant sixteenth surface rhythm all at once was overly abrupt. I am now 99.9% sure of this first entry in G.

The entry of the answer at measure 36 is unchanged, and it's now built up to, which makes it far more effective.

So far, with the entries of the subject and answer, we have antecedent phrase (tonic cadence)/consequent phrase (half-cadence), but where I start the entries of the inverted forms, I had some problems related to the fact that they both end in consquent phrases to a half-cadence. The reason for having two entries here versus one in the previous middle entries is that I wanted both the 7-6 and 2-3 chains against the inversus forms. Had I inverted the previous 4-3 chain, a 5-6 chain would have resulted. In a post long ago I explained how this was actually OK, regardless of the objections of some counterpoint teachers, because it is an adorned series of parallel sixths, and not a chain of fifths, but I don't particulatly care for the effect in this piece.

As is stands now, the phraseology is antecedant/consequent, consequent/antecedant. I achieved this not by starting the inverted form on the subdominant degree, but by modifying it's tail at measure 47. I'll have to sleep on these last two entries, but my initial feeling is favorable. One of the things I like is that the parallel tenths over the subject in the lead voice that start in measure 41 (Which I was able to get away with because the resulting parallel fifths are perfect, diminished, perfect) have their line continued in measure 45 with the statement of the inverted form of the subject.

The C in measure 47 will be the pitch climax of the piece, and the third episode will be in constant sixteenth notes. Not sure what form it will take yet, but I'm thinking at this point I'll want to work a harmonized version of the subject into it. We'll see.


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