A website devoted to teaching/playing/writing for/ the King of Instruments
Feb. 25, 2016
There are times when all the king penguins need a processional march. What if you could write one for them yourself? ... there's no real reason why you couldn't give this a go. You just need to give it a little thought, include a little of the unexpected in the score as you move along, and just be doggedly determined to win against anything hell bent on holding you back from doing your work [See blog posting, The Book]. It will help to download and print a hard copy of Processional March in Eb Major Op. 3 (photo) and follow it along as you read through this narrative. Let's say you've chosen the key of Eb Major for the tonic key, you've decided your piece will be in march (4/4) time, and and you're going to work it polyphonically in 4 moving parts following all the general rules of part writing rather than homophonically. Your theme will therefore work best when it consists of 4 regular phrases each 4 measures long. Dotted rhythms are good here. If you wanted, you might consider dotting the pick up notes and virtually all notes falling on the 4th beat of each measure to lend a sense of consistent, marching pulse to your theme. While this is a march, it should be played slowly enough so that the listener can hear clearly these dotted rhythms; the ear can be trusted to suggest the best tempo for this work during the period of slow practice. Once you settle upon your theme, you might start it in one voice, say the tenor, then quickly add the other voices in order with each beat. You might then break this 4 voice texture at the beginning of the 3rd phrase and repeat this procedure, keeping the tune in the soprano voice, then quickly adding the other voices. These first 16 measures might then be harmonized diatonically in a 4 part texture. Depending upon the tessitura (range) of the theme, you may find it necessary to "tweak" its outline so that it doesn't exceed the standard upward range of the soprano voice [See blog, Tweaking]. Next, you might consider taking the tune into the dominant key of Bb Major, but before you do that, you could introduce a transitional passage which repeats the 1st phrase of the theme in imitation at the octave in the relative key, in this case, c minor, with 2 free voices added to fill out the harmony. Something is very important to note here: you'd want to pay close attention to the melodic line and in the minor key, when you have a line moving from the 5th scale degree to the octave and back, you would sharpen the 7th AND 6th scale degrees upward to make a melodic minor scale and in descending it would simply follow the key signature (natural minor scale). In editing any of your pieces you want to pay special attention to this, so the awkward leap upward of an augmented 2nd interval between the 6th and 7th scale degrees in the minor key is eliminated. You could even repeat this phrase as a 2 part imitation again, moving into still another key, let's say F Major, before landing in the dominant key, again, with the addition of 2 free voices. Adding a 3rd or even a 4th free voice to these imitative passages, staying mostly with sweet sounding intervals (3rds and 6ths) to fill out the harmony, helps to keep the 2 voices carrying the imitation more clear to the ear. All of this is unexpected and lends interest. When the theme reenters in Bb Major you might consider inverting the theme this time and switch it between the soprano and bass lines every 2 measures for variety. You might continue the process of adding voices one by one with each beat at the start of the 1st and 3rd phrases. This section of 16 bars isn't exactly boring, but a literal repeat without modulation may not be compelling enough, so the second half of the tune might be taken into a different unrelated key, such as C Major. After this, you might include a fugato section in 4 voices using a rhythmic transformation of the theme ... same pitches in order, but with different note values better lending themselves to fugal procedure [ See blog posting, Audience Appeal ]. In this fugato section you can do some unexpected things, if you like, and really get bold with your composing. For example, if you're already in the key of C Major, you can lift the music to a higher and brighter key by transposing it a half step higher, to Db Major, to introduce the fugato section. This is easily accomplished by taking the C Major chord, making it into a C7, then an Ab7, as the bass line moves downward in whole steps from C to Bb to Ab, which then points to Db. This is a simple and very common modulation used in hymn playing to move the key upward a half step, one used by J.S. Bach himself, who might be called, among other things, the "father of modulated hymn playing." Working a move like this into your composition is a hidden way of paying homage to Bach, the greatest man of all, to whom every composer who comes after him, as his disciple, owes a very great deal. As the fugato section begins in this unrelated key of Db Major, it's good to have at least 2 lines moving at all times to keep the energy level from falling off. One of the functions of this fugato section will be to bring back the tonic key (Eb) for the final statement of the theme which follows it, so the first thing we think to do is begin it in Eb. Doing this however, especially when the texture thins down to only one voice here, causes the energy level to drop which, in an energetic march like this, isn't a good idea. In an earlier draft of Op. 3 the theme was placed higher up, in the alto voice in the unrelated key of Db along with another moving line, to keep the energy of the piece going. The fugato begins then, with the subject in the alto in Db which is answered in the bass in Ab, then reenters in Eb in the tenor and once again in Eb in the soprano. The keys in the fugato section therefore move from Db (the subdominant of the subdominant) to the true subdominant, which is Ab, then to Eb, which is the tonic key, and then stays there all the way through to the end of the piece. In moving from Db to Ab as the 3rd voice enters the ear senses the feeling of the dominant tonality, then again when moving from Ab to Eb with the entry of the 4th voice the ear senses the dominant tonality again, but in terms of their relationship with the tonic key, we're simply working here with the subdominant (Ab) and its own subdominant (Db). This kind of proceeding of constructing an exposition for a fugato section within a larger piece might not be permitted in the really puristic composition classes of certain college/conservatories of music, but if doing something unexpected and different leads to a beautiful and more effective passage of music we can feel free to be branch out, be unconventional, and bend the rules a little, even break them occasionally, like an artist. All the rules and conventional methods of construction should be looked upon as not only our counselors who tend to keep us out of trouble but also our most humble and obedient servants [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX]. As the fugato section closes you might introduce a dominant pedal point as part of a reiterated bass figure to heighten the tension leading into the return of the theme in the tonic key. A stream of chords moving in parallel motion is commonly known as "planing;" when it moves in half steps it's called "chromatic planing" and is very effective when it can be applied to the harmonization of certain returning diatonic melodies like this [See blog, Your Ideas]. When the theme returns in the tonic key you might consider using chromatic planing, with little tweaks made in the tune to avoid nasty dissonances, perhaps shifting some of the melody notes to a different octave, if the tune happens to lend itself to this technique. Not every diatonic melody works with this, but when it can be used, it lends tremendous interest. The coda doesn't have to be elaborate and generally works out better if it's shorter, all other things being equal. You might try working just the first few notes of the theme in canon in the subdominant key, then insert some rests and end it with a flourish -- such as with an upward chromatic glissando in minor 3rds over a span of 2 octaves while the music undergoes a big crescendo -- then maybe end it on a big tonic chord in 7 voices approached with some kind of "back door" cadence, such as IV7b5 - I. This was the general plan used for this Processional March in Eb Major Op. 3. A piece like this often ends up as this one did, i.e. becoming a study in hand division, as the inner parts in this piece demand some division between the hands to get things smooth and easier to manage. Paying attention to this part of the score and carefully notating it will save others time in learning and playing it, should they ever want to. Once you make up your mind to just sit down and work a piece like this, your own creative inertia will sustain you, in little bits every day, and keep you self-propelled as your work gradually takes shape before your eyes. And the king penguins will love it.