Feb. 16, 2017
(con't from Part XVII)
"Inspiration comes, but it has to find you working."
-- Pablo Picasso
Once we've experienced a few successes in writing for the pipe organ, the urge to keep writing will have us thinking, once again, about what to write next.
If we've already battle tested the method described in this series of posts for fugue writing the easy way, and we've found this method to be productive, relatively quick, and enjoyable, then it helps to remember that all starting places are equally valid.
We can't go wrong with writing another fugue; J.S. Bach did it all the time and never lost his fascination with the process.
Considering this instrument's exceptional ability to throw out a clear melodic line and its inexhaustible lungs which can sustain a note indefinitely, the fugal procedure seems to be made for its keys.
It seems as though an organist looking for a new piece to write or play and is at all serious about their calling and birthright in the land of musical sound can never get enough of fugues.
Writing an organ fugue is like working a gigantic crossword puzzle; it may look tedious, intimidating, even insurmountable, to solve, but don't let it scare you; some things about it are easy to figure out and donate material which serves as "clues" to figuring out everything else.
As soon as we get the hang of it as regards working the entire puzzle at the same time, lo and behold we suddenly find ourselves plowing in the same furrow as J.S. Bach himself!
Think about it; one never works a crossword puzzle by starting in one corner and working their way across to the other side, one square at a time; that's the hard way to do it and the fastest way anyone can think of, to get mired down in all the muck and uncertainty.
No, we always work the entire puzzle all at the same time, filling in the easiest squares first; this gives us valuable clues about filling in the parts that are still blank.
That's the way it is with writing a fugue the easy way; we first set out what we want to do (the number of entries, their keys, voice assignments for each, including inversions, if any) on a separate piece of paper, complete the exposition and all subsequent entries in separate "chunks" using this piece of paper as a guide, and finally connect these chunks, like a string of beads, with episodic material based upon rhythmic elements of the subject, its countersubjects, or their inversions, and, in a matter of just a few days, a brand new fugue will assemble itself.
Using this method, the 2 voice connecting episodes between entries, which are the last squares of the puzzle to complete, will present the most challenge or difficulty and thus proceed a bit more slowly, although steadily.
The solution to them will be found within the existing rhythmic patterns found in the subject, countersubject(s), and inversions of these; it may take a little while, but if we make diligent search of these materials, stay focused, and persist in our efforts, we'll discover the way to fill in these parts of the puzzle, too.
This procedure is easily illustrated with the score of the F Major Fugue from Op. 19 [See menu bar, Free Stuff]; it will help to download and print a hard copy of this score as this narrative about how it was put together proceeds.
At the outset, it helps to settle in the mind some basic premises and stick with them as work proceeds; in the case of this Fugue, these premises were as follows:
The subject will be 6 bars long in 4/4 (common) time, start on scale degree 3, necessarily modulate to the dominant, and will be supplied with a tonal answer [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
This means that this subject (along with the subjects from the Op. 27, 29, and 31 Fugues) which also begin on scale degree 3 can get crossways with what students are typically taught in composition classes.
A tonal answer must be supplied here because the tail of the subject points to the dominant key; if a real answer were to be supplied, the music would move away from tonic-dominant harmony into the dominant of the dominant key and would create an undesirable spiralling circle of 5ths before the 3rd and 4th voices are given a chance to enter.
Theorists generally state that fugue subjects DO NOT start on scale degree 3 because the answer appearing in the dominant would have to begin a 5th higher, on 7 (the leading tone) which has an unprepared dissonance on a diminished triad.
Those who have found the nerve to actually take up the writing of a 4-voice fugue will agree that, while the premise is good, it does not take into consideration subjects which have a tail which points strongly to the dominant key; in such as case dominant harmony prevails when the answer begins, and thus the answer beginning on scale degree 7 creates nothing objectionable provided the answer is tonal and brings about a return to the home key for the 3rd entry.
Experience teaches that in real life it isn't always like the books say it will be.
In this Op. 19 Fugue we find the subject entering in all 5 nearly related keys after the exposition, in this sequence: dominant (C Major), relative (d minor), subdominant (Bb Major), subdominant relative (g minor), dominant relative (a minor), stretto in tonic (C Major), and 4 bar coda; modulating episodes each 4 bars long to separate the entries based upon rhythmic elements of the subject, both countersubjects, or their inversions; a 4 bar modulating episode inserted in the exposition between the 2nd and 3rd voice entries; save for the exposition, the alto line will always carry the free voice; the alto line, being "sandwiched" between the tenor and soprano, has maximum flexibility in filling in a 4 voice chordal harmony.
The subject begins in the home key in the left hand in the tenor voice and is answered in the alto in the dominant as the tenor continues with the 1st countersubject; this countersubject is syncopated to create constant 8th note motion when it combines with the subject.
A brief episode of 4 bars modulating back smoothly to the home key prepares the entry of the 3rd voice in the soprano which, when it enters, becomes the 2nd countersubject and is retained throughout.
The entry which follows the exposition is in the dominant key and introduces the subject in the low tenor line with the 1st countersubject in the bass and the 2nd countersubject in the soprano; the free voice in the alto line completes a 4 voice harmony.
Here the low octave of the pedals carries the subject in order for it not to cross the tenor line.
Another 4 bar episode modulates to the relative key (d minor) where the theme enters in the soprano line, the 1st countersubject in the tenor, the 2nd countersubject in the bass, and the free voice is assigned to the alto.
This is followed by another 4 bar modulating episode which lands the music in the subdominant key (Bb Major); here the theme enters in the soprano line, the 1st countersubject in the bass, the 2nd countersubject in the tenor, and the free voice is, once again, in the alto.
From here the music modulates to the subdominant relative key (g minor) where the subject remains in the soprano and the positions of the 2 countersubjects are switched; the 1st countersubject moves to the tenor, and 2nd countersubject moves to the bass, and the free voice remains in the alto.
Here the bass and tenor lines are broken in places and moved to a different octave to avoid crossing each other.
Halfway through the 4 bar episode separating this entry from the succeeding one there is a crescendo to another level of sound.
In the 6th and final entry in the dominant relative key (a minor) the subject is in the bass, the 1st countersubject in the soprano, and the 2nd countersubject in the tenor; this comes about from one of the initial premises, that the alto line would always carry the free voice.
The music modulates halfway through this entry in an unexpected way to the unrelated parallel key of E Major [See blog, Do The Unexpected].
This is followed by a 4 bar episode modulating back to the home key where the subject is reintroduced in an 8 bar stretto at a distance of 2 bars beginning in the bass voice, then the tenor, then the soprano.
During the last bar of the stretto section there is another crescendo to an additional level of sound.
This is followed by a 4 bar coda over a tonic pedal point on low C, and the work closes in 5 voices with great finality.
This Fugue represents just 4 days work using the method of fugue writing described in these postings [See blog, Ten Steps].