Friday, August 24, 2018

Fugue State: Day 11

Here at last is the final fugue from my summer project. Based on the widely-used German hymn tune Lobe den Herren, which is sung most often as "Praise to the Lord, the almighty," this is the finale of the set simply because it's the last I wrote before going on a two-week August vacation from the organ bench. You'll find in it a lot of the same features I've returned to again and again, though two are worth noting.

As with two other fugues (here and here), I've created a very short subject from the first part of the opening hymn phrase and then used the concluding part of that phrase as countersubject (heard against the next entries of the subject as answers, etc.). In this case, I also sped up the second half of the tune so that, while the pitches are the same, the character of the melody is changed significantly. One could argue that I've made it less interesting since the original is a rather unusual six bar phrase, and mine is four bars. It surprised me how easy it is to miss the connection altogether, especially because the 6-bar version puts strong emphasis on E (on "King"), a relatively unstable scale degree. (If you try to sing the words placed below my fugue subject, you'll find that they don't fit well because "King" falls in an unstressed metrical position.)

My version, which conflates bars 2-3, simply outlines the notes of a dominant harmony in what becomes the penultimate bar. It is simpler and more square than the hymn tune, but also provides more rhythmic variety as countersubject.



Also, I have again tweaked the normal expectations about where the "answer" (second entry of the subject motif) is pitched; in this case, it enters on the third scale degree, rather than the more normal fifth or fourth. This results in an almost immediate switch to a more minor-sounding mode, although that bit of shadow passes quickly.

I'll save for another day the opportunity to write more broadly about this whole project, now that all the fugues are out in the open.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Fugue State: Day 10

As I've mentioned, I began this blogging series ten days ago thinking I'd written ten fugues this summer. This little setting of Rockingham is the one I'd forgotten, so unless something else turns up from the shadows, we'll end things tomorrow by turning it up to eleven.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Fugue State: Day 9

I mentioned yesterday that most of these summer fugues are in triple time, but today we get a nice four-square tune sung at both the royal weddings of William and Harry and the funerals of Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana. The Welsh Cwm Rhondda is most closely associated with the words "Guide me, O thou great Redeemer" or "Guide me, O thou great Jehovah," and it has a dignified but fervent character, although the opening phrase I'm using emphasizes the former.

The main feature here is that, after writing so many fugues that modulate quickly and often to far-flung keys, I decided to restrict myself to the seven pitches of the original key, so this fugue has no accidentals. That doesn't mean it doesn't move into different tonal areas, but by disallowing accidentals, none of the diversions can be in a major key, so the subject takes on different modal characters as it wanders about. You can hear this right away when the second entry sidesteps the leading tone C-sharp for a C-natural. In fact, as I recall, it was after I made the decision to treat this "answer" that way that I decided I'd keep forgoing accidentals and see what happened.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Fugue State: Day 8

As we arrive at the eighth of these ten summer fugues, I just realized a few things:
  1. Eight of the set are in triple time (seven in 3/4 and one in 3/2).
  2. Seven of the triple time fugues begin with a pickup note (or two).
  3. There are actually eleven fugues, not ten, so there are three in duple time, and it looks like this series will extend one day further.
Since we emphasize singability and familiarity in our summer hymnody, and that often trends a bit more to folksier hymns, that may explain part of why we're in three so often, although I may also have simply underestimated how many hymns are in triple time.

Speaking of folksy, Land of Rest is another tune with some shape-note roots, so today's fugue definitely has echoes of the Resignation and New Britain fugues; all three feature pentatonic subjects (meaning basically that they omit the fourth and seventh scale degrees) which certainly contributes to the folksiness. This is the third four-voice fugue* of the set, and the first to use the more traditional pattern of alternating entries between tonic and something else, though in this case that else is the Subdominant, not the Dominant. (Basically, the second and fourth entries begin in the key area a fourth above the first and third. The most common approach would be to alternate Tonic-Dominant-Tonic-Dominant.)



* The other four-voice fugues are on America and Suttgart.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Fugue State: Day 7

In yesterday's featured summer fugue, I mentioned that I was more openly flirting with intentional parallel fifths. The next week when, as best as I recall, I needed to produce two fugues in short order, I decided I'd go all in on the open sound of fifths as a sort of voice-leading motif.* I was facing down Stuttgart, a very square, generic tune for which Hymnary.org shows 78 different text pairings! It's not a favorite of mine, but we still use it fairly regularly, and it's certainly inoffensive.

As with several others of these fugues, Stuttgart is not an ideal fugue subject because it has zero rhythmic interest. I decided I could take advantage of its neutral quality by having the subject heard almost continuously throughout the fugue, albeit sometimes in inversion. (A more lively subject might wear out its welcome if heard non-stop.) Most fugues have "episodes" which allow for freer counterpoint to connect various entries of the subject, but here it's pretty much Stuttgart all the way.

As with a previous four-voice fugue (on America), the voice entries follow an unusual progression. Instead of the more common tonic centers of F-C-F-C, we have F-C-d-F. (Because this tune begins on the 5th scale degree, that means the actual pitch starts for the voices are: C-G-A-C.) This gives the entry of the bass voice a special role in bringing the exposition back to the prevailing tonic, but the music then modulates regularly, with the generic subject serving as a gateway to...well, wherever I felt like going.

The combination of a not particularly distinctive subject and lots of parallel voice-leading means the whole fugue is a little less fugue-like than the others I've written since there's not a strong sense of independence among the voices; however, the subject is regularly passed around the four voice parts, which gives the texture a subtle shape-shifting fluidity. I think what I've most enjoyed about playing it is the combination of squareness and steady forward motion, and the process has actually made me appreciate the versatile tune more than I had before.



* So, for example, you can see right away that when the left hand comes in with the second entry of the subject, the right hand voice is simply shadowing the pitch changes a fifth above. This is not something Bach would have done.