Sunday, August 19, 2018

Fugue State: Day 6

So, I wrote a 12-tone fugue, and it was fun, but the next week it was back to my old mildly sentimental style. The most notable thing here has to do with counterpoint rules. I've mentioned in several past posts that I'm not scrupulous about avoiding "illegal" parallel fifths and octaves or breaking other "rules." Still, aside from a more liberal approach to dissonance, I've mostly kept those guidelines in mind, and frankly, when you're on a deadline, that can be annoying. (Annoying in the sense that I'll sometimes write something I like, that sounds fine to me, but then realize I've broken a rule and have to decide how important it is to re-work.) The classic rules of counterpoint are, of course, particular to bygone styles in some ways, although I'm also interested in capturing the spirit of those styles, so it's an interesting tension, even if there's more than a century worth of well-known music in which parallel fifths and the like are commonplace.

All that is to say, for this week I decided to thumb my nose at convention right out of the gate. Resignation is a wonderfully open-spaced tune from Southern Harmony (part of the American shape-note tradition) most commonly associated with "My shepherd will supply my need," a versification of the 23rd Psalm. (You can find the original, with tune in the middle voice, on p.38 here.) Because shape-note singing often features rustic harmonies with lots of open fifths, I decided I could explore that sonority more freely. If you don't know about the principle of illegal parallel fifths and octaves, it basically has to do with avoiding those relationships because they diminish the independence of the voices in question, although it also simply evolved into an aesthetic preference for how counterpoint should sound.

As with my first fugue on Aberystwyth, I decided to create a countersubject from the second half of the opening hymn phrase. Since both parts of the phrase begin with identical ascending triads, having the second voice enter a fifth above results in blatant parallels fifths - even more noticeable because they're outlining a fifth and there are no other voices to temper the effect. That melodic triad and its rhythm of two short notes leading to a longer note become the primary motivic material for the rest of the fugue, which features some of my typical quick modulations to unexpected places.

But the open exploitation of parallel fifths had only just begun with this fugue...

1 comment:

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