Thursday, August 16, 2018

Fugue State: Day 3

If yesterday's Amazing Grace fugue featured one of the best-known hymns, today's fugue, written for the Sunday before July 4, is based on an even more famous tune. Identified in our hymnbook as America (Beethoven and others have referred to it as "God save the [Monarch]"), we didn't actually sing "My country, 'tis of thee" that morning, but I figured a fugue on the subject would still carry some meaning. And if we happened to have any visitors from across the pond, they could happily hum along without worrying about 1776.

Like our country, this fugue is a bit quirky. This is the first of the set to feature four voices, so I decided to do something a bit unusual with the entries. The normal procedure would be for the second entry (the "answer" to the subject) to begin in the dominant (the key a 5th above) or subdominant (4th above) with the third entry back in the tonic (repeat of subject) and fourth entry back in the key of the "answer." So, in an F Major fugue like this one with a subject beginning on F, the exposition entries would begin on: F, C, F, C. I decided to heighten the tension by having the third entry on G (supertonic), with the final voice returning (rather suddenly!) to F, so: F, C, G, F. It creates a bit more tonal drama right off the bat, for better or for worse.

I also chose to use only the first six notes (my coun - try tis of thee) of the tune which makes for a very simple subject that only includes three unique pitches - kind of the opposite of the problem with the rangy Amazing Grace. The dotted rhythm of "tis of thee" is thus the most prominent motif, and you'll hear that it's used again and again as gateway to various quick modulations. Some of these modulations are admittedly a bit jarring, but Americans are often in a hurry.

My favorite feature of this fugue is a kind of extreme stretto that happens around the 0:27 mark, with all four voices presenting the theme just one note apart from each other, starting at four different pitches. This results in some fun metrical disruption (only one of the voices starts on a downbeat) and is also enabled by my more freewheeling approach to voice-leading and dissonance. But I think the section really works, and maybe it even embodies a bit of the virtuous struggle to make a diverse country work.

It turns out that once again, for the third fugue in a row, I chose to reference the climactic part of the tune (otherwise not part of the subject) near the end at 0:48. I am pretty sure I backed away from this effect as the summer went on, but we'll see in the days ahead.

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