Friday, August 17, 2018

Fugue State: Day 4

One of my favorite things about this project has been approaching composition as a quasi-improvisational process. I don't at all mean that I sat and improvised any of these fugues or that I'd be capable of such a thing (like that Bach guy who supposedly improvised a 3-part fugue for Frederick the Fantastic - on a subject much more difficult than Amazing Grace), but rather that my working process each week was pretty fluid and time-constrained. Things happened quickly enough that I've already forgotten a lot of the specifics of how each came to be, but I'm pretty sure Fugue #4 was one of those times when I ended Saturday night dinner by saying, "well, better go write that fugue."

The subject here comes from a wonderful old Lutheran hymn, Wer nur den lieben Gott, sung as If thou but trust in God to guide thee in our hymnal. The hymn is memorably featured, in a slightly different version, in the Oscar-winning Danish film, Babette's Feast. (OK, that's actually all I remember about that film other than a lot cooking.) It's also a tune that Bach showcased in his Cantata No. 93, and indeed there are lots of wonderful prelude settings of this tune from Bach and others, so I've never been at a loss finding music to pair with it on Sunday morning.

I think this fugue does sound more improvisational than the first three. There's no real countersubject and the first episode (starting around 0:23) relies on a very simple kind of sequential patterning, although I like the way that these 8th notes get passed around the three voices. Motivically, the descending 3rd (with short-long emphasis) that concludes the subject is featured a lot and the ending kind of just dissolves with memories of the final three notes of the subject, a descending minor triad. I use augmentation (stretching out the notes values of the subject) in many of these fugues, but I especially like the lengthened (note quite complete) presentation starting in the bass at 1:04 as a climactic feature, and I also like the general flow and sense of being at a loss through much of the fugue. This music is looking for someone to guide it.

If you think all of these fugues are starting to sound the same, be sure to return tomorrow...

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