Sunday, January 30, 2022

Epiphany Fugue 4/8

Well, I'm halfway there. A fugue series which I imagined as a way to make myself do something to start the year has now resulted in four fugues which didn't exist a month ago. 

Although all of these fugues are to be based on hymn tunes, today's tune, O Waly, Waly, is probably best known as a folk song. It happened that we had two soloists singing an anthem based on this tune today, so that's how I ended up choosing it as a subject. It's a beautiful melody, although it's possible that by shortening its long notes, I've take a bit of the longing out of the effect. The original melody is a good example of music in a major mode that still can sound sad (as is more often associated with minor mode). Benjamin Britten certainly leaned into that aspect. 

As with all of these fugues, I haven't been overly scrupulous about traditional voice-leading rules. In this case, I realized soon that the countersubject I'd devised (I had in mind a sort of winding river idea) results in immediate parallel fifths (though the note in the countersubject is just a little lower neighbor). 

But after trying other things, I decided I liked this version best, so that's how I'm rolling. I'm on a deadline!

Fugue #4:

Updated Hymn Fugue Archive

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Epiphany Fugue 3/8

I set myself an interesting challenge for this week's Epiphany Fugue #3 (see previous post) by working with a Gregorian chant melody, the well-known Ubi caritas. (Our choir sang a simplified version of  DuruflĂ©'s beautiful setting during this morning's service.) It's a beautiful melody, but the part I used moves entirely by step without any strong rhythmic profile (to be expected with chant), so it makes for an odd fugue subject since there's not an obvious hook melodically or rhythmically. For several days I imagined in my head something...that I never quite found on paper.

I'm OK with the result, but I feel like I could change lots of things and not change it so much; it definitely tends towards the meandering. I was intentional about using some mixed meter to give the sense of a varied, chant-like flow, but the harmonic structure also leans a lot on modal freedom, so here we are. To be totally honest, this is the kind of feeling I often get listening to Gregorian chant. Perhaps not an ideal choice for the genre, but I'm still intrigued by the challenge and might return to this one to see if I can find what's in my head....but I said I'd write a fugue every week, so here's this one.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Don't you fughetta 'bout me

In my last post I mentioned I was about to top one million views of my YouTube videos. On Saturday, according to one set of stats, I did indeed pass the threshold, as you can see below:

On the other hand, I've now realized that my public stats show I'm only just over 985,000 views. I think this is because I have a significant number of unlisted videos, mostly choir practice parts, which I suppose have been viewed a lot by singers in various choirs, though I doubt as many as 15,000 times. Who knows? Anyway, I was working on a "Thanks a million" post, but will now hold off on that until my public number hits seven digits. Perhaps that will happen by my 15th anniversary on February 24. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I have a fun new project for 2022 (inspired by a need to write something) which gives me something to write about here. Here's what I wrote about this on Facebook:

When I couldn't come up with a topic idea for the January column in our church newsletter, I decided to kick the can down the road by announcing that I'd be writing a new hymn-based fugue for each of the eight Sundays in Epiphany. That gave me something to write about. [and a lot of work to do in the new year!]

This is sort of a follow-up project to my "Summer of Fugues" from 2018 when I wrote eleven short, hymn-based fugues for Sunday morning services. Although fugues have a reputation as being formally rule-bound, I've come to think of writing them as a quasi-improvisational process. I work out a subject, and then follow where it leads...more or less. Each subject presents its own challenges, and some subjects lend themselves to more liberal use of counterpoint rules than others. The great virtue of these projects is that I find these new little pieces quite useful and have repeated most of them more than once. (I purposefully have chosen hymn tunes which we sing with relative frequency.)

And so, I'm already on my way with two new fugues for the new year, one on an early American hymn and one on a lovely modal tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams:

For various reasons, it's not easy to produce ideal recordings yet, but these provide the basic idea. As with fugues I've posted in the past, I'm only including the opening of the score in the videos, though I'd be happy to share full scores on request.

I'm adding each new fugue to this playlist and to this little HYMN FUGUE ARCHIVE, which provides links to recordings of the original tunes. I also tracked down a few other little fugues I've written over the years (some are so short they really might better be called "fughetta") and have added them to the playlist. The notation/recording quality is pretty sketchy in some cases (one includes live crickets!). But the truth is, I'd almost forgotten about a couple of these, so this kind of archiving is a good way to keep track of what I've done.

It's also made me realize I'm only one fugue away from 20, and if I complete my planned Epiphany project, I'll top 25. (I also happen to have a couple of NON-hymn fugues out there, and I'm quite proud of each. This little fugue on the theme from Scheherazade is really beautiful, and it comes with a fun story. And this sports-inspired fugue on I'm Shipping up to Boston is just fun, and it comes with football highlights.)

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Rushing to one million...

This is perhaps an odd way to re-start the blog for 2022, but I recently noticed I'm within 300 of one million total views of my videos on YouTube. 

There are plenty of reasons that this is a fairly silly milestone, but I'm in too much of a hurry to worry about them. As it happens, I've recently been re-using a video I made a few years ago for teaching purposes. I'd never quite gotten it as smooth and polished as I'd like, but I realized this week both that it's still pretty useful as is and that I'm not likely to invest the time in working out all the kinks. I did do a little tweaking, but for now I'll just present this little video which features my own one-page (!) score of the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, with audio played as fast as I could reasonably imagine without losing too much sense. Your mileage my vary.

Once I pass the arbitary one million mark, I hope to be back to say a little more about this!