Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Projects that have been on the back burner so long they got cold

I have a lot of compositional projects I placed on the back burner over the years.

My first string quartet never has been finished. I completed the first movement and that was even performed, once. The second movement was finished but my teachers said I needed to revise it. My theme was too long to subject to meaningful variations. Some fourteen years later I just never mustered the interest to recompose what was already a completed second movement for quartet. The finale of the first quartet was supposed to be a fugue and that ... well, even back fourteen years ago I knew that composing THAT sort of fugue would be utterly beyond me for at least a decade. It turns out I was totally right. I am only just now attaining a level of compositional skill and skill as a guitarist where I can ever get an exposition of three of the projected final four voices for the exposition taken care of.

My second string quartet was begun ten years ago and I have not finished even the first movement of the projected four. I have the exposition, recapitulation, and coda for the first movement complete but this is a sonata form with a development that presents nearly insuperable challenges. The second and third movements are also daunting. The fourth movement is theoretically the easiest one to finish since it has a slow introduction for a closing rondo but there are some structural and conceptual elements that make even that movement tough.

The most terrifying prospects, however, are the completion of the middle movements. The scherzo has some inherent problems that make it nearly impossible to contemplate and the variation form (perhaps better thought of as a fantasia) could be wonderful if I could pull it off but it would be exceptionally difficult as it relies on a remarkably static folk tune fraught with heavy extramusical symbolism. For now let's just say that the Good Friday movement is gonna be rough but it's possible to finish that. The Easter movement has the easiest prospect of being finished already and the Holy Saturday movements creep me out something fierce, particularly the slow movement.

The third string quartet ... I should have had finished by now but I need to completely revise the final movement to adjust its tonal architecture and the second movement isn't finished. I'm very weak in variation forms. In fact I feel SO weak in variation form I had to approach writing variations forms by way of passacaglia and by way of unusually stringent executions of monothematic sonata forms that eventually turned into more free-wheeling variations.

Of all the projects I have begun that have gone fallow, though, the woodwind quintet is the one that has been dormant for the longest time. After years of slogging away I settled on my exposition and if you've read this blog more than a month you know the exposition I'm talking about is not a sonata exposition. No, of course not. I resolved to write a fugue exposition for woodwind quintet. As I was heavily immersed in the works of Durufle fourteen and thirteen years ago I settled on a slow, solemn lydian subject. The subject was splitting the difference between my immersion in Durufle and my immersion in Duke Ellington.

The result is a languid, introspective lydian tune that becomes the focal point of an exposition with quintuple counterpoint, all the countersubjects also being in lydian. Fully invertible counterpoint in five voices with entirely lydian tunes is no small feat! It's such a freakish musical challenge I have only gotten to the exposition's completion and have not been brave enough to tackle middle entries, episodes, or what the possible end of such a fugue might be. The stretto possibilities alone could be collosal, and there is the possibility of building a second exposition on the first countersubject.

I have been so daunted by just the fugue itself the possibility of other movements in the woodwind quintet has scarcely even crossed my mind.

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