Saturday, July 21, 2018

Leo Brouwer Fuga No. 1 for guitar, a somewhat detailed discussion of fugal technique in a fugue that has no middle entries but a series of beautiful episodes and a glorious grand stretto on the first half of its subject

One of the simpler observations that has been made about fugal subjects over the centuries is that you're going to have an easier time of things if your subject, generally, does not exceed the range of an octave. 

In traditional tonal music a subject based on a rising fourth will often be thought of as having the second interval being the tonic.  But ... with a modal subject that's not necessarily how things work, and there are linear ways to offset a rising perfect fourth as being defined only as an implicit or explicit V-I linear/harmonic move.

I mention that because that's exactly what Brouwer avoids doing with this fugue subject. He is using a natural minor scale but uses sequence in measure 2 to have his fourth-leap go from F natural to B flat before dropping down to A natural.  One of the things that makes his use of sequence so effective is that he gets to the F natural by way of C natural. Chains of ascending fourths might seem bad for vocal contrapuntal writing but for the guitar, come on, for the guitar chains of ascending fourths are just a few open-string level gestures. 

Now measure 3 and 4 are simple oscillations between the fourth and fifth degree. If you're watching along in the video because you don't have your own copy o fthe score we're not looking at accidentals. Those are left hand indications about which fingers on the left hand are advised for playing the notes.  We'll be getting to accidentals in system two, as you'll see, but we're not there yet in the first few measures of the subject, the first 14 seconds of this performance.

The subject appears at the dominant like we'd expect it to at 0:14 in a lower voice.  There isn't exactly a countersubject in this fugue but the treble material introduces a dorian element that offsets or plays against the natural minor mode of the subject.

Almost straight out the gate on this answer we'll have to address a point that pedantic approaches to counterpoint will highlight.  Doesn't Brouwer almost immediately have parallel fifths in beat two of the FIRST MEASURE in which his subject gets an answer.  Well, yet.  This is on the first half of beat two but in metrical terms beat two is a weak or often unaccented beat and, further, the parallel fifth is a function lf retaining the melodic contour of the subject which, as we can hear and see, drops very quickly down to B flat.  In other words, the parallel fifth does happen but it's excusable by way of happening on a weak beat and by being skipped past quickly in favor of a sixth.  Parallel fifths are bad in counterpoint if you keep landing on them on strong, accented beats but if you're landing on them as you're passing through unaccented beats you have wiggle room.  Brouwer obviously knew this and with a bit of help from a video-score we can talk about that. 

There's clearly been plenty of good contrapuntal music for solo guitar and not nearly enough discusion of how it works, whether it's 19th or 20th or 21st century counterpoint for guitar.  We can try to fix that.

The third voice, in the treble strins and the soprano to the alto and tenor that respectively initiated this exposition, arrives at 0:28.  The dorian modality that took over in the answer is retained in this new entry of the subject.  While the dorian mode doesn't have a lot of "forward motion" as traditionally understood to inhere in major keys on account of the activetones of the leading tone and the fourth, it has an advantage for a guitar fugue, namely that the dorian mode is a symmetrical scale.  The intervallic relationships are the same going up or down and if you try to invert the scale the interval relationships don't chnage.

D E F G A B C D (all natural)
That's the archetypal dorian mode on the piano or the guitar. 

Given how demanding counterpoint in three voices for solo guitar is always going to be having a dorian mode cast to the subject in its third presentation shows that Brouwer is willing to adjust the subject modally as playability requires.  It also just sounds more fun than being stringent about what mode the subject is supposed to be. 

By 0:40 the exposition is over and we're at the section of the score marked "piu mosso"  In this case the tempo picks up and the music becomes very agitated.  Brouwer hammers away in the two upper voices with a harmonic major second (G and A natural) above the lowermost E natural (open string 6).  This, sure enough, sets up a presentation of the subject in E dorian as the beginning of the episodes/middle entries realm of the fugue. 

Something George Oldroyd and others have pointed out is that just because you have three voices in a fugue doesn't mean those three voices have to constantly be identifiably variant.  In other words, you can have two voices in a dependent relationship in musical textural terms while one of the three voices takes all of the spotlight.  For a guitar this point is all the more crucial because it's better to subordinate two voices as support or ornament for your actual hook (i.e. often your subject) than trying to going for the most complex texture you think you can play at the expense of the polyphonic aspect of polyphony.  Your polyphony is about having good tunes first, and secondarily about having those voices generally being independent.  You won't hear total independence of the three voices in Bach's Fugue in C minor from WTC Book 1, will you?

So Brouwer races along with the subject starting on E and it rises as expected to A but as the subject rushes along  it is turned into a running bass line that loses its association with the subject while the seconds pulsating in the trebles become pulsating thirds. We're briefly in, if you will, E minor but this turns out to have been an episode and not a middle entry (i.e. a complete presentation of the subject.  By 0:49 we have the subject appearing in the bass strings but, once again, it's just the first half and it dissolves into a flurry of rising scale runs that lead to a measure of 12/16 where, finally, we start getting some transformation of the second half of the subject as episodic material. 

We're going to see that Brouwer consistently blurs the lines between what could be called a middle entry or an episode.  At 1:03 we get a presentation of the first part of the first half of the subject but it leads abruptly into a curtailed form of the second half of the subject.  The subject rises with its signature fourth leap but it's only here that it has the "expected" fifth-to-tonic implication we would expect it to have in a tonal fugue. Here the dorian element of the subject is really audible.  Like I was writing earlier, making the subject a minor key tune that could be shifted at will from natural minor to dorian was a very good move on Brouwer's part, it's one of the things that makes him a great composer for the guitar. 

This new first half of the first half and first half of the second half of the subject is sequenced at about 1:07 where the counterpoint is "flipped" and the subject appears in the upper voice whereas previously the pulsating pedal tone was in the upper voice above the subject.  At 1:10 we get another motoric iteration of the second half of the subject but here we get a nice rippling, cascading call-and-response texture.  Obviously when you're playing scale-work this fast on the guitar you thin the textures out to two rather than three voices.  Even Bach didn't keep all the voices introduced in an exposition in constant motion throughout a fugue.  If there's a grave misunderstanding guitarists can have about counterpoint in general and counterpoint for their own instrument in particular it would be this, mistakenly thinking that once you have your third voice in a piece you have to keep all the voices active and never let one or two voices drop out. 

So, where was I?  Right, the call-and-response runs based on the second half of the subject at 1:10.  At this point fully homophonic/harmonic writing is in play.  Brouwer starts to slow down and vamps on minor third gestures in widely spaced triads.  He's clearly winding down and laying back on the counterpoint because he's building up to something ambitious.  If you have heard this piece or read along with the score you can already see what he has in mind.  He's going to go for a grand stretto.

At 1:19 the grand stretto arrives. It is, of course, only on the first half of the subject but it's a pretty grand stretto! Remember what I wrote earlier about how chains of ascending fourths is a gloriously idiomatic thing to compose for the guitar?  THAT is what Brouwer employs for this grand stretto.  He knew that his subject could be taken on open strings in a grand stretto passage so that there's technically no voice crossing.  The stretto also allows him to strategiclaly stagger the entries in the stretto so that as each new voice enters the other voices are taking up material that can be assigned to open strings in a modal texture so that the voices that are no longer actively carrying the subject can get lines that can be subordinated to the newest entry of the subject.  This can be done in terms of walking-bass lines and open strings as you can see in the score via video. 

At 1:28 Brouwer has another stretto on the first half of the subject.  This time the alto and tenor enter at G and C respectively and at beats 1 and 2.  It's a blink-and-you-missed it moment but as contrapuntal writing for solo guitar goes it's one of the more glorious passages in the literature I've seen so far. 

Then Brouwer chokes up, on purpose.  He begins to stagger and interrupt the flow of the fugue.  After a full measure pause the subject appears in the trebles with the material in the answer from the exposition (1:40), which is presented as the could-have-been countersubject that it functionally wasn't in the fugue up to this point.  The subject isn't presented in its entirety but is instead sequenced against the countersubject line. At this point the first half of the subject has been run through enough stretto sections that Brouwer is winding down for the fugue but prepares to wind up for a rambunctious finish.  By the time you reach the coda of a fugue you have an option to cast off polyphonic constraints and go for a bravura toccata style texture.

Any guesses what Brouwer does?  I admittedly gave it away.

1:50ish we get some ornate toccata textures in sixteenth notes, full of agitation, soaring over a series of low E pedal points.  You should be able to hear and see how even thse riffs are all derived from embellishing the second half of the subject.  Brouwer has set aside the first half of the subject because he developed it extensively and is using free-form derivations of the second half of his subject as the foundation for the coda that will complete this fugue. He even uses that second half of the subject material as the basis for a short quasi-grand stretto section for that material at 2:09.  By now the pounding away on the E pedal point suggests that our closing cadence is going to be A rather than D and so we do have a final cadence on A ratehr than D.

A more pedantic approach to a fugue would insist that we have to end on the key in which we started.  That's what I prefer to do at a personal level.  Leo Brouwer is Leo Brouwer and he shows that there are other ways to get a fugue for solo guitar to work.  The closing A cadence is effective. 
Now some of you may have noticed that I have not described any episodes that would be understood as episodes in traditional pedagogy.  I have also not described there being any middle entries in the fugue either.  There aren't any.  Brouwer only completes his presentations of the subject in the exposition.    So some of you may understandably ask, "Well, if Leo Brouwer doesn't have any middle entries for his subject and doesn't have anything but a series of episodes using parts of his subject then how is this a fugue?"

That's a good question.  Depending on how you answer we could say that Fuga No. 1 is either not a "real" fugue and must be a fughetta or some fugue-like textural study.  Or we can propose that it IS a fugue but then go back to observations made by Manfred Bukofzer and others about how in the 19th century there really was no such thing as a fugal form and that everything about any given fugue depended on the exigencies of the fugal material on the one hand and what was idiomatically reasonable to execute for the musical forces specified for the material on the other.  In that broader and more "old school" and less doctrinaire approach to defining what a fugue is, Brouwer's Fuga No. 1 is a fantastic fugue, fantastic for the level of development he gives to his subject and also fantastic for the way in which he does so working with the idiomatic strengths and weaknesses of the six-string guitar.

If there were a book about counterpoint for solo guitar I would say this is a work that has to be in such a book.
Even though the fugue is just barely more than two minutes I've managed to write at least 2,300 words about it.  That's how fugues tend to be as literary subjects.  You can write thousands of words simply describing what happens even if you're not trying to mine the depths of the emotional content that this or that writer might here in the work.  Since I love fugues, love writing them, and enjoy writing about them Brouwer's Fuga No. 1 was on my list of thing I wanted to blog about for a while but I didn't get to it until today.  I am going to try to get back to Koshkin's cycle, of course, but you'll understand how hugely demanding that project is.  I hope you listened to the fugue and read along with the score (either because you watched the video or, even better, own a copy of the score yourself!) and enjoyed the work. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ferdinand Rebay: Guitar Sonata in D minor with read-along manuscript to go with audio

played by Nicholas Gohl on the guitar

You know ... I don't think I've written about this one before.  I'll have to fix that.  I wrote abou the D minor sonata Rebay wrote for clarinet and guitar

but not the solo guitar sonatas ... which feels a little bit inexcusable at one level because I've had the scores for years ... but ...

at another level, long-time readers of this blog may recall that for quite a few years I was blogging in a lot of detail about a former regional brand that was known as Mars Hill.  There's been a LOT of music I wanted to blog about over the years where I just didn't have the mental focus and energy left over from having a full time day job (or looking for one, for a while); chronicling the life and times of the now-former Mars Hill; composing music of myown and writing stuff on other topics; and then finally after all THAT having time left over to blog about scores in a lot of detail.

I hope to change that a bit these days and moving forward.  But, again, regular readers may have some idea of the level of complexity of the scores I tend to be drawn to.  I was just thinking of blogging about Leo Brouwer's Fuga No. 1, for instance, but I'd need to spend some time thinking about how to explain whether any number of things are best explained with appeals to conventional academic fugal nomenclature or not and there's such a thing as having some modicum of a social life.

Samuel Adler's Into the Radiant Boundaries of Light for viola and guitar

I have the score for this one, actually, and it's a modern piece (i.e. not sounding too traditional for harmony or melody) but I like this one.  I have thought about blogging about this one over the years but it's not a score that lends itself to very simple descriptions or explanations.  

Mountain Music Duo plays The Widow, the Orphan, and the Immigrant by Andrew Halladay for oboe (and then English horn) and guitar

I may have linked to this in the past but it's worth linking to again.

If memory serves the work was inspired by the book of Ruth.  It's a nice piece for the instruments and I think it might be fun if the composer wrote a sequel work for this piece.

I haven't written about oboe and guitar music in quite some time.  I know it might be a kind of lazy thing to do with the internet being what it is but I might just do a compilation of posts that just link to performances of chamber works for the guitar in which it's paired up with any other non-guitar instrument that comes to mind.  The idea being there'd be a link to a flute/guitar duo; an oboe/guitar duo; an English horn/guitar duo; a viola and guitar duo and on down the line.  Some combinations might be hard to find something for but I suppose there's a bass clarinet and guitar duet out there somewhere. 

For the time being, an oboe/English horn and guitar duet.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fredrik Deboer's "the ground floor" has me wondering a little

The term “socialism” refers to an economic system in which human goods are removed from the market mechanism and currency exchange and are instead distributed based on need. To socialize an industry means to remove its products (whether medicine, education, housing, etc) from the market model and instead establish some means through which need is assessed and filled without the expectation of reciprocity. Socialism does not change who pays for necessary social services but replaces the very system of exchanging currency for goods entirely. A socialist viewpoint recognizes the impossibility of moral reform from within capitalism.

Removing products of an industry from the market model doesn't exactly remove the exchange.  Even granting the impossibility of moral reform from within capitalism the extent to which Western socialists have no true Scotsman'd other real world cases of socialism off the table makes it hard to be certain that 1) socialism has ever existed or 2) can ever exist in the real world.  It may be that there's a continuum between theoretical socialism and theoretical capitalism (and lately it seems that neither of these seems to have ever existed in the real world as its ideological partisans seem to have defined it) and that we have to find some rickety balance between extremities that is doomed to failure.  But my impression is there is probably some other way to define socialism beyond this one. 

Who pays for necessary social services hinges on a lot of definitions.  Where does the money come from?  Thatcher's quip about how you eventually run out of other people's money seems to run aground on the question of what money even is.  I'm not entirely sure these days that when theories of the market were being formulated that an entirely data manipulated method of defining currency was what any of those people had in mind. 

Just because mercantilism or contemporary capitalism manage to enslave people doesn't mean other systems don't have slave systems.  Slavery seems to emerge regardless of the official economic labeling.  I am inclined to agree with Ellul when he wrote that there will never be a collective ownership of the means of production.  That premise is pure fiction. It hasn't happened and it will never happen. 

Deboer makes an interesting assertion about how Marxism and communism are not anti-Enlightenment but the apotheosis of Enlightenment thought.  Since the Marxist approach to history seems just as postmillennialist in its overall philosophy of history as, well, postmillennialist theonomistic dominionism, it's never clear to me these days why Marxists would think their view doesn't constitute a theological view just because they replace the eschatological apocalyptic revelation of a new world and dynamic of human relations with dialectical materialism rather than messianism in Isaianic terms.  I suppose it's because I just finished reading George Steiner's In Bluebird's Castle but he pointed out that without the Abrahamic religious legacy of Jewish legal traditions, Christian ethical imperatives and the Judaic influence in socialist thought there's a whole strand of Western thought that vanishes.  Steiner's case with respect to the Holocaust as a historical fulcrum, as best I can probably meagerly summarize it, was that the Holocaust was a predictable outworking of a tension between a previously pagan/polytheistic West and the inability of some ideologues within that Western tradition to reconcile themselves to the hybridized nature of what the West had become due to the influence of Abrahamic religious thought.  Wiping out the Jews was a literalizing form of rejecting what some in the West viewed as the negative influence of Abrahamic religion.  Now I'm sure there are plenty of people who reject Steiner's thesis or have alternatives.

But the older I get the more it seems that a weak point in Marxist thought has been the inability of Marxist  thought to grapple with the necessarily religious debt it has to religion and not just any kind of religion, Abrahamic religion in particular.  Even the atheistic streak is, potentially, indebted to a post-Abrahamic capacity of thought, to reject across the board the principalities and powers that claim divinity. 

If capitalism is the human capacity to commodify itself that can never be eliminated without the end of the human race as we know it.  The Soviet Union's history makes it hard for me to think that the way to explain all of that history is through a no true Scotsman claim that some of the Frankfurt school thinkers seemed to run with that that just wasn't real communism or socialism. 

I have my doubts that capitalism and socialism can ever exist in the real world the way its advocates have been defining it. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Alois Haba: String Quartet No. 3

Some of my listening lately has been Native American music (HT to Bryan Townshend, who linked to some recordings Ida Halpern did of PNW tribal songs). Given the microtonal inflections in PNW Native American song I've been thinking probably the only plausible way to emulate those kinds of vocal inflections in instrumental technique (I'm a guitarist) would be using bottleneck technique, which is neither here nor there for the listening part itself.

And some of my listening lately has been to Alois Haba, who was mentioned by Ben Johnston as one of the forerunners in microtonality alongside Ivan Wyschnegradsky and some others. 

This is Haba's Third String Quartet.

I don't think I'll probably ever actually compose microtonal music myself but I'm intrigued by it.  Part of the interest is related to having an interest in music by composers from central and eastern Europe, which Western musical pedagogy has .... let's just be mean and say that Western pedagogy tends to stink covering the East because the West sees itself as the be all end all of everything good about humanity in the history of ever.  There's cool stuff.  I adore the music of Haydn and I have regard for the writings of Edmund Burke.  But it's possible to appreciate things in Western culture while noting that that's still, what, a quarter of the whole planet? 

Haba's quarters are not the easiest listening, which is fun for me, because I admit I don't necessarily always do easy listening. 

After so much music from eastern European composers, though, I'm going to have to get back to more Western stuff for links. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dusan Bogdanovic Guitar Sonata I

I'm planning on blogging about the Bogdanovic guitar sonatas this year or ... perhaps more realistically NEXT year.  But someone has videos of performances of these sonatas.  In lieu of blogging about them I can post videos while I compile materials I want to discuss.

The Bogdanovic sonatas are a good example of the applicability of Hepokoski and Darcy's paradigm of "rotation".  The idea is that themes appear in a particular order across two or three "rotations" and that Theme 1 is followed by Theme 2 is followed by Theme 3 for each rotation in a large-scale sonata form, or a small scale.

The idea is useful because if you're stable on the rotation side of things you can be more playful on tonality.  So a Schubert, for instance, could maintain a stricter approach to rotation and presentation of themes in the Wanderer Fantasy, perhaps, and that will compensate for reprising themes in D flat or E rather than C or G in relationship to an exposition verses recapitulation section of a movement.

Bogdanovic presents themes in what could be called rotation and this offsets the fact that none of this themes map easily onto what might be thought of as traditional major or minor tonalities.

Another guitar composer who has been good at deploying what Hepokoski and Darcy call "rotation" as a formal approach in lieu of clear-cut tonic-dominant tonal architecture is Angelo Gilardino.  I really, really want to get around to blogging about his guitar sonatas, too, but offline life happens and sometimes I end up tabling stuff.  Like I wrote years ago, I was starting to blog about Matiegka's guitar sonatas and what I liked about them in late 2011 and I THOUGHT I was going to blog in more detail about that stuff in 2012 but ... I ended up blogging voluminously about another range of topics.

So, anyway, if you're a Bogdanovic fan I promise I will try to get to blogging about the numbered guitar sonatas at some point and think of these recent posts as a kind of "down payment" in blogging terms that shows I've kept this in mind enough to post a few videos to performances of his work.

Dusan Bogdanovic Guitar Sonata II

Dusan Bogdanovic Guitar Sonata II

I think I love this one best of the three if I have to pick one.  Fortunately I don't actually have to pick one.  :)

Dusan Bogdanovic Guitar Sonata III

The raised F scordatura for the sixth string is a unique feature for this sonata.  I love all of these sonatas and so it's important to me to eventually get to discussing these works but as I noted in another post these posts are more like a "down payment" than the kind of analytical score studying blog posts I'd like to do.

The Koshkin cycle is still the higher priority for me this year and I realize I am BADLY overdue to get into blogging about that cycle again. 

Frank Campo: Two Studies for Trumpet and Guitar

Someone has posted a recording of a performance of this piece, which I have admired for years.

I want to eventually blog about it at a more analytical level because I DO have the score for this one, finally (!), but that's going to take some time.  Meanwhile, if you have any sympathy for slightly avant garde chamber music involving guitar and brass instruments I sincerely hope you'll enjoy this piece. 

since the 20th anniversary of The Last Days of Disco was this year ..

Will you talk about the philosophy behind the Lady and the Tramp scene and how that ties into what Des (Chris Eigeman) says about “to thine own self be true“?

I think they’re similar kind of scenes, but I think they’re separate in their content and their implications. Lady and the Tramp is pretty specific to the sort of myth in literature, theater and film of opposites attracting.

So opposites attract I have a lot of problems with because it seems cool but actually, generally, it’s not a good idea. Generally, Tramp is going to revert to type at some point, as I’ve observed in human relations. It’s rare. Usually, change is a kind of come to Jesus thing. It’s a little bit like an alcoholic giving up alcohol or a licentious person becoming religious. They really have to transform themselves if they’re going to get away from being Tramp. It’s a big, big thing. It’s not just falling in love with Lady and getting along with her owners. And so I think that’s one message. And “to thine own self be true” is a different thing. You’re right that they’re very parallel as far as taking something we know about and applying it to the lives of the characters in the film.

I saw The Last Days of Disco a couple of years back and thought it was funny. Now I know some people say it's impossible for over-earnest ambitious 20-somethings to talk the way Whit Stillman characters talk but when the debate about Lady and the Tramp happened in the film I couldn't help laughing.  That such a serious debate with a subtext of character as destiny with respect to sexual and relational fidelity could be sparked off by watching an animated Disney film that's kind of my wheelhouse anyway.  I did, after all, write tens of thousands of words about Batman cartoons. :)

But the other reason I found it funny was that I was vividly reminded of Midrash debates on the members-only version of Midrash from my days at Mars Hill, particularly the 2002-2006 period when courtship became such an idiotic fad and a host of guys who I didn't think were all that serious about courtship were pretending to themselves and anyone who might be watching that they took it seriously because a couple of high profile members of the church and Driscoll were selling the idea of courtship.  Were it not for a beautiful six-foot blonde who I won't name because almost anyone who went to Mars Hill in the 2002-2006 period probably recognized her, the courtship fad wouldn't have been what it was.  

I've seen comments to the effect that if ever there were a movie made about Mars Hill it should be directed by someone like Tarantino.  No.  Whit Stillman makes more sense because anyone who can have characters deliver jokes about Cathar beliefs or about the different enumerations of the Decalogue across Catholic and Protestant interpretation is better suited to make a film about Mars Hill.

And since Sterling Archer is two thirds of the way to a Mark Driscoll person, "if" someone were going to play Mark Driscoll it should be someone like H. Jon Benjamin.

But, of course, he's got vastly better things to do with his time.

But those guys in Disco, they reminded me of a number of Midrash debates on the Covenant forum ... .
If I were to write a book about Mars Hill I'd probably have to write about the ridiculous courtship fad.

The blonde and her husband have said that if I do that I can write about them.  Still not sure if I would manage to write a book as it is but ... anyway.