Thursday, November 3, 2011

Exemplar 3: The Masterpiece

To enter the guild, everybody must start with an Apprentice Piece, and to reach this level a Journeyman Piece must be accepted. After being a Journeyman for a year, the guild member is then eligible to submit a Masterpiece as soon as the second year's worth of Journeyman dues are paid. If the member wishes to proceed to Master early, that is not a problem: Just submit the second year's worth of dues early: Everybody pays the same dues to advance within the guild.

The application fee for Master is $10.00, and the applicant is expected to get it right on the first try. If accepted, that ten dollars covers the first year of master's dues. All accepted masterpieces are entered into the Best of Ten Masterpieces contest, which pays an award of $50.00 (Half of the total application fees, as with every other level within the guild).

While the apprentice piece and journeyman piece exemplars were of modest dimensions - between thirty and forty measures of music - the masterpiece will have to be a four-voice fugue of significant dimensions - say, between 50 and 100 measures. It may be for solo guitar - that, I would like to see - solo keyboard, vocal choir, string quartet, as this example is, or wind quartet. The reason for limiting the potential ensembles is to facilitate recordings of the Best of Ten winners for guild compilations, which will be one of the primary guild benefits.

I composed this fugue for a graduate level Invertible Counterpoint and Fugue class when I was a doctoral candidate at UNT, so this should be a reasonable model for an advanced polyphonist to emulate. It is an approximation of Bach's late Musical Offering and Art of Fugue style, but earlier styles - even modal - are acceptable (This is why there is no requirement for harmonic analysis). Please note, however, that the submission should be a clean urtext score free of dynamics, fingering indicators, &c. Only the analysis points should be included.

Here is the sound file:

Fugue in F Minor

And here is the score with the required commentary:

The basis of this fugue is a five-measure subject that works as a four-voice canon at the octave and with one measure entrance delays. At measure six the answer begins, and it is tonal. Accompaniment parts are free: There is no countersubject or counter-answer per se, but the motives used reflect my preoccupation with fractal compositional strategies at the time.

Only the original statement of the subject is not in stretto, as one measure dovetails begin at measure ten. The figure labeled as Thematic Trill is an important motif that reaches two different fulfillments during the course of the fugue. At measure 14 the answer begins with its one measure dovetail with the subject.

The first episode begins at 19, it does not modulate, and it is based on a sequence of the thematic trill.

At 23 the first middle entries begin, and they demonstrate a stretto at three measures of delay, or two measures of overlap.

The second episode that begins at 31 modulates the piece to the dominant level.

The middle entries on the dominant (Should be labelled second, not third) display a stretto at two measures of delay, or three measures of overlap, so the main organizational strategy for the fugue is ever closer stretti.

The third episode which begins at 43 is based on a diminished form of the subject with a modified tail over a descending chromatic tetrachord. This modulates the fugue to the relative major. The middle entries there then present a stretto at a single measure of delay, or four measures of overlap.

During this closest two-voice stretto, the pitch climax occurs at the end of measure 48. Then, at 51, the fourth episode begins, which takes the piece to the subdominant region. It is based on a sequence of the thematic trill, as the first episode was.

The fourth middle entries comprise a false recapitulation which has the inverted form of the subject as the answer. Even here I was able to present a single measure dovetail.

The return to the tonic level begins in measure 64, and the episode is built on a rising chromatic line.

The thematic trill reaches the first of its fulfillments above the drawn out half cadence which prepares the true recapitulation.

At 71 the recapitulation begins, which is a four-part canonic stretto at the octave and one measure of delay: This is a true recapitulation because it is every stretto demonstrated previously combined into one. The thematic trill figure reaches its second fulfillment here as a sixth measure to the canon.

Since there is more to come, the four-part canon ends with an unconvincing cadence at 80-81, and then the pickup into the coda. The coda is a three-part hyper-stretto that has the subject, its inversion, and its augmentation beginning simultaneously.

The piece concludes with a perfect authentic cadence and a picardy third.

I don't expect any masterpiece submissions to be, "this good." In fact, I seriously doubt that there is anybody currently living who can best this fugue. Sadly, even ivy league music departments have been so overrun with post-modernist, no-talent, know-nothings, that I don't even think anybody at Harvard or Yale could touch this today. Don't get me started on the conservatories: They just teach kids how to acceptably execute dead-guy music, so conservatories are dead themselves, and have been for decades.

If you think I'm wrong about that, you'll have to belly up to the bar and prove it.

The level of Master is not the end though. It is, however, the end of the beginning of becoming a competent composer with objectively demonstrable technical skills, and it is the beginning of the end of having to justify yourself to other composers or guild members.

In coming posts, I'll provide exemplars for Esteemed Master and Honorable Grandmaster.

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