Sunday, November 6, 2011

Exemplar 4: Esteemed Master

Best to read the blog from the beginning, but everybody must start out as an apprentice.

While a Journeyman has the responsibility to make himself available to apprentices for tutoring, the level of Master is the first fully vested level within the guild: Masters vote on selecting apprentices and promoting them to Journeyman. Masters are also the tutors of Journeyman. Yet, to sustain the competition - and therefore promote polyphony - two additional levels within the Master rank exist: Esteemed Master and Honorable Grandmaster.

Getting to Master is passing a huge barrier, as the required masterpiece - a four-part fugue - is a very serious undertaking. Once that leap to Master has been made, the now-fully-vested guild member has standing. This means that there is now a lot of flexibility as to what type of piece is acceptable for the rank of Esteemed Master: There is no requirement for number of voices, the piece does not have to be a fugue, and there is no length requirement either. What the piece does have to demonstrate is mastery, and it should have an aspect of uniqueness too. The entry fee/first year dues for the level of Esteemed Master is $15.00, and the Best of Ten winner will be awarded the usual 50% of entry fees, or $75.00 (The peer pressure involved in the competition is one of the factors driving quality at this level).

Since I love fugue writing more than any other musical endeavor, I chose a three-voice fugue I wrote for wind trio as the exemplar for this level. The unique aspect of this piece is that the four-measure subject is a twelve-tone row. I wrote this for a graduate level Twentieth Century Counterpoint class when I was a doctoral candidate at UNT, so this should be no problem for someone who has mastered four-part fugue to emulate.

Here is the sound file:

Fugue on a Serial Subject

And here is the score with required commentary:

This four-measure fugue subject is a twelve-tone row. To preserve that, the answer at the fifth above is real. Beginning with the third entry, two countersubject/counter-answer lines are revealed. The cumulative rhythm that the parts make is straight eighth-notes on the surface. This makes countersubject two - the flute part - sound like it is in 6/8 instead of 3/4.

The first episode does not modulate, and at the first middle entries starting in measure 16 a constant eighth-note variation of countersubject 1 is revealed. Then, the second episode modulates to the level of the answer, or the dominant region. The completely chromatic nature of the subject/answer lead to some very colorful episodic passages.

Since the subject only makes one real stretto, which will be revealed at the end of the piece, the middle entries are occupied with displaying all of the possible inversions of the subject and countersubjects. The episodes, though all different to a greater or lesser degree, simply modulate back and forth between the tonic and dominant levels while these possibilities are being worked out.

There is an inversion involving countersubject 1a at 37, and then back to the tonic.

At 44 I subjected the theme to intervallic expansion, and then episode six lines everything up for the concluding stretto, which is between the subject and the real answer an eleventh below: Two twelve-tone rows a fifth apart in canon at a single measure of delay. Musically speaking then, this fugue subject is objectively the most superior tone row ever created, as it has intrinsic musical value, unlike the garbage created by Schoenberg et al.

There is one last partial stretto at measure 55, with the head of the subject against the tail of the answer. This creates a nice augmented sixth on the last sixteenth-note, which leads to a sequence of the tail of the answer and another augmented sixth at the last sixteenth-note of measure 56. I then invert the figure in measure 57, and so I end with completely unique accompaniment for the subject. Note also the eight descending chromatic notes in sequence in the clarinet part.

Since this piece was my pie-in-the-face tribute to serial composition, I even ended it with a tierce de Picardie.

As usual, if you think you can meet or beat this, well, money talks and BS walks.

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