Monday, November 7, 2011

Exemplar 5: Honorable Grandmaster

As rank increases within the guild structure, so does status: Masters admit apprentices and promote them to journeymen, and esteemed masters promote journeymen to master, while honorable grandmasters promote masters to the esteemed level. Tutoring follows the same pattern, but that starts with journeymen, who tutor apprentices.

Since the three master ranks are not separated by barriers that are too formidable, they are considered peers at different stages of development. In that spirit, the pieces for esteemed master and honorable grandmaster do not have to be so stuffy as the four-voice fugue needed to attain the rank of master. They must display mastery and have a unique or unusual element to them, but submitting pieces on this level is more like a formality than a true barrier: The Best of Ten contest is the motivator toward excellence.

For Honorable Grandmaster then, the entrance fee/first year's dues are $20.00, and the Best of Ten award is $100.00. As with every guild level, there is a one year eligibility requirement: As soon as the second year's worth of dues are paid, the Esteemed Master is then eligible to apply for Honorable Grandmaster. Also per usual, the dues may be paid early if the applicant wishes to advance before the year is up. The point of honor is that everyone pays their dues to advance.

J.S. Bach was addicted to canon - poor schlub - but I had only used canon technique to compose fugue subjects... until this piece "happened." The subtitle could well be, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Fugue." After composing the string quartet fugue that is Exemplar 3 - it has a five-measure subject that works in four-part canon at the octave - I realized that a five-measure subject that worked in five-part canon at the octave was possible. Even cooler, this would take up all five octaves of the string choir, so my plan was to compose a five-voice fugue for orchestra. I never got that far. What eventually emerged - after working with this subject for a few years - was a five-voice perpetual canon for string choir.

Here is the sound file:

Five-Voice Perpetual Canon

And the score with the required commentary:

I began by composing the opening five-measure fugue subject in five-voice canon back in the early oughts - 2002 or 2003 I think - and that's how it sat for about three years as I tried to get a fugue off the ground, which never happened. Then one evening I was looking at the stretto - because that's all it was to me at the time: A canonic stretto - and I noticed that the first two measures of the subject in augmentation made a dovetail out of it.

That discovery got me to measure 9 of the lead part - violin 1 - but then I was stuck again. What I was attempting then was to continue with the entire subject in augmentation, but that didn't work. What did end up working was to take the third measure of the subject and change it to diatonic notes, and then the fourth measure became... do, ti. What I thought I had done was to take two versions of the subject and combine them into a single stretto - something I call a musical Escher morph. Then I noticed that the original subject would dovetail out of the augmented and modified form, as you see beginning in measure fourteen.

Already having achieved the original dovetail, I had it in the bag at this point, with only a conclusion yet to compose. Note the outrageously dissonant harmonies that occupy the first half of the measures with the augmented form: These are inversions of the major seventh chord on bVI that have the root above the major seventh, creating a minor ninth interval. This is something that really needs five voices to work well, which is why you almost never hear these inversions used. It gives the piece a very sinister air.

By using the tail of the subject as an ostinato in the bass, I was able to wind the piece down very organically. If you've been paying attention, you will have noticed that the subject contains eleven of the twelve pitch classes. By playfully seeming to end on a tierce de Picardie, I was able to conclude with the final descending chromatic triplet figure, which contains as its penultimate note B-flat, which is the heretofore missing pitch class.

One of the other honors Masters have is that they can chose new exemplars from among the Best of Ten winners for the levels of apprentice and journeyman. Esteemed Masters can chose a new exemplar for Master, and Honorable Grandmasters chose the Esteemed Master exemplar. This amounts to a new contest level, and the composers of newly chosen exemplars will receive an additional award commensurate with the level of the piece ($10.00 for an apprentice exemplar, $25.00 for a journeyman exemplar, &c.).

So, if you think you can improve on my exemplars, prove it.

The highest rank within the guild is Doctor of Able Polyphonists, which will be the next exemplar.

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