Weekly Warm-Ups: Exploring the Fugue

I've been thinking about grad school and some of the essential knowledge and skills that I'll need, and one that has come to mind is counterpoint.  Since I began learning about counterpoint, I have been fascinated with this compositional technique.  In High School, I began to write two part inventions for piano, and ended up writing about 26-28 of them.  I don't exactly remember because somehow in throwing out some old school work, I must have managed to throw these out as well.  It's probably just as well since I had a limited understanding at best of harmony, of counterpoint, and of music theory and composition in general.  My guess is that they would have ended up sounding quite gross, to say the least.

However, my fascination with polyphony continued, and I eventually wrote a fugue that took as its theme the Mario Brothers theme, changed a little to sound a little more classical.  In the end, I came up with a very classical sounding Fugue on a Theme.  This was played for the annual "Dead Composer's Recital" on the BYU-Idaho Campus (now known as the "Student Composer's Recital") with great reception, but with little comment on the fact that it was the Mario Brothers' theme.  I deliberately renamed this as the Mario Fratrus Fugue to Give it a veiled meaning that hopefully would be picked up if it was played again, and those listening would see the title and make the connection:  "Oh!  Fratus:  as in the Latin for Brothers.  So, Mario Brothers Fugue."  We'll see if it works at its next performance.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with a fugue, a fugue is a piece that uses polyphony (more than one melodic figure at once verses a melody with supporting harmonies) and key changes to develop an idea.  A fugue starts out with a theme that will eventually be played by every voice.  I can't use the term instrument, because often the same instrument will be playing more than one voice, or sometimes the one instrument will play all of them.  A voice is for a fugue can be defined as a .  The theme plays out and then modulates to a different key, usually the dominant, with the entrance of our new voice.  So, if we started our piece in G Major, the key would move to D Major.  The next voice that enters sees us returning to the tonic or from D Major back to G Major, and with every voice that enters we'll swap back and forth until all voices are sounding.  When every voice

After this I tried to write a few more things with fugual ideas and one other deliberate fugue, but I have not since then actually gone through the process of writing a fugue by itself.  Recognizing the importance for grad school of having a working understanding of music theory and musical forms, I thought today's warm-up would include at least the beginnings of a Baroque sounding fugue.  For this, I'm using the fortspinnung characteristic of the Baroque era with for a simple fugue.

I thought about a minor fugue, such as Bach's G Minor Fugue (BWV 578).  However, I quickly decided that I wanted something happier, something lighter.  So, I chose C major.  I developed a basic theme that sounded Baroque in nature, and worked it around so it could sound pleasant and fun on its own without any polyphony.  Since a fugue will use this theme again and again, I felt the them should be something I would not mind hearing again and again.  I tried some slow moving melodies, and some fast moving melodies, and finally settled on a balance, with some quick turn-like figures and some syncopation.  After shaping a theme that was long enough and enjoyable enough to stand on its own when no other voices are being played, I started in to working on a counter-theme against the second voice.

A few considerations I had to think about:  the counter-theme could not be distracting to the theme, so not too fast of movement or the theme in the second voice would get buried.  I also needed to make sure that the ideas in the counter-theme would also be as effective or almost as effective as the theme at standing independently so that we would not get bored with hearing the counter-theme often.

The incomplete result is this little bit here:
While far from complete, I like the ideas that are presented so far although I'm certain that more tweaking will be done as time goes on.  There are four voices in this fugue for solo piano with three so far developed.  I'll update more with what happens with this little fugue in the future.

With a change in scheduling and with the Holidays coming up, I should have time to update more on progress of compositions and on the weekly warm-ups.  Hopefully, more to come soon.


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