Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

Continuing in this quarter's fugue fever, here's another attempt at fugue from l'il ole me.

My last fugue elicited a comment that if I was going to break conventions, it should be up front. While I'm not sure I'm successful in that respect in this present fugue, that comment did inspire its subject, which (to my ears) heavily implies a tritone. As such, I used a lot of tritone and diminished 7th leaps in the voice leading here. I'm pretty sure it breaks some kind of rule somewhere, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

I also (tried to) indicate that I'm not after reproducing a Bach fugue, which seems a bit pointless since I'd never be able to do it as well as Bach himself anyway, in spite of my middle initial being S and my last name being 4 letters.  So while this time it just so happens that I lapsed into the "traditional" I-V-I-V exposition, I'm pretty sure the rest of the fugue has a structure that departs from tradition in some way. It seems to be a borderline sonata form, but not quite. Is it a fugue-sonata? A sonata-fugue? A fugal sonata? A sonatal fugue (is that even a word)? Or a mule hybrid of both that fails to be either? You be the judge. :-P

In any case, I decided to mostly follow my own sense of harmonic progression, which definitely doesn't follow what Bach would do, especially in the middle section. I got myself into trouble by starting in C# minor, which landed me in B# minor in the middle section (briefly, anyway), but I had originally wanted to transpose the piece to D minor, but my brain absolutely refuses to think of the subject in D minor. So I have stuck with it, warts and all.  Anyway, I suspect my sense of harmony is closer to Beethoven in flavor than Bach, though I'm sure it doesn't really follow Beethoven fully either.  So I guess I'll just have to settle with being my own voice. :-D

Edit 2016-12-12: Updated mp3 and score with new version, revised based on the feedback and comments I've received. Thanks, all who commented!

Edit 2016-12-19: Updated mp3 and score with latest version. This is probably the final version, as I'm reasonably satisfied with this piece. Any flaws or issues will be left as lessons for the future. Thanks to everyone who commented (even those who disagreed ;-)), esp. to Gregorio for helpful, concrete suggestions.

Views: 696


Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Thanks for taking the time to listen, Bob.

I'm a bit surprised that you found the theme awkward. What was it about the theme that sounds awkward to you? Is it because I took liberties in the phrasing? 'cos that was a deliberate choice.

As for reworking the theme, its current form is actually the 3rd version of the original, though admittedly I was revising it mainly from the standpoint of the melodic curve and harmonic implications, not so much in terms of phrasing.  That long post I wrote about what I did with the theme was more to give some (hopefully) interesting insight into how I treated it, rather than a complaint of how difficult it was to handle, because it was far easier than my 2 earlier fugue attempts. :-P  I saw it essentially as an incomplete fragment that wants to find some resolution, rather than a self-contained theme. It is this inherent tension of incompleteness drives much of the development of the fugue.  Perhaps I'm approaching it from a totally wrong conceptual framework, I don't know, but it was an interesting angle to try.

I also wrote the piece mainly following where I felt the music "wanted" to go, rather than plan it out in advance. I did not actually have any large-scale structure in mind until it gradually emerged as the initial idea grew. Some of the sudden transitions were deliberate (such as the sudden appearance of D natural in m.13), but any transition that sounds awkward to you, that wasn't deliberate on my part, is probably a sign that my fugue-fu (kung fu-gue? :-P) isn't quite up to snuff yet. But I had lots of fun writing it, and I hope you enjoyed it too.

Ingo Lee said:

[...] You keep this up and I may have to attempt a fugue myself and we'll all be in trouble.

Now I'm all tense with anticipation to see how you'd approach writing a fugue. ;-)

@Gregorio: Today I rewrote mm.22-29 based on your comment about the repeated A notes leading to something new. The score and mp3 have been updated.  What do you think of this new version?

P.S. I also bumped the tempo slightly up to 55 bpm. But that's about as far as I'd go. :-P

Performers are, of course, free to interpret differently as they wish.

HS - i've listened a handful of times..I like this very much!  I think it builds wonderfully to your biggest climax - just past half way, at b21.. (which i would usually wish to happen  near the end.. but your more subdued - and less thick ending is growing on me.)  I think your new part - from b22 - works well.. though I'm still getting used to b22.. and curious why you didn't go right into bar 23.. (of course doing that now would throw off the entrance of the tenor - displacing it to the 2nd beat.. which I'm aware can create all sorts of problems.. like not arriving at the downbeat at b29.. from the pickup of the motif on the last 8th soprano of b28.. which i believe is where it needs to be.)

One funny thing, (you must have altered other spots as well), in bar 14, the soprano starts the subject on the & of 4, and displaces how i hear the accents, and totally messes my sense of the pulse.. (i counted several times thru that passage, and am still somewhat disoriented.. but i do love how this culminates into bar 21.. really great.

A lot of great work here HS.  Thanks for taking this on and posting.. (it's got me started - formally now, - to take another crack at it :)


     This is a good fugue, a little Bachish, but with some modern chords.  I enjoyed it.  I've written maybe two fugues but played quite a few on piano, so no expert.  Part of a fugue's appeal is the repeating rhythms and patterns.   When a fugue gets a few layers thick it is difficult to hear the individual melodies but you can sense the patterns.  When it is played too slowly the patterns are lost and all you hear is notes.  A faster tempo not only gives it life and bounce but allows the listener to feel the rhythms.  Up the tempo and you have a great fugue.

     About 2/3 through you change key signatures.  When Bach is going through a circle of fifths he may change keys every two measures and go through six or seven keys.  He uses accidentals without changing key signatures, so keep the same signature unless you are introducing a new section.


revised/ correction:  !!!

       "though I'm still getting used to b23.. and curious why you didn't go right into bar 24 from bar 22.."

Neat fugal writing, and the theme is really beautiful, well done! It reminded me of Bach's G minor in the WTC I with those rests you are using ;) Writing a fugue and making it sound interesting is not an easy feat, and maybe some parts (7-13 eg.) could use a little spicing up, but then maybe that's because of the playback you re using (sibelius I guess?) and under the hands of a human pianist would sound much more interesting.   

@Bob: Ah, I see.  The unstable sense of tonal center is actually part of the premise here.  My original conception of the subject was actually centered on the (implied) tritone between A and D#; I didn't even think of it as C# minor. In some sense C# minor was my after-the-fact classicist rationalization of what perhaps could have been treated in a more modern way as an octatonic key of some sort. Be that as it may, I did try to maintain this sense of instability, a weaker sense of tonality, sort of meandering between C#m and nearby keys, without any strong affirmation of C# minor until m.12-13. But that immediately gets interrupted by an abrupt transition to a modulating passage - again, to impart a sense of instability. Not until the very end does the tonality finally and clearly land in C# minor. I don't know if this approach works well, but at least for me, this allows the final cadence to truly have a sense of homecoming, of arrival, of stability after a prolonged stretch of instability.

@Gregorio: I'm glad you like it!  In retrospect, I have the same sense as you do about m.22... at first I thought it would be a neat reference to the end, where the subject is extended in the same way, but after hearing it several times, I do notice that it sounds somewhat awkward.  You're probably right that I should have gone right into m.23.  I'll take a look and see if I can salvage this somehow without destroying the sequencing of the following bars. :-)

As for m.14 onwards: yes, the whole idea was to have a series of strettos that are increasingly closer together, denser.  In mm.13-14, there are 2 entries one following the other, so one may say they are 4 beats apart. At the end of m.14, however, the 3rd entry enters 1/2 a beat "too early", that is, 3 1/2 beats after the 2nd entry, thus giving the feeling of being off-beat, as you said.  Then in m.15, the 4th entry enters 3 beats after the 3rd entry (1/2 beat earlier than 3 1/2 beats), displacing the sense of rhythm even more. Following that, the 5th entry in m.16 enters 2 1/2 beats following the 4th entry, and the 6th entry, entering 2 beats after the 5th, manages to squeeze its head into the same bar. And 1 1/2 beats later in m.17, the 6th entry enters, and 1 beat following that the 7th (and last complete) entry. The tenor tries to start an 8th entry a 1/2 beat after the 7th entry, but is interrupted by the dim7th descent in m.18. (Well, that, and also it actually wouldn't harmonize with the 6th and 7th entries if it went on, so I stopped at that point. :-P)  So the whole passage is basically a kind of metric contraction, and perhaps could have been notated as a sequence of 8/8, 7/8, 6/8, ... etc., so it's not surprising it messes with your sense of pulse. :-D

@Dimitris: Thanks for the compliments! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm flattered to be compared to no less than Bach, and especially WTC I G minor, which I like very much, even though I definitely don't measure up to Bach's genius and facility at fugue!

You're right that mm.7-13 sound a bit dry with computer playback... It's exported not from Sibelius but another notation software, but nonetheless very mechanical, as notation exports usually are.  Even though I did insert some hidden tempo changes in a few places (but not in mm.7-13, unfortunately), it's still inherently mechanical.  Maybe I should learn to play it myself and record that instead... but I'm not a very good player and probably would have a hard time with some of the more complex passages. And nowadays with a young child it's hard to find the time to actually do it, on top of what I'm already doing with composition.


here's something for you:


Incidentally, I have among my sketches something titled "Ridiculously Grandiose Variations on 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'", which, scarily enough, includes a fugue. :-P

As for returning to nursery rhyme and chant, I am reminded of what Sibelius once said: "Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public cold spring water."  This was in reference to his 6th symphony, with the cocktails referring to his rival Stravinsky's works.  Unfortunately his 6th symphony is in D Dorian mode, rather than the usual "simple" D minor, so you might find it a tad too ambiguous for your liking. :-P   (It is my favorite Sibelius symphony, though.)  And his austere 4th symphony is also filled with tritones.

Reply to Discussion


Sign up info

Read before you sign up to find out what the requirements are!


© 2021   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service