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Open discussion - Why do you compose in the style you do?

Hello colleagues, 

We have a variety of composers on this site who write music in many different styles, from neoclassical (music in the style of a period of history), modern classical, jazz, ragtime, techno, filmic, video-game, pop, and "other," as well as people who have no fixed style but hop around through different approaches with each piece. I am starting this conversation to invite you all to discuss why you choose to compose in the style that you do. To have this be a somewhat structured conversation, I ask that in your initial reply you use the following format:

1) Style or styles I compose in and why:

2) Example: (link)

3) Brief description of the music you just provided the link to. 

The music you link to can be something you've already posted here, it doesn't need to be something new. After your initial posting, it's open discussion.

Gav

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Hi Ingo, thanks for the kind words, and to your point about the potential for muddiness: I'm glad you pointed this out. I have a performance of this coming up and will listen for what you describe -

Ingo Lee said:

Very nice piece Gav, I'm partial to 3 beat stuff too, it has an irresistible flow. I like your harmonies and the unusual instrument combination as well (well unusual to me at least).  The pizzicato passage is very effective, well done!  One thing to think about IMHO, violas and lower strings are used to balance all those screaming violins we usually have so without the high end there it is easy to get muddy with these instruments and I feel that some of the passages here could be improved either by re-voicing (maybe raise the cello part) or possible some low mid eq adjustment.  Just my thought; nice work!

Liz Atems said:

Great points, H. S. I certainly never considered the key scheme of the various entries in a fugue to be sacrosanct. I have three fugal expositions in my piece - in the first, the entries follow the rather traditional I-V-I-IV pattern. In the second, the entries rise by major thirds. In the last one, there are five entries (even though there are only 4 voices) and they keep rising by fifths. I could write a detailed analysis of my piece and point out exactly where it breaks the mold of fugue as I understand it, but that would be pointless.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend Gregorio's fugues, which range widely from Bach pastiches to modern takes on the form. I think you will like it: Gregorio's fugues. Some of the later ones exhibit very interesting exposition structures, such as the inverted 3rd entry right in the exposition in Chimera.

Certainly a hybrid of a fugue with sonata form is something no one would object to... I can think of at least two obvious examples in Beethoven (Hammerklavier and Grosse Fuge), plus others from the 19th and early 20th centuries (Bruckner's 5th and Mahler's 8th Symphony). I did listen to your Exuberance fugue, and in one or two places it stretches the definition of fugue almost as much as my Fugal Variations. Maybe my piece could be viewed as yet another fugue that stretches and bends the form. Personally, I still think it goes beyond bending and actually breaks it, by substituting non-fugal texture in places where it shouldn't, if it's to be a fugue. But as you say, what really matters is whether it's good music. To answer that question, I defer to others...

I listened to your fugue once, but I have to admit that at 20 mins long, it was hard to digest; I will likely need multiple listens in order to have a better grasp of it.

Thanks for listening to Exuberance. It's one of my better works IMO, and I'm quite proud of it, and regularly listen to it myself. And yes, there are some pianisms in it that are rather un-fugue-like. If I were to transcribe it for a different instrument, I'd probably write those passages differently. Somebody did a quick organ rendition of it before, and those parts didn't work so well.

As for prior art for sonata-fugues, another one that comes to mind besides the examples you mention is Saint-Saens' 2nd symphony, the 1st mvmt of which is entirely a fugue, besides the short introductory passage.  I am quite interested in hybrid forms (e.g. Liszt's B minor sonata); and have dreamed of writing an entire symphony in fugal form.  It will probably require quite a bit of stretching of the definition. :-D  But in theory, one could take a sufficiently-rich subject and transform it into 3-4 different (but still recognizable) forms, and thereby create a structure that's roughly similar to the classical 3/4-movement symphony, but integrated throughout with fugal treatment into one united whole, like Sibelius' 7th.  Probably a bit too ambitious for me, I think, but one can dream! :-)

Thanks for the link to Gregorio's fugues - so far I've listened to the C Minor Fugue (4 voices) and Chimera. I enjoyed both immensely and will have to give them more listens. I imagine he posted the scores here at some point, but considering that these were written several years ago, it would probably be pretty hard to find those old threads now. Maybe I'll try later.

The reason I didn't mention the Saint-Saens is that I'm not familiar with it, but I will look it up later on. Another symphonic example I didn't mention is the two fugues in the last movement of Nielsen's 5th symphony that occur one right after the other, with very different characters. But that movement is certainly not anything like a conventional sonata form, so maybe it's not really an example of what we are talking about.

BTW, thanks for listening to my Fugal Variations. If you have a chance to listen to it again, you might find that it's something along the lines of what you are thinking of, a multi-sectional structure: overall in very rough sonata form, constructed from a fugue subject. The model, though, wasn't Sibelius's 7th but Nielsen's Commotio - but using "model" in the very loosest sense. And since you called it a fugue again, I need to reiterate that it is NOT a fugue - I gave up on the idea of writing a single fugue early on. I suppose it could be viewed as containing 3 fugues, one for each of the expositions, but not without stretching the definition of what a fugue is. For example, the Exposition and Variation I together form a sort-of fugue that culminates in a stretto. But most of Variation I is not fugal at all. And Variations II and III together form another sort-of fugue based on an inversion of the original subject (with the intervals modified). But between them comes the cutesy-sardonic Episode III that isn't remotely fugal, and Variation III gives way to the non-fugal Episode IV and Variation IV, the latter a development of ideas from Variations II and III. Only Variation V was really intended to be a fugue - it's marked Fuga in the score - and it deviates so much from fugal technique - over extended lengths of time - that I think it's again just a polyphonic fantasia that uses fugal texture as a device, and not a true fugue. Okay, the coda begins with a stretto - again, just a nod to traditional fugal writing. The rest of the coda isn't fugal either.

Maybe I'm being too critical, I don't know. The two fugues in Commotio deviate pretty drastically from fugal writing as well, especially the second one - the development turns into a kind of toccata, totally unrelated to the fugue subject, then the subject from the first fugue returns and the texture becomes (mostly) fugal again right through the coda. I'm pretty sure that Nielsen planned the whole thing out in great detail though, whereas I made a lot of compositional decisions on the fly and threw fugue to the winds when I felt that a different sort of texture was needed for my expressive ends.

But it would be interesting to hear a truly symphonic structure built entirely on fugue and I hope you follow through on your idea someday.

As far as I know, Gregorio has not posted scores for his fugues anywhere. He has shared one or two with me, though, although I don't know where I've misplaced them. But you could just ask him for a score if you wish, since he's a forum member here. I also highly recommend his other fugues besides the ones you listened to; the C# minor is one of my favorites, as is the Eb minor one. They break away from the traditional definition of fugue in some ways, but nevertheless worth a listen because they were written with the music (the "soul" of the music, one might say), rather than the technical definition, in mind.

Being self-critical is an important part of composing, because it forces you to question what you wrote and consider ways of improving it, so that you aren't just churning out the same old thing over and over again. Nevertheless, when overdone it can lead to analysis paralysis / composer's block.  So I try not to get too carried away by the technicalities of this or that definition of fugue (even Bach's fugues rarely fit 100% into a strict definition anyway); I pick a starting point, call it fugue, say, and just let the music flow, so to speak.

As for a symphonic structure built entirely on fugue, I think I have a long way to go before I could hope to arrive at such a thing! :-P  I'll chalk it down to an ambitious dream.

Liz Atems said:

Thanks for the link to Gregorio's fugues - so far I've listened to the C Minor Fugue (4 voices) and Chimera. I enjoyed both immensely and will have to give them more listens. I imagine he posted the scores here at some point, but considering that these were written several years ago, it would probably be pretty hard to find those old threads now. Maybe I'll try later.

The reason I didn't mention the Saint-Saens is that I'm not familiar with it, but I will look it up later on. Another symphonic example I didn't mention is the two fugues in the last movement of Nielsen's 5th symphony that occur one right after the other, with very different characters. But that movement is certainly not anything like a conventional sonata form, so maybe it's not really an example of what we are talking about.

BTW, thanks for listening to my Fugal Variations. If you have a chance to listen to it again, you might find that it's something along the lines of what you are thinking of, a multi-sectional structure: overall in very rough sonata form, constructed from a fugue subject. The model, though, wasn't Sibelius's 7th but Nielsen's Commotio - but using "model" in the very loosest sense. And since you called it a fugue again, I need to reiterate that it is NOT a fugue - I gave up on the idea of writing a single fugue early on. I suppose it could be viewed as containing 3 fugues, one for each of the expositions, but not without stretching the definition of what a fugue is. For example, the Exposition and Variation I together form a sort-of fugue that culminates in a stretto. But most of Variation I is not fugal at all. And Variations II and III together form another sort-of fugue based on an inversion of the original subject (with the intervals modified). But between them comes the cutesy-sardonic Episode III that isn't remotely fugal, and Variation III gives way to the non-fugal Episode IV and Variation IV, the latter a development of ideas from Variations II and III. Only Variation V was really intended to be a fugue - it's marked Fuga in the score - and it deviates so much from fugal technique - over extended lengths of time - that I think it's again just a polyphonic fantasia that uses fugal texture as a device, and not a true fugue. Okay, the coda begins with a stretto - again, just a nod to traditional fugal writing. The rest of the coda isn't fugal either.

Maybe I'm being too critical, I don't know. The two fugues in Commotio deviate pretty drastically from fugal writing as well, especially the second one - the development turns into a kind of toccata, totally unrelated to the fugue subject, then the subject from the first fugue returns and the texture becomes (mostly) fugal again right through the coda. I'm pretty sure that Nielsen planned the whole thing out in great detail though, whereas I made a lot of compositional decisions on the fly and threw fugue to the winds when I felt that a different sort of texture was needed for my expressive ends.

But it would be interesting to hear a truly symphonic structure built entirely on fugue and I hope you follow through on your idea someday.

Ambitious dreams are good to have - when I was much younger I had a few symphonies planned out, mostly inspired by Nielsen, who was my favorite composer back in the day. Nothing ever came of them. Today I don't think I could ever actually produce anything of value by starting with a concept like that. So far, everything I've written (and finished) has started with actual musical ideas, and the form of the piece has been dictated by the musical material. I certainly didn't set out to write a 20-minute hybrid fugue/variations/fantasia piece. It was supposed to be a short fugue, a composition exercise. It gradually morphed into its current form, as I tried to follow and bring out what I felt the material itself wanted. I guess my own expressive intent was a big part of that too, but it's hard for me to separate the different aspects of it. All I know is, it was fun and satisfying to write, and I like what I hear, even if I'm self critical about the fact that I largely abandoned my original idea. Part of me wonders if I could (or should) have forced myself to stick to writing a fugue. I think that when I have the time, I'll sit down and try to write something else, a real, honest short fugue, using the same subject, with some of the other material from the piece as countersubject, just to see if I can do it. At the moment though, with the fall semester looming, I have to buckle down and stop composing for a few months, keep my focus on teaching.

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