This is a work that I began as a composition exercise, in preparation for writing a fugal variation to Gerd Prengel’s Beethoven sketch. It was originally to be a short, self-contained fugue based on the D-S-C-H motif. But the music didn’t seem to want to cooperate with that plan — it grew into something much larger, that was not a single fugue, but 3 fugal expositions interspersed over several — eventually, 5 — mostly non-fugal sections, each with its own distinct character, separated by shorter interludes and bridge passages (called Episodes in the score). At the moment I’m calling it Fugal Variations, though the title is subject to change.
Unlike my String Quartet, this work is solidly tonal, though it is tonally restless and never stays in one key for very long. There are also fleeting moments of bitonality in Variation 2, and again in Variation 4. The piece is my creative reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, both in style and in expression — with modern civilization under threat, I’ve felt an urge both to reengage with old styles, and to write something that expresses the search for hope and deliverance in a time of darkness.
Fair warning: it’s rather long, nearly 23 minutes (sorry!) and is brooding and elegiac for much of its length. But Variation 4 develops a faster, flowing motion and builds to a bracing climax. Variation 5 is by far the longest and is the closest to being a fully worked-out fugue. It begins in deep sadness and remains sombre for over half its length. But then, an episode begins in which a song of solace and hope climbs gradually up the circle of fifths and into the highest registers. Fugal textures then return with renewed vigor, and a short coda ends the piece on a note of stoic acceptance and defiant affirmation.
I hope that you find it engaging, and ultimately uplifting despite the sombre moods. As always, constructive criticism is welcome. I think that as of this writing (7 September), I have made all the revisions to the piece that I have felt necessary, though I am open to suggestions for improvement. This is only my second completed work since discovering the wonders of notation software, and I know that I have much to learn.
The piece was written in Sibelius and rendered using NotePerformer, running under the latest version of Sibelius.
Update 2 August 2020: I have revised the ending slightly and the version on SoundCloud is now out of date. A demo of the current version is at the Google Drive link below. The volume level on Drive is somewhat quiet, so I recommend either turning up the volume or downloading the file and listening on your computer.
Update 5 August 2020: I revised the instrumentation and registration in bars 668-680. I have slight reservations about one change that I made, raising the entry of the subject in the 1st violins an octave higher; but other than that one point, this should be the final version.
Update 10 August 2020: I replaced the rendering with one that has nearly as little distortion, and is more faithful to the score. There were a couple of places in the previous rendering where NotePerformer quite noticeably rushed a pair of eighth notes. There was also one tiny change to the phrasing -- in bar 658, for the record.
Update 21 August 2020: No changes to the score, but an improved rendering that eliminates another pesky flaw where a pair of eighth notes was rushed. There is also less distortion in this one.
Update 7 September 2020: Some adjustments to tempo and phrasing, and a bar of silence before the final cadence in Episode 5 (bar 441). Unfortunately, in this rendering the pair of eighth notes that I mentioned on 21 August (cellos, bar 46) is once again rushed, and Sibelius is doing this consistently with this version of the score. There is also a sudden "explosive" swell on the last eighth note of bar 685. NP clearly does strange things sometimes, beyond the composer's control. This is otherwise one of the best renderings I've gotten yet, though.
Update 18 October 2020: Applied many small changes suggested by a local violist who has studied the score. Mostly the changes were to phrasing and tempo; also a couple of brief pauses were lengthened. Variation 5 is now taken a hair more slowly. I've given up on trying to control the number of players in each section because the NotePerformer string samples seem to sound best either solo, or in the default string orchestra section sizes. So this rendering is for full string orchestra, and there is little noticeable distortion or "swelling" anywhere. The downside is slightly less clarity of the various lines in the denser contrapuntal sections.
The current version of the score is attached.