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I've recently finished the first complete draft of a short fugue I've been working on. My intent was not to write a Bach-style fugue, or to perfect Palestrina-esque counterpoint, I just wanted to write something nice while I am away from my studies on winter break and this is what resulted.

It is scored for 5 parts: Piccolo, 2 Violins, Viola, and Cello, and is in D Major.

Thoughts? Criticisms? How can I improve from here as a composer, and what would you have done differently in a work of this style? Thank you in advance for your time, this community is incredibly helpful to me as a composer.

Here is a link to the score: http://imgur.com/77YU7RQ

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It does sound like a fugue. Is it just an exercise? Because the form is not one most people spend much time on these days. to me, fugues always sound too scripted, and somewhat out of place today. but, again, it does sound like a fugue, for those who really are into it.

I'll admit I'm a bit put off by your dismissal. The idea that a composition must conform to modern standards to be valid is absurd, and this is what you seem to insinuate. Why should we not write in methods such as the fugue today? 

It seems that every time I try to share music here, it's picked apart or questioned without any discussion of the composition itself ever taking place.

michael diemer said:

It does sound like a fugue. Is it just an exercise? Because the form is not one most people spend much time on these days. to me, fugues always sound too scripted, and somewhat out of place today. but, again, it does sound like a fugue, for those who really are into it.

Michael is just saying a fugue is a process like a 16th century computer program in which you insert your subject and out comes the composition, but unfortunately these days and times the fugues through this process still sound old and formulated without any emotion what so ever. In the right hands though like Britten's Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra a fugue can sound powerful and driving leading us to the climax and the final call of the subject in which we see her true form in all her glory. I will respond later today, hopefully if I have time, concerning composition and orchestration but you are going to have to let me pick you apart.

"a fugue is a process like a 16th century computer program in which you insert your subject and out comes the composition"

This is such a over-simplification that you seem makes it sound like fugue is easy, or not a valid style because of how it is created, and I disagree. I find it a fascinating way to arrive at different musical ideas, and I find the end result very enjoyable, which is what I was focused on.

I suppose what bothers me is the dismissal of fugue in general without regard to the end result. His criticism of my work was that fugue is often a formulaic and unemotional style, but he never says anything about *my* fugue specifically except that it "sounds like a fugue". 

I would love nothing more than to have my work picked apart so as to improve my composition, arranging, and orchestration. Instead all I ever seem to get is vague acknowledgment that I've written something, and off topic discussion of intent. My intent was to write pleasant music, that's what I would like to talk about. 

I'm sure you can imagine that it's frustrating to spend so much time composing and refining this music, and to share it in hopes of constructive criticism and analysis, only to hear "It sounds like a fugue. Was this just an exercise?"


Rodney Carlyle Money said:

Michael is just saying a fugue is a process like a 16th century computer program in which you insert your subject and out comes the composition, but unfortunately these days and times the fugues through this process still sound old and formulated without any emotion what so ever. In the right hands though like Britten's Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra a fugue can sound powerful and driving leading us to the climax and the final call of the subject in which we see her true form in all her glory. I will respond later today, hopefully if I have time, concerning composition and orchestration but you are going to have to let me pick you apart.

This would make for great theme music for a television series set in, say, Colonial Virginia in the US, or an 18th century UK seaport. That it strays from the harmonic usage of the times is a plus, because it says "This is a modern view of things in the past". People who write music for period television shows and documentaries tend to do just as you've done because they've found, through long trial and error, that if you write a strict period piece, you tend to lose the audience's attention.

There's a market for this type of writing and scoring in the television and film industries due to the number of period pieces, ranging from Gothic Horror to Anne of Green Gerbils.

Thank you for your contribution, and for taking the time to listen! Hearing the piece again with these things in mind has brought an entirely new perspective to the feel of the work for me, and it's a great way to frame it. I think it speaks to the wonderful state of music that even in 2015 there might be new possibilities even for styles as old and revered as the fugue (or the rag, I might add!)
Greg Monks said:

This would make for great theme music for a television series set in, say, Colonial Virginia in the US, or an 18th century UK seaport. That it strays from the harmonic usage of the times is a plus, because it says "This is a modern view of things in the past". People who write music for period television shows and documentaries tend to do just as you've done because they've found, through long trial and error, that if you write a strict period piece, you tend to lose the audience's attention.

There's a market for this type of writing and scoring in the television and film industries due to the number of period pieces, ranging from Gothic Horror to Anne of Green Gerbils.

Sorry Sam, I didn't mean to offend you. In fact, I admire anyone who can actually produce a fugue these days. It's something that I consider to be one of the most difficult things to do in music. I can indeed appreciate how hard it was to accomplish, and you do deserve credit for having the willingness to undertake such an exercise.

Still, to me (and of course only to me), fugues will always sound archaic. I'm actually surprised to hear myself say that, because in other threads I have defended writing in older styles. So if someone likes to write in the Baroque style, or Romantic, or Impressionistic, that is totally valid. And if someone wants to write fugues, that too is totally valid. I did not mean to imply that it is not. I was merely curious whether you were doing an academic exercise, or had more serious intentions.

And Greg's point is well taken. There definitely could be a use for fugues in film music, in fact I'm sure I've heard that somewhere along the line. And a well-done fugue can also have its place in a "serious" piece, so long as it makes sense compositionally. So please accept my apology, and again I did not intend to be dismissive, but I see now that is how I came across. And kudos for sticking up for yourself!

I found it a bit uninteresting and mechanical until the piccolo entered, but from there it was lovely. I haven't looked at the score yet, so I don't have anything further to add except to say well done.

Sorry, I meant when the piccolo re-enters at measure 20. And after giving another couple of listens, it's a bit more engaging at the beginning than I had thought.

Fugue is to writing music what playing with a Rubik's Cube is to people who like solving mechanical puzzles. It's a challenge just to get good at it, and as a discipline it's like mixing writing music with crocheting.

Multidisciplined composers tend to add similar levels of internal complexity to even the most basic of musical structures. Take the music for Cats, for but one example. It's not made up of simple songs. Songwriting on that level sounds simple enough, but I've witnessed many a rock-wanker over the years come face-to-face with the fruits of genuine hard work and knowledge.

As to fugue sounding archaic . . . a fellow musician in Saskatoon is a jazz guy who used to like to say, "When someone says 'classical music to me, I hear museum'." Until one day I shot back, "Funny, I believe it was Duke Ellington who said, in 1974 or thereabouts, that 'jazz was the music of the museum'. My point being that we have to be careful with such language, because it tends to come across as derogatory (and often is).

Also, it is a serious mistake, especially in classical music, to refer to anything as being archaic. The building blocks we take for granted today were forged in antiquity, and the top theorists, who very often are also composers (Bartok, Hindemith, Stravinsky, to name just a few), spend a lot of time studying the earliest Western music, because doing so often yields a wealth of dividends.

Back when I was in university, we started off with a little blurb about Pythagoras before plunging into the music of Leoninus and Perotinus (aka Leonin and Perotin), but much has been learned since then about earlier music, and learning how Western music evolved is indispensable to anyone who wishes to further the field in some way (which you're expected to do, as a matter of course, if you wish to earn your PHD).

Very well said, my man.

Greg Monks said:

Fugue is to writing music what playing with a Rubik's Cube is to people who like solving mechanical puzzles. It's a challenge just to get good at it, and as a discipline it's like mixing writing music with crocheting.

Multidisciplined composers tend to add similar levels of internal complexity to even the most basic of musical structures. Take the music for Cats, for but one example. It's not made up of simple songs. Songwriting on that level sounds simple enough, but I've witnessed many a rock-wanker over the years come face-to-face with the fruits of genuine hard work and knowledge.

As to fugue sounding archaic . . . a fellow musician in Saskatoon is a jazz guy who used to like to say, "When someone says 'classical music to me, I hear museum'." Until one day I shot back, "Funny, I believe it was Duke Ellington who said, in 1974 or thereabouts, that 'jazz was the music of the museum'. My point being that we have to be careful with such language, because it tends to come across as derogatory (and often is).

Also, it is a serious mistake, especially in classical music, to refer to anything as being archaic. The building blocks we take for granted today were forged in antiquity, and the top theorists, who very often are also composers (Bartok, Hindemith, Stravinsky, to name just a few), spend a lot of time studying the earliest Western music, because doing so often yields a wealth of dividends.

Back when I was in university, we started off with a little blurb about Pythagoras before plunging into the music of Leoninus and Perotinus (aka Leonin and Perotin), but much has been learned since then about earlier music, and learning how Western music evolved is indispensable to anyone who wishes to further the field in some way (which you're expected to do, as a matter of course, if you wish to earn your PHD).

A fugue is easy to write. In fact it only took me 10 minutes to correct your mistakes by reworking your subject and real answer. Your subject needs to have a cadence, but it also needs to modulate leading to the answer. You chose to do a real answer which modulates to the dominant, but you failed to fully modulate to the key of A major so you are missing G#'s and your piccolo line is still following D Major forcing your counterpoint to clash. When composing fugues, and polyphony in general, each line must be its own melody while the intervals of the notes line up perfectly to create the harmony. You were correct in that your answer should have faster notes than the subject, so when I reworked your opening 8 measures leading back to D Major to the 2nd subject stated by the 2nd violin in measure 9 I used your exact rhythms but fixed the lines so they are true stand alone melodies that modulated and that created a perfect harmonic progression also.

I disagree with your orchestration also. What in the world is a string quartet playing with a piccolo player? It's like a mature, sophisticated European string quartet was about to perform Bach on a concert then some annoying Yankee from 'Merica says, "Hey guys, can I play too? Me good also." A piccolo is such a cold instrument compared to the warmth of strings. A flute would work perfectly and sound as expressive as the strings in the range that you wrote. So I would change the piccolo to flute.

Here's my reworked opening 8 measures of your exposition. I used trumpet and horn just to annoy you, just picking with ya, LOL.
Score: https://app.box.com/s/su274fbszsuazq2w2ov58p4prdwlszr3
Sound File: https://app.box.com/s/ifewse6qodl1dwl1uvij8vzlyi7sybom

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