A specific book for comprehending the Fugue

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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: A specific book for comprehending the Fugue

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Sat Jun 06, 2015 5:57 am

There's a useful resource here;

http://www.youngcomposers.com/forum/t32 ... ng-fugues/

J Lee Graham wrote a fugue on "Ah vous dirai-je, Mamam" and included brief technical descriptions in the text as it goes along, plus there's a MIDI file of the thing to play. I found it very well done.

I made a guitar ensemble version and used it at a teachers' conference last year. The composer specifically encourages liberal dissemination of the piece.
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Jeremiah Lawson
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Re: A specific book for comprehending the Fugue

Post by Jeremiah Lawson » Tue May 24, 2016 5:00 am

jack_cat, I was away for a few months because of stuff that came up in the offline world. I never read Fux because I got the distinct impression Fux wouldn't really help me understand actual Renaissance polyphonic practice more readily than I could if I just stayed immersed in Dowland and Byrd and look at what those two actually did. Neither would Fux explicate counterpoint as practice by Bachs or by Haydn, let alone Hindemith or Stravinsky. So I've managed to go decades loving contrapuntal music and having written a few fugues for solo guitar having never bothered to read Fux. I've often wondered whether or not studying Fux would hurt a musician's odds of really understanding polyphonic music as it's actually been practiced. A similar textbook-defeats-attention-to-practice seems to have happened with that other musical thought process that peaked in the 18th century, sonata form(s). It's like we've had scholars having to go back to the drawing board discussing sonata and fugue because the textbook traditions have seemingly steered so many wrong.

Luis_Br
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Re: A specific book for comprehending the Fugue

Post by Luis_Br » Tue May 24, 2016 12:13 pm

Here a link from a site with nice interative explanations of the complete Bach's fugues from WTC:
http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/wtc/i01.html
Here the link for an updated version in flash:
http://bach.nau.edu/clavier/nature/fugues/Fugue01.html

stevel
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Re: A specific book for comprehending the Fugue

Post by stevel » Tue May 24, 2016 8:37 pm

Jeremiah Lawson wrote:jack_cat, I was away for a few months because of stuff that came up in the offline world. I never read Fux because I got the distinct impression Fux wouldn't really help me understand actual Renaissance polyphonic practice more readily than I could if I just stayed immersed in Dowland and Byrd and look at what those two actually did. Neither would Fux explicate counterpoint as practice by Bachs or by Haydn, let alone Hindemith or Stravinsky. So I've managed to go decades loving contrapuntal music and having written a few fugues for solo guitar having never bothered to read Fux. I've often wondered whether or not studying Fux would hurt a musician's odds of really understanding polyphonic music as it's actually been practiced. A similar textbook-defeats-attention-to-practice seems to have happened with that other musical thought process that peaked in the 18th century, sonata form(s). It's like we've had scholars having to go back to the drawing board discussing sonata and fugue because the textbook traditions have seemingly steered so many wrong.
Fux, though regaled by many, doesn't really teach "practical" music beyond a certain set of base elements. However, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven all studied it (the latter two under Haydn's tutelage I believe though I could be wrong about one or both) - and adapted it to Classical style.

It was written in either 1720 or 1725 and was one of the first "theory" books at the flourishing of "how to" texts ushering in and resulting from "the Enlightenment". Another example is Rameau's Harmony Treatise (the other date of the former two) as well as playing books by CPE Bach, Leopold Mozart, JJ Quantz etc.

So the book would have been relatively "new" at that time, and known by the fathers and teachers of the Classical composers.

Alfred Mann's book on Fugue is great for a historical overview.

If one is interested in writing Counterpoint in general though, I would highly recommend Robert Gauldin's two texts, "A Practical Approach to 18th Century Counterpoint" and it's companion - same title bu 16th century.

16th century counterpoint is more like Palestrina (and Jeppesen's book is really the bible on that) but if you're thinking more like Bach Fugues and other similar contrapuntal styles, the 18th century book is great - it really is a PRACTICAL approach.

IOW, it goes beyond "Species Counterpoint" and actually uses real examples of real music in various forms. And I dare say, most "composers" who are interested in these forms are more interested in the instrumental versions rather than the Vocal versions Fux focuses on (if he focuses on "real" pieces much at all).

BTW, there's also a great text called something like "Counterpoint from Josquin to Stravinsky" which goes through the principles of counterpoint and how they were adapted for various styles, which again is far more practical to me than the overly prescriptive nature of a single style (and Fux's is really a blending of 16th and 18th century principles).

HTH

jack_cat
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Re: A specific book for comprehending the Fugue

Post by jack_cat » Mon Jul 30, 2018 2:58 am

Fux is not beyond criticism, and Knud Jeppesen criticized him a lot - it is worth reading Alfred Mann's translation of Fux on species counterpoint, and then reading Jeppesen's "Counterpoint", and comparing the two. They are both takes on species counterpoint, and where they disagree is interesting.

Species counterpoint itself is not above criticism. In its favor: doing the four part exercises is a great way to develop a certain kind of muscular mind capable of manipulating four voices. Against it: it is not a Renaissance technique, but a retrospective Baroque technique, and has several centuries of academic overlay on it, which make it somewhat removed from 16th c. practice. But, it is one of the things that people studying music composition have studied for several centuries, and if you study Fux's method, you are keeping company with Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven...

I don't say a person can't study composition by studying classical models, or any useful models, which is what Jeremiah Lawson was talking about in a post above two years ago. Studying the structure of pieces I liked was a big breakthrough for me at one time. However, I really think that there is a place for studying the technique of composition, which like weight training for boxers trains specific necessary skills. Species counterpoint is sort of like a specialized kind of musician's weight training; if it's not for everybody, I''m not going to argue, but it is one of the techniques that we have available.

Something new that I have discovered only very recently is the Arte de Tañer Fantasía by Thomás de Sancta Maria. It is a counterpoint manual from 1565 which does not use species at all, but is based mostly on four voice note-against-note writing, and which has a very detailed explanation of a particular method of writing fugue, in which two voices sing an imitative duet which is then imitated again in another register by the other two voices. The explanations of how to bring in the other voices at the cadence and other important details - which I find that Fux does not explain well - give step by step, note by note examples of dozens of possible variations on the shapes of fugal themes and the exact moment at which different melodic shapes may interact with the structure and rhythm of the cadence. I have only gotten so far as transcribing the examples, and it will probably be a matter of a few years to understand how these relate to the text, so I can't give any final report yet. I find it very interesting and wish that I had known about it years ago! Copies of the original are easy to find online. The challenge is to transcribe the examples. TSM's vintage spanish is not too bad if you can read the language at all.

jack_cat
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Re: A specific book for comprehending the Fugue

Post by jack_cat » Mon Jul 30, 2018 4:35 am

Jeremiah Lawson wrote:
Tue May 24, 2016 5:00 am
I never read Fux because I got the distinct impression Fux wouldn't really help me understand actual Renaissance polyphonic practice more readily than I could if I just stayed immersed in Dowland and Byrd and look at what those two actually did.

Neither would Fux explicate counterpoint as practice by Bachs or by Haydn, let alone Hindemith or Stravinsky.

So I've managed to go decades loving contrapuntal music and having written a few fugues for solo guitar having never bothered to read Fux. I've often wondered whether or not studying Fux would hurt a musician's odds of really understanding polyphonic music as it's actually been practiced. A similar textbook-defeats-attention-to-practice seems to have happened with that other musical thought process that peaked in the 18th century, sonata form(s). It's like we've had scholars having to go back to the drawing board discussing sonata and fugue because the textbook traditions have seemingly steered so many wrong.
This is worth answering. It's a valid point of view. I would say, "and this, too, of course." But I have a couple of comments. There is of course a huge and bigger bunch of questions anyway, like what are we writing music for, and for whom, and why, and in what century are we anyway, and what bearing do those things have on this little issue, but I'll stick to the little issue.

It was kind of a shock to me, after struggling with book counterpoint for a few years, to begin to realize - which I now fully acknowledge - that real Renaissance composers didn't follow Jeppesen's or Fux's rules. OK, maybe Palestrina and Victoria did for whatever reason - but not Milan, Thomás de Sancta Maria, Zarlino, Narvaez, Dowland ... !! So, writing counterpoint according to the book results in these elegant little hot-house flowers of counterpoint that don't really duplicate any historical style or resemble any real music that ever was, with regard to quite a number of little details. Therefore it is quite reasonable to say that imitation of the historical models should be a superior method of writing modal counterpoint than following the book. No?

However, there is an analogy to this in jazz practice: jazz musicians don't play triads, they refer to them. To play them directly would be uncool - like country music. So they play all around them instead. However, the basic triadic and 7th chord functions form a referential core, and they are referred to whenever there are tonal functions going on which are complex substitutes for them, and even when there is no tonal function at all, its absence is noticeable and becomes a statement in itself.

Jeppesen claimed that species counterpoint could not and was not intended to lead to an understanding of Bach. Yet, I say, look at the G Minor Prelude to the first violin sonata. It is built on a harmonic skeleton that could be reduced to half notes and whole notes which would still convey the structural harmonic idea at the same level of complexity as a species counterpoint exercise. Bach has covered this basic structure in Baroque figure work in very short note values. Many of Bach's pieces have similar harmonic structural cores, and many others are built on an elaborated or filigreed reference to some known contrapuntal trick that other composers would have stated more baldly. Species counterpoint is about the first stage of elaboration of these harmonic structures, before indulging in free ornamentation.

No real composer ever used these harmonic structures unadorned. Even in the 16th century, they are covered with filigree. This is why it is valuable to study the structure: to be able to distinguish, as a craftsman, between what is structure and what is filigree. I understood this recently in a new way studying Thomás de Sancta Maria: before he starts on voice leading, he has a long section on trills, ornaments, and glosses. Then he doesn't mention them again for the rest of the book. I interpret this to be that the rest of the book is about structural details and how they are made, and that the implication is that these structures are intended to be heavily ornamented as shown in the early section.

Now, Jeremiah's comment about the parallel situation with sonata form is also interesting. There's a relatively recent book out, Music In The Galant Style by Robert O. Gjerdingen, that claims, in effect, that we have been looking at sonata form through a theory that developed when the form was already dead, which is exactly the criticism that can be leveled against 18th c. species counterpoint in relation to 16th c. modal counterpoint. Gjerdingen's idea is that a sonata form is built not as a grand design, but as a number of stock harmonic schemes strung together. This seems like sacrilege to those of us who have tried to figure out what holy magic lies behind the great sonata forms, but its a very logical argument which actually gives the reader some tools to use which don't rely on divine inspiration and are more like tinkertoys for musicians.

I started to realize a few years ago that species counterpoint was an artificial and stilted way to look at modal counterpoint, so I started to look at 16th century sources. However, it turns out that they are quite variable in their methods and preferences. Zarlino and T. de Sancta Maria, writing about the same time, have very different ideas about what's correct. Right now I am studying TSM, and I can report two interesting things: (1) his style is harmonically similar to Luis Milan, and (2) the fact that his teaching is about instrumental counterpoint makes it more relevant to the guitar than teachings about vocal counterpoint are. In vocal counterpoint, or any counterpoint for independent instruments, the voices can freely cross, while on a single keyboard or on the guitar, the illusion of the independence of crossing voices is difficult to sustain, and they tend to merge into a bunch of chords. Even though TSM's method is for keyboard, his instrumental awareness of this distinction makes his examples very useful for the guitar.

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