Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two Friendly Fugues

The Complete Piano Music of Neely Bruce: THIS IS IT!
The first of twelve recitals will take place on Sunday 29 September, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut

In the fall of 2006 I programmed two of my Friendly Fugues on a recital I played on the beautiful August Foerster piano in the Wesleyan Chapel. These fugues were written in honor of Katchen Coley (a local conservation leader) and Billy Weitzer (at that time a member of the Wesleyan administration.) On September 20, 2006, I wrote in this blog as follows:

For the past two and a half years I have been composing a series of “Friendly Fugues,” based on the names of some of my friends. Some of them, including the first one, have been composed at the request of the person whose name becomes the subject (see below). Katchen Coley approached me at a Christmas party in 2003 and asked, “Neely, will you write a piece for my eightieth birthday?” Of course I agreed, and this piece was the result. I turned her name into a fugue subject by writing down the letters of the alphabet in seven columns, thus:

            a     b     c    d     e     f     g
            h     i      j     k     l     m    n
            o     p     q     r     s     t     u
            v     w    x     y     z

then I mapped any letters in the various columns—below the first row—onto the letters in the first row, i.e. the letters of the musical alphabet. (For example, the letter R, which is not used in musical nomenclature, becomes the note D.) In this process I also allow the German alphabetic equivalents of certain letters, so B can be B flat, H can be B natural, and S can be E flat (my choice). Incidentally, I didn’t invent this method of transforming words into notes, and there are other ways of doing it.

Katchen’s name becomes “D A F C B E G C A E E D,” with an appropriate rhythm of course, and Billy Weitzer (a member of the Wesleyan administration who has been quite supportive of the Music Department and helped us purchase the August Förster) turns out to be “Bb B E E D B E B F E E D,” something of a challenge as a fugue subject because of the repeated cell (EED EED), but challenges are what makes composition fun.

Other Friendly Fugues were written as birthday presents (Eric Gordon, Clem W. Hitchcock, Lara Hoggard, Louise Faircloth, a fugue for piano four-hands for Bitsy Clark) or surprises (Blake Reynolds, Janet Gross) or just to demonstrate how I make fugue subjects out of names (Peter Alan Hoyt, Henry Dreyfus Brant—though Henry’s fugue is only begun, since he insists I write it for brass ensemble and not piano).

BACK TO THE PRESENT: At this point there are 22 of these friendly fugues. Two more fugues, composed in the same manner, are part of the partitas in memory of Virginia Ellen and Wilhelm Gertz. There are 19 others, in various states of completion.

The fugues I have chosen to play in this first concert are the two most recent ones. Sophia Rosoff has been my piano teacher since 1998. This fugue was written as a birthday present, earlier this year. Sophia was born on January 27 — as she likes to say, she was born between Virginia Wolfe and Mozart.

Urip Sri Maeny is the wife of my colleague Sumarsam. She taught Indonesian dance at Wesleyan for decades and retired this spring. This fugue is a present on the occasion of her retirement. It is also a surprise! Maeny and Sumarsam are in Indonesia visiting friends and family. Just before I posted this blog I sent them an Email telling them of the existence of this little piece of music (PDF attached).

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