Monday, July 6, 2015

A current overview of my Friendly Fugues

On July 12 at 3:00 in Crowell Concert Hall at Wesleyan, I will perform four more of my Friendly Fugues, all of them world premieres. I have written about the technique of these pieces elsewhere on this blog, and won't go into that again, at least not right now. These fugues, specifically, are:

A Fugue for Janet. Janet is my daughter-in-law, married to my son Richard. They have two children, Eliza and Dallas, and live in Vero Beach, Florida. Her full name is Janet Catherine Gross [Bruce]. I began this fugue to show Janet the method. Her subject is one of the longer, more convoluted ones. I completed the fugue some time after I began it, on the Fourth of July. It culminates in a bit of forced counterpoint between the subject, then some of the episodic material, against a familiar patriotic tune.

A Fugue for Anna Barron. Anna Barron was the widow of my colleague Bill Barron, composer and jazz saxophonist extraordinaire. It is one of the few fugues in this series written to honor a deceased person — I wrote the first version of this fugue for Anna's memorial at Wesleyan earlier this year. It proved far too difficult to learn in a short period of time. The extra practice time has also allowed me to tweak the piece incessantly. It's far better music as a result.

A Fugue for Joyce Hubbard. Joyce and I have known each other since the mid-sixties, when were were at the University of Illinois together. She sang in the American Music Group, and recorded an unforgettable rendition of "Hard Times Come Again No More." This fugue was composed as a birthday present, and like "A Fugue for Anna Barron," it has been relentlessly revised. Actually, this fugue is probably the most revised, tweaked and edited composition in my entire catalogue.

A Fugue for Mary Burgess. I have known Mary longer than any of my friends for whom I have written a fugue. We were campers together at Transylvania Music Camp, Brevard, North Carolina, in 1958. With the exception of a brief coda, this composition is entirely palindromic.  Like Joyce's fugue, this one is a birthday present. My original intention was to have the retrograde be a bit free and easy, but in the few years since I wrote it I have made it stricter and stricter, until it is now completely and utterly rigorous.

This will make a total of seventeen fugues performed so far as part of "This Is It!" In alphabetical order by last name:

Anna Barron
Janet [Bruce]
Mary Burgess
Jennifer [Caputo] and Andrew [Dewar]
Bitsey Clark (two-piano version)
Katchen Coley
Louise Faircloth
Clem W. Hitchcock
Dr [Lara] Hoggard
Peter Hoyt
Joyce Hubbard
Mary Lounge
Urip Sri Maeny
Sophia Rosoff
Carl Viggiani
Billy Waiter
Lorry Yelding

That's a lot of fugues. There are seven more to be performed, including two I have never played. But after this particular edition of "This Is It!" I'm going to take a break from fugue performance for a while.

The preparation of the four fugues for this event has been an intense experience. All of them have been extensively revised, and I have been thinking a lot about contrapuntal writing. Last night and this morning I played through all seventeen. My intention is to compile the twenty-four extant Friendly Fugues into a volume. This might appear to be a companion to my Geographical Preludes, but it will be quite a different thing, in actuality. I was gratified to learn that the ten years I've spend addressing this particular compositional problem — how to write fugues in the early 21st century — have not been wasted. I find them coherent, interesting, and (most importantly) I'm learning how to play them.

On of my constant beefs with the state of new music, at least with the music a lot of composers are writing these days, is that it has little or no contrapuntal interest. At least I can say, with these fugues, I am attempting to put my money where my mouth is.

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