Counterpoint and Fugue

new-years-eve-clipart-2016Happy New Year!

Usually as the New Year begins, may people set goals that they would like to achieve in the upcoming months. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks, these usually fall by the wayside and go unfinished. How often have you set the same goals on New Years that you set for the last year?

A Word Instead of a Goal

The new trend is to choose a word for the year rather than set specific goals. I like this in that it can be more flexible and can help keep you focused without making you feel guilty about missing a deadline or not keeping up with a routine. One of the reasons goals often go by the wayside is the need to restart after we miss a workout, eat too much, or otherwise miss a step on our plan. Once we miss a step on our goal journey, it is often easier to quit than to figure out what to do next.

As improvisers, we should be well acquainted with missteps and the need for recovery after mistakes. We have to keep going until the end. Any public improvisation requires us to continue regardless of how far we might stray from our intended path. Choosing a word for the year is a way to maintain our focus. We might wander into some foreign keys, use a few chords from outside our tonal language, but if we can reclaim our focus, we should be able to bring our improvisation to a successful conclusion.

Counterpoint

My word and area of focus in improvisation for 2016 is counterpoint. My goal for 2016 is to be able to comfortably improvise a fugue in four parts on a hymn or chant. There was a time when I felt competent to at least try a fugal exposition, but after many years of neglect, whatever of those skills I had has fallen out of practice. As the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Such has been my contrapuntal improvisational skills, and my aim in 2016 is to remedy that.

As we journey through 2016, I intend to share my progress and the resources I discover and use here so that 1)I am publicly accountable for my focus and goal, 2)other readers and organists may benefit from my discoveries, and 3) others may offer their own feedback and suggestions to help my progress. Please feel free to drop me an email or comment if you have suggestions or resources that you have found particularly helpful in your own study of counterpoint.

Textbooks

To get us all started, here are the books on counterpoint in my library that I intend to review this week as I sort out the best way to improve my skills:

Each of the above links are to Amazon.com. Any purchases made through the links will go towards the support of this website. As I was looking for the books on Amazon, I noticed a few other books on counterpoint that looked interesting, but since these five are already in my library, I thought they would be the best place to start. I’d love to hear about your experiences with these or any other books on counterpoint for this journey through 2016.

My word for improvisation is counterpoint. What is yours?

Wishing you all the best for 2016!
Glenn


Newsletter Issue 54 – 2016 01 04

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French Classic Fugues

As we near the end of this series on the movements of the French Classical Suite, we need to face the much revered and highly intimidating form of fugue. Before composers turned to serialism with twelve-tone rows in the twentieth century, I believe fugues represented the highest level of compositional craftsmanship. With the possibilities of stretto (overlapping statements of the subject) and diminution or augmentation, it is very easy to imagine a composer spending hours working out exactly how to combine the subject with itself in multiple ways to create a masterpiece. To be able to improvise a fugue on the with little preparation and no possibility of correction once the notes have been played makes this one of the most impressive forms to improvise.

Luckily for us, in the French Classical Suite the movements are too short to worry about or try to include many of these advanced techniques.

Exposition

At it’s most basic structure, a modern listener expects a fugue to begin with a single voice and each of the subsequent voices to enter one at a time in imitation of the original subject. The first statement provides the subject of the fugue, and the second entrance, typically in the dominant would be the answer. A real answer is a strict transposition of the subject. A tonal answer makes some modification of the subject in order to adjust for the unequal distances from tonic to dominant (perfect fifth) and dominant to tonic (perfect fourth). Most people find it is easier to improvise fugal expositions working from the lowest voice to the highest. French Classical fugues were almost always for manuals alone, so the lowest voice would be played by the left hand, enabling us to keep our improvising a little simpler by not using our feet for this movement.
FugalExpo

Development

Given the shorter time expected for most verset movements, there is not time for extensive development and modulation to multiple key centers. Some movements in the French Classical repertoire with the title fugue consist of little more than an exposition with a conclusion shortly after all the voices have entered. For a slightly longer movement, try modulating towards closely related keys with new statements of the subject clearly stated when you arrive at the new key. It is useful and important to remember in a fugue that all of the voices do not need to continue during the entire piece. Especially for modulating sequences, it can be very helpful to reduce the texture to two parts for the transition with the third voice re-entering to mark the arrival at the new key center. The best fugues seem to always have a subject or material from the subject present in at least one of the voices at all times, so be sure to keep your development focused, and make it back to tonic for your conclusion.

Registraion

Reeds provided the most clarity on the French Classical organ and so were the basis for these highly contrapuntal pieces. The Classic registration for a fugue is to use the Trompette of the Grand Orgue perhaps with Bourdon and Prestant. An alternative would be to use the Cromorne (with Prestant or Flute 4′).

The highest level of fugue in the French Classical period was probably produced by Nicolas de Grigny. His fugues were for five voices on two manuals and pedal. The right hand played two voices on the Cornet while the left hand played two voices on the Cromorne. The fifth voice was played by the pedal on the Flute 8 or Grand Jeu de Tierce coupled from the Grand Orgue. Because there is at most an upper and lower voice in each of the tone colors, it becomes easier for the listener to follow individual voices. If you have mastered fugal exposition on one manual, try the registration used by Grigny. If you need some inspiration, listen to Christophe Mantoux play Grigny’s Fugue on Ave Maris Stella.

Hoping fugues inspire you rather than send you fleeing!

Glenn


Newsletter Issue 48 – 2015 09 15

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Kyrie Orbis Factor

KyrieOrbisFactorThe Missa Orbis Factor is Mass XI in the Graduale Romanum and is intended for use on Sundays throughout the year. The name for this Kyrie comes from the text of the trope Orbis factor, rex aeternae.

See a list of other popular chant themes here.

Videos:
Pierre Cochereau – Kyrie XI ‘Orbis Factor’ – Introit, Chant and Sortie
Marcel Dupré – Improvised Double Fugue on Kyrie XI ‘Orbis Factor – Recorded 1957

St. Anne

StAnneST. ANNE was probably composed by William Croft when he was organist at St. Anne’s Church in Soho, London, England. The tune was first published in A Supplement to the New Version (1708) as a setting for Psalm 42. ST. ANNE became a setting for “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), and the two have been linked ever since. The tune shares its first melodic motif with a number of other tunes from the early eighteenth century, most notably Bach’s great fugue in E-flat, nicknamed “St. Anne” because of the similarity of the first fugue subject to this tune.

Videos:
Robert Summers Potterton, III – Improvisation on ST. ANNE – St. Luke’s Lutheran Church: Dedham, MA

Rudolf Lutz

rudolf_lutzRudolf Lutz (born 1951) is lecturer in improvisation at the “Schola Cantorum Basiliensis”, the University of Early Music, Basle. At this specialist school for historical performance practice, he and three colleagues instruct around 30 students in the keyboard instrument department.

In St. Gallen, Rudolf Lutz is organist of the church “St. Laurenzen Kirche”, a post he has held since 1973. He is also conductor of the “St. Galler Kammerensemble”, which he has led since 1986. From 1986 to 2008, he conducted the “Bach-Chor St. Gallen”.

Videos:
Improvisation sur “Christ lag in Todesbanden”
Rudolf Lutz – Improvisation on Artwork by Hans Thomann
Frank Fuge – 27.11. 2008

Otto Maria Krämer

OttoKraemerWebsite:
http://www.orgelimprovisationen.de

Otto Maria Krämer studied at the Folkwang Hochschule, Essen and at the Robert Schumann Hochschule Düsseldorf. His teacher was Wolfgang Seifen. In 1995 he won the first prize of the Concours d’Improvisation a l’orgue Montbrison. He teaches now in the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne.


Recordings:

Otto Maria Kramer: Improvisations

Videos:
Suite Francaise – Plein jeu
Suite Francaise – Fugue
Suite Francaise – Récit
Suite Francaise – Basse de trompette
Suite Francaise – Quatuor
Suite Francaise – Duo
Suite Francaise – Tierce en taille
Suite Francaise – Dialogue sur les grands jeux
Symphonie Francaise – Allegro ma non troppo
Symphonie Francaise – Cantabile
Symphonie Francaise – Scherzando on “Macht hoch die Tür”
Symphonie Francaise – Prière
Symphonie Francaise – Final
Improvisation in Memoriam Marcel Dupré on “Ave maris stella”

French Classical Style

The French classical style runs parallel with the German baroque. The organ had a highly standardized stoplist, in line with its (almost exclusively) liturgical use. The compositions were highly standardized too, generally named by the stops that were to be used (e.g Plein jeu, Basse de Trompette, Tierce en Taille) and the function within mass or the chant theme (e.g Kyrie, Gloria, Ave Maria Stella).

A series in the newsletter covered the style and the different movements and registrations often used during the period:

Videos:

Michel Chapuis – Grand Jeu Classique – St. Ouen
Michel Chapuis – Improvisations in French classical style – Chapelle Royale, Paris
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Plein jeu
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Fugue
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Récit
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Basse de trompette
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Quatuor
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Duo
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Tierce en taille
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Dialogue sur les grands jeux
Wolfgang Seifen – Suite in French Style – Marienbasilika – Kevelaer

William Porter

William PorterPorter studied organ at Oberlin College and Yale University where he received the DMA degree in 1980. He taught harpsichord and organ at Oberlin from 1974 to 1986 and taught organ, music history and music theory at the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1985 to 2002. He has also taught organ improvisation at the Eastman School of Music and McGill University.

He has an article on North German Improvisational Practice in GOArt Research Reports Vol. 2 and an article on contrapuntal improvisation in the GOArt Research Reports, Vol. 3.


Recordings:

An Organ Portrait
Includes and improvised Magnificat setting.

Videos:
Three excerpts from a masterclass given by William Porter on Hymn-Tune Improvisations at the AGO National Convention in Washington, DC in July 2010:
William Porter – Hymn-Tune Improvisation Masterclass, Part I – Washington, DC
William Porter – Hymn-Tune Improvisation Masterclass, Part II – Washington, DC
William Porter – Hymn-Tune Improvisation Masterclass, Part III – Washington, DC

Smarano International Organ Academy Course Part 1
Smarano International Organ Academy Course Part 2
Smarano International Organ Academy Course Part 3
Smarano International Organ Academy Course Part 4
Smarano International Organ Academy Course Part 5
O dass ich tausend Zunge hätte – Prelude
O dass ich tausend Zunge hätte – Canon
O dass ich tausend Zunge hätte – Intermezzo
O dass ich tausend Zunge hätte – Fugue
Improvisation: Four Modal Variations on Salve Regina: I (Theme and Plein jeu)
Improvisation: Four Modal Variations on Salve Regina: II (Scherzo)
Improvisation: Four Modal Variations on Salve Regina: III (Meditation)
Improvisation: Four Modal Variations on Salve Regina: IV (Introduction and Passacaglia)

Fugue

A fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition.

David Briggs – Fugue at St. Sulpice
Otto Maria Krämer – Suite Francaise – Fugue
William Porter – O dass ich tausend Zunge hätte – Fugue

David Briggs

DavidBriggsDavid Briggs is currently Artist in Residence at St. James Cathedral, Toronto.
Complete bio.

David Briggs has a YouTube Channel


Recordings:

Sounds French – David Briggs Plays the Organ of Blackburn Cathedral
Includes an improvised symphony by David Briggs as well as two improvisations by Pierre Cochereau transcribed and played by David Briggs.


Sounds Artistic
Includes an improvised suite of dances and Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky.


Organ Spectacular
Includes improvised Prelude, Adagio and Chorale Variations on Ein Feste Burg.


Briggs: Mass for Notre Dame
In addition to the choral music of David Briggs sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge under the direction of Stephen Layton, David Briggs improvised other parts of the traditional mass when the organ would play without the choir singing.


Hommage à Pierre Cochereau
Improvisations by George Baker, David Briggs, Thierry Escaich and Loïc Mallié.

Videos:
Fugue at St. Sulpice
Sortie at St. Sulpice
Offertoire at St. Sulpice
Sarabande Improvisée – St Wenzelkirche, Naumburg