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 Post subject: Form and Content in Composition
PostPosted: Fri Sep 07, 2012 6:49 pm 
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I found this guys website which has some awesome free resources with regards music theory and orchestration. I guess not many of you are into the 'nerdy' side of music especially as it applies to western art music, but I thought if nothing else ZeroNowhere would probably appreciate the discussion of the relation between musical ideas and musical form he wrote. Excerpt from the introduction:

Spoiler:
Alan Belkin wrote:
...while any number of analyses have been made of the fugues in Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, almost none of them discuss how the large design of a given fugue is related to its subject. Motivic derivation from the theme is of course important, and usually easy to see, but motivic derivations say nothing about the temporal organization of the piece. While it would be exaggerated to propose that the entire form of a given fugue can be somehow deduced from its subject, there are definite links between the character and internal structure of a theme and the ensuing fugue's construction.

For example, the theme and countersubject of the great B minor fugue, which ends Book 1 of the WTC, imply, due to their length and complexity, that the piece which follows will also be fairly long and elaborate, that its harmony will contain many chromatic appoggiaturas and chromatic modulations. The augmented and diminished leaps, so prominent in the subject and countersubject, will necessarily engender jagged, angular counterpoint. This material suggests an intense and very dramatic fugue. It will also, as contrast, likely require some sort of simpler sequential episode, perhaps more diatonic, possibly returning several times in invertible counterpoint, as is Bach's habit, to allow the overall form to "breathe".

To compare a very different case, let us take the first fugue in the same volume of the WTC, in C major. This subject is immediately recognizable as susceptible to numerous canonic imitations; its smoothness of line and straightforward diatonicism suggest a calmer style; it will thus require much less in the way of strong contrast: Such contrast here could overshadow the theme. This short subject also does not suggest a very long piece.

Lest these "deductions seem obvious or trivial, it is worth reminding the reader that several of the main traditions of teaching fugue, e.g. the French fugue d'école, require all fugues to follow the exact same plan of entries, modulations, episodes, stretti, etc.. While such a prefabricated plan may be of some use to a beginner, the notion that all subjects should be worked out in exactly the same way is a travesty of real, imaginative composition. By the same token, asking students to write a "standard sonata form, without reference to what the material requires, is a mechanical task, and cannot lead to artistic thinking.

In contrast to these routine procedures, the strongest and most personal compositions always evince a certain force and individuality. They have striking, memorable, ideas, and they exploit what is most interesting and characteristic in those ideas to the maximum, thus engendering many critical decisions about what will be most salient in the ensuing form.

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