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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
The Fugue vs. Traditional Eastern European Music
A fugue can be defined as a polyphonic form in the Baroque era in which one or more themes are developed by imitative counterpoint.Similarly, traditional Eastern European folk music is solidly based on rules of strict imitation between voices. In order to show the similarities between the imitative forces in a fugue and traditional eastern European music and how the imitation within eastern European vocal music can be defined as the foundation of fugal writing, Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra(Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell)and Song of Schopsko(Erghen Diado) will be examined and analyzed for their musical content.
Benjamin Britten lived from the years 1913 through 1976. In addition, Britten is considered to be apart of the British national school along with the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He is also said to be one of the foremost opera composers of his time. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is a fugue based on a rondeau from 17th century composer Henry Purcell’s incidental music to the play Abdelezar. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra was composed in 1946. The purpose of this work is to introduce children to the orchestra by presenting each section and individual instrument of the orchestra. The orchestra is essentially taken apart in the variations and then reassembled during the fugue. The medium for this recording of the piece was the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra. The piece begins with the statement of the theme presented by the entire orchestra creating a monophonic texture. This then transitions to strict imitation of the theme by the woodwinds, brass, strings percussions, and concludes with the full orchestra. The eight-measure theme is presented in D minor. Following the presentation of the theme, thirteen variations of the theme are heard starting with the woodwinds and then followed by the strings, brass, and percussion. Each instrument of the orchestra has its own solo; these solos begin with the highest pitched instrument of each family. Following the section of variations is the fugue. The subject is based on a fragment of the Purcell theme played in B minor. This is played in imitation by each instrument of the orchestra in same order as the variations. Dynamic contrast is heard throughout the piece through the use of crescendos and decrescendos. The overall tempo of the piece is allegro. However, the meter changes from triple-duple, to compound meter, and concludes in duple simple. Timbre shifts are also present as the different sections and different instruments are heard. In regards to style trills, glissandos, and pizzicato can be heard throughout the piece. The form of the piece is binary. Lastly the melody exhibits a wave-like contour and is mostly conjunct.
Bulgarian Music is apart of the Balkan tradition, which stretches across southeastern Europe. Bulgarian vocals are said to be “open-throated”. Singers concentrate their voices in a way that gives the sound a distinctive “edge”, and allows theirs voices to travel over long distances.The distinctive sounds that are produced from women vocal choirs that sing Bulgarian folk music is based on their unique rhythms, harmony, and polyphony, for instance the use of close intervals like theminor second. These traits are especially common in music from the Shope region around the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and the Pirin region.Although it uses Western meters such as duple simple, triple simple, and quadruple simple, Balkan music also includes meters with five, seven, eleven and even fifteen beats per measure, sometimes referred to as “asymmetric meters”.These can often be understood as combinations of groups of “quick” and “slow” beats. For example, the dancelesnoto(“the light/easy one”) has a meter of seven beats with emphasis on the first, fourth, and sixth beats.This can be divided into three groups, a “slow” unit of three beats and two “quick” units of two beats, often written 3-2-2.Song of Schopsko is a choral work that is performed by the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir. This piece is a tradition Bulgarian folk song. The publishing of this piece along with the entire album, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, came from the support of Swiss ethnomusicologist Marcel Cellier. Song of Schopsko is largely based on strict imitation between the alto and soprano voices. The form of the piece is through composed. Within the piece tertial harmony can be heard between the two sets of voices. The melody is singable with a medium to wide range and also has a wave-like contour. There is dynamic contrast heard through the use of crescendos and decrescendos. The melody climaxes on high notes and is mostly conjunct with some disjunct leaps. The meter is triple simple with a steady andante tempo. In regards to harmony the key is major with no modulations. There are also even four-bar phrases.
In Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra the imitation begins with the presentation of the Purcell theme. Theme A is played by the orchestra in its entirety. Theme A is then presented in the woodwinds in imitation of the original melody. Theme B is given to Brass is differently harmonized than Theme A. However, Theme B is also presented in imitation among the various instruments of the brass section. Theme Cis played by the strings (including the harp), the Purcell melody moves down the instruments from the 1st violins and concludes with the double basses.Theme Dfeatures the percussion, with the timpani playing the pitched parts of the Purcell theme, while the rest of the percussions simultaneously present the rhythm of the melody. Finally, we come toTheme G, which is an exact repetition ofTheme A, using the full orchestra. The Purcell theme is played six times, with different instruments and varied keys to create variety and present different timbres. This use of different timbres was one of Benjamin Britten’s ideas. These shifts in timbre keep the listener engrossed in the music.
Fugal parts include the subject, answer, countersubject, exposition, episodes, and are then followed by contrapuntal devices. Through strict rules of imitation all of this is made possible. In Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra the fugal subject, main theme of the fugue, is presented first by the piccolo. The subject is in an Allegro molto tempo, B minor, and is 8 bars long. Following the subject is the answer performed the remaining instruments of the orchestra in the same order as the variations- from highest ranging instruments to lowest from the woodwinds, strings, brass, and concludes with the percussion. The subject has a descending sequence similar to the original Purcell theme. In addition, Song of Schopsko follows fugal rules through the use of imitation. What could be said to be a subject is presented in the lead alto’s voice; which is then followed by answer to the subject in strict imitation by the remaining members of the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir. The piccolo part that is presented at the ninth bar of the fugue is presented enough to be considered the counter-subject. The playing of this original melody is the countersubject, which is played in response and at the same time as the imitation occurring in the answer. After this has been performed the exposition of the piece has come to a conclusion In Song of Schopsko, the countersubject is presented again by the lead tenor vocalist who sings the counter subject. The counter subject is presented while the remaining voices of the choir continue the strict imitation of the theme. The simultaneous presentation of the counter-subject and the answer produce a contrapuntal or polyphonic texture within the piece. After the subject is introduced by the tenor, answer presented by the remaining voices of the choir, and counter-subject by the lead tenor vocalist are presented the exposition of Song of Schopsko has concluded.
After the exposition has come to a finish various episodes are presented in both pieces. In Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra the full orchestra presents the fugue while the entire brass section re-introduces Purcell’s theme from the rondeau from Abdelezar. Again the simultaneous presentation of these two elements produces a polyphonic texture with serves as the contrapuntal device within this piece of composition. Within Song of Schopska, 4 different episodes can be heard. As the lead alto vocalist begins each phrase the rest of the choir joins in with the same melody in strict imitation. All of these episodes are presented in the same manor as the first and remain in a major key. This piece is very responsorial, but these responses are imitative of the subject produced by the lead singer. At the grand coda of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the Purcell theme and fugue are presented together. Also when the final cadence is reached at the tempo animato, the percussion section continues on for nine more measures and this continuation serves as a cadential extension.
The variations within Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, not considered to be apart of the actual fugal element of the piece, present some of the contrapuntal devices that a fugue has. The flute variation is the Purcell theme presented in diminution and this variation is accompanied by the piccolo. Throughout the flute variation imitation occurs between the 1st and 2nd flute. In the bassoon variation presents the Purcell theme in a dotted rhythmic form. The violin variation is based on opening chords sweeping over a wide range of the violins, with the use off triple stopping. Imitation also occurs here, between the 1st and 2nd violins.Lastly within the section of brass variations is the tuba and trombone variation. The opening trombone parts are based on the Purcell theme, with the notes rearranged.
Song of Schopskoand The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra imitative compositional styles are strikingly similar. Despite Song of Schopskobeing a traditional Bulgarian choral work the imitation that occurs within the piece can be compared to the imitative features of the components of the fugue. As stated earlier, the concepts of a subject, answer, countersubject and an episode can be loosely found within Song of Schopsko even though it is not a fugue. The reason for these similarities is because of the imitation that occurs in traditional eastern European music. Their rich culture in regards music has not been super-imposed and can still be found and Song of Schopsko is a perfect example.
Connections can be drawn between the similarities between the eastern European choral music and the fugue of the western European culture. With the rich tradition of eastern European music that developed throughout the centuries, it can be seen that their musical influences shaped how the fugue is presented. The continuous imitation that occurs is a major component of how the fugue is set up from the entry of the subject to the answer and the countless episodes that take place within each work of art. Song of Schopsko is just one piece of eastern European music that presents the imitation between voices. The fugue in the Middle Ages referred to any canon style music but by the Renaissance it was shifted to specifically denote imitative works. Johann Sebastian Bach is said to have taken the fugue to its pinnacle saying to have shaped his works after Johann Jakob Froberger,Johann Pachelbel, GirolamoFrescobaldi, and DieterichBuxtehude. Dietrich Buxtehude is said to have had lasting impact on the works of Bach. Buxtehude himself was born in Sweden so his musical works were influenced by his upbringing in Eastern Europe. Due to influences of Bach and his predecessors it can be easily seen how the fugue was drawn from eastern European music and was then developed into the way it is seen today.
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