yadda yadda & fugues

I read some blather about bloggers trying to prime the pump when their verbal well runs dry. Ahem. I don’t seem to have that problem very much. I realized this morning that I usually wake up with my head spinning with ideas and insights. I try to be circumspect when other humans are in the room (my wife is such a good listener…. ) but I can always blog to my heart’s content and you dear reader can read or not as you will.

Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls

This morning I was listening to the rebroadcast of On the Media about the music industry…. downloading and all of that. [link to stream of the show]…. they interviewed Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls. I happen to admire this band and especially its lead singer and piano player, Palmer. She expressed some refresh takes on the music biz. In commenting on how to make money with music these days (a year ago, granted) she replied, “Everyone has to stop thinking there is an answer. The answer is, there’s an infinite number of answers.” Nice.

So I moseyed on over to her blog [link to blog], Then check to see if I was following her on Twitter (I was) and found myself reading a post from a Chicago actor riffing on the On the Media rebroadcast [link to post]. All this before I manage to drag myself from bed (I keep the netbook by the bed, sadly addicted, I know.)

But that’s not what I want to talk about this morning.

I want to talk about fugues.

If you don’t know what a fugue is, they are this amazing way to make a composition using a melody that can be combined with itself in various incarnations and manners. Fugue comes from the Latin word for “flight” and hearkens back to the idea that the melodies (subjects) seem to be chasing each other around sonically.

My first conscious memory of learning about fugues was (I think) in a 7th grade music appreciation class. I seem to remember that it was part of the health/gymn regimen, but I could be wrong.

I remember our teacher was a huge, fat white guy with a pronounced tic. Somehow he was talking to us about the Bach organ fugue in G minor (natch). I don’t think I was just learning about the idea from him, but I do remember it hitting me how cool the idea of fugue was. I also have a memory that the class, its subject and of course the teacher were basically ridiculed by most of the other students.

But since I spent most of my youth being in love with complexities of sorts, I was instantly enthralled.

This is supposedly Jim Henson. It looks like him.

I even went so far as to attempt to arrange Bach’s lovely Bb minor fugue from the first Volume of the Well Tempered Clavichord for the rock band I was playing with at the time (It was unmemorably called “Trilogy” and was a reformation of a band with a better name, in my hubris-filled opinion: “August Traine.”)

Lately I have been thinking a lot about fugue. My counterpoint teacher in undergraduate school thought that fugue was the one counterpuntal form I did not master.  Here’s how he put it in a 1984 letter he mailed me (remember letters?):

Congratulations in advance for finishing your degree. It’s about time. Did you ever look at those fugues? Did you ever write one? If you are still having trouble, I suggest you buy my counterpoint book. It won’t help you, but it will help me and all of those folks at Prentice-Hall. At least someone will be better off, and you will have a nice red book for your shelf.

I did buy the book.

And I’m pretty sure I wrote some fugues. I know I passed that section in the AAGO examination I failed twice (but that’s another story).

Anyway, recently I have re-assessed my take on fugues.  It is a great and wonderful puzzle (see the ensuing discussion of one below), but that’s not enough for me now.

I want it to be drawn to the fugue as music as well as puzzle.

That’s where Bach’s Art of Fugue comes in.

What a great melody he uses!

File:Kunst der Fuge.png

Yesterday I was analyzing the sixth fugue in this collection (There are 19 separate fugues in the entire work).

The sixth fugue uses the melody on the second line above. I count that he uses this melody 22 times in the course of 70 measures. And only twice in the version above.

He changes the melody in many ways including

making it twice as fast – called diminution

doing it in a mirror version (up is down) – called inversion

combining those two (diminution and inversion)

then doing this starting on other notes – transposing

"... and now for something completely different."

and then combining all of these together.

And on top of all this cleverness, it sounds rilly rilly cool.

Just my hubris-filled opinion, you understand. But still…. rilly rilly cool.

Here’s a link to a bunch of free mp3s of this music.

(Post post script… it occurs to me that some readers might be interested in my complete tally of subjects and their forms and where they are found in Fuga 6…. so here’s a link to my notes)

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