Monday, May 20, 2013

My New Favorite Fugue

I had a teacher once who said that her favorite piece by x composer was whatever she was working on at the time. In that spirit, last week I developed a new favorite.

If you, as a devotee of classical music, feel the need to cultivate your silly side (and you probably could use it) this might help.

On the other hand, if you haven't listened to copious amounts of classical music and are not, say, a doctor of listenology, this could also be the very thing. Particularly because it's a fugue, and, because the composer cheats a little.

Fugues are not easy things to get your ears around. Several things are happening at once, and our ears aren't really designed for that. Most of our music is built on predictable patterns with a lot of repetition so that we really only have to absorb one important thing at a time. But, in classical music, and particularly in fugue, there are three, four, maybe five lines vying for our attention all at once. 

But not in this case.

Dietrich Buxtehude (who had a very cool name) wrote a fugue with a very silly theme (or "subject," as we call it in the biz). This is the first thing worth mentioning. A fugue is often thought of as a very dignified sub-genre of a very dignified genre of a very dignified style of music. Very. Dignified. 

And. This. Isn't.

To me it sounds like a bird call.  Now these are very polite, Baroque birds, you understand. Not like the real life birds who got into a fight next to pipe room while I was getting ready to record this. Very civilized. Under those circumstances, you won't mind if I give you the birds for about four minutes.

Now a fugue likes to get going by introducing its subject matter in one voice at a time. First the one by itself, and then as each voice enters the others keep going. But not in this case. Mr. B. has written several rests in the middle of this theme, as you'll note.When the second voice comes in, it enters into a very civilized dialogue with the first one. Nobody is speaking at once; in fact, you have to really be paying attention to separate the new voice that is now carry the theme from the one which fills in all of the silent spaces in between each of those bird calls. It sounds like one voice with a lot to say, but it is really two alternating rapidly.  Even when all of those voices are sounding at once, they aren't really sounding at once. Instead, Buxtehude sticks his "counter subject" materials in the gaps created by that stuttering bird.


The effect of all this is that, instead of actually multitasking, we can quickly shift our focus from one, solo voice to another group of voices and back. Which, I hope, will make this an easy fugue to listen to. All you have to keep track of is that silly bird call, and the little amen trio that follows it and you'll have at least half the material in your head already. And it's fun to listen to. Technically, I think he's cheating.

And with the mobile part for the feet, I got to dance around a bit, too, which was also quite a bit of fun. Sorry it's not on video. Just know that the lowest voice you hear (I used a medium length stop so it isn't really in the basement, it's just a light 8 foot flute) is being played in the pedals.

Enjoy your birds. The fugue portion begins at 2:26; I thought I'd include the prelude as well (no extra charge) which could well be an evocation of spring (note the written out acceleration around 1:33-:1:53)

No comments:

Post a Comment

I don't bite...mostly.