The Fugue

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Tarantella
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The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Wed Dec 18, 2013 1:59 am

I just have to talk about this!! For me, the fugue is the ultimate musical form. Everything profound which is uttered in music is, to me, conveyed through the fugue. I mean, at the absolute core of musical love and appreciation the fugue distills music to me as nothing else does.

This afternoon I've been listening, inter alia, to Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor - it's the Fugue which is the important part of this. I was trying to think of a visual analogy and all I could invoke was those New Year's Eve fireworks we see every year over Sydney Harbour. Galaxies collide, stars explode and volcanoes erupt when I heard this music in all its brilliance and complexity. The sheer shivering greatness of Bach is, for me personally, the apogee in music. At the end of today's listening all I could do was to dissolve into tears.

How well I remember this work providing a postlude to one Sunday Mass at Augustinerkirche. Designed to bring the house down, it certainly did that.

Please, do share with me your favourite fugue/s and your responses. I have to come down from this mountain slowly.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by John F » Wed Dec 18, 2013 4:03 am

At the moment, my favorite fugue is the close of Verdi's "Falstaff": "Tutto nel mondo e burla," all the world's a joke. Not only because I've just heard a fine performance from the Met, such as to raise the spirits. A dear friend who died too young of cancer, and whose sense of humor was proverbial among those who knew her, asked that her memorial service end with just this music and those words, and so it did.



Your musical tastes and mine are quite different, as your feelings about Mozart make clear. Mozart was a master of fugue and composed many of them in his church music and as finales to some early string quartets, but his use of fugue texture in sonata form movements reached its apogee in the finale of the Jupiter Symphony, a tour de force by any standard. More generally, I'm strongly attracted to the symbiosis of music and words, whether in opera or song or religious music, and only in the latter does fugue have a natural and traditional place (Verdi apart).

Of course I have great respect for the fugues of composers ranging from Bach to Shostakovich. But love? Not so much, and certainly as much as you do. Chacun a son gout.
John Francis

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Re: The Fugue

Post by lennygoran » Wed Dec 18, 2013 7:47 am

John F wrote:At the moment, my favorite fugue is the close of Verdi's "Falstaff": "Tutto nel mondo e burla," all the world's a joke.
John as I read Sue's message I had the same thought--my knowledge of classical music is so limited but at the HD Falstaff during the intermission Gelb spoke with Levine and Carson and Levine spoke about that fugue! Regards, Len

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Dec 18, 2013 9:35 am

A few of years ago I went to a lecture given by Alex Ross from the New Yorker, it was part of their annual literary festival. It was all about the fugue and it's influence, from Bach to Led Zeppelin, Ross presented an interesting 90 minutes of wisdom, wit and music.

Afterwards I chatted with him for a while about the Baroque influence in 60's rock music. What he did not realize was that most of the musicians in those groups, from Yes and Deep Purple thru Led Zep all studied music at school and especially Baroque Music.

They were the first rock bands to play the new Hard Rock style in the late 60's, it was based on traditional American Rock and Roll and Blues, but but they had no other places to find influences except classical, so they weaved Baroque in there, and the fugue was all important.

Just listen to led Zeppelin's Since I've Been Loving You for example.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=5QuGiMAEqE8
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Tarantella
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Wed Dec 18, 2013 9:55 am

John F wrote:At the moment, my favorite fugue is the close of Verdi's "Falstaff": "Tutto nel mondo e burla," all the world's a joke. Not only because I've just heard a fine performance from the Met, such as to raise the spirits. A dear friend who died too young of cancer, and whose sense of humor was proverbial among those who knew her, asked that her memorial service end with just this music and those words, and so it did.



Your musical tastes and mine are quite different, as your feelings about Mozart make clear. Mozart was a master of fugue and composed many of them in his church music and as finales to some early string quartets, but his use of fugue texture in sonata form movements reached its apogee in the finale of the Jupiter Symphony, a tour de force by any standard. More generally, I'm strongly attracted to the symbiosis of music and words, whether in opera or song or religious music, and only in the latter does fugue have a natural and traditional place (Verdi apart).

Of course I have great respect for the fugues of composers ranging from Bach to Shostakovich. But love? Not so much, and certainly as much as you do. Chacun a son gout.
You've shown me an example of fugue in music that I didn't know existed!! (Please, what is 'chacun a son gout", though I suspect I know!)

Actually, I love the "Jupiter" of Mozart. I consider his last half dozen (or so) symphonies absolutely wonderful. I remember writing an analytical essay in Musicology about No. 39 and it has long been a favourite. This might surprise you. And I usually follow the Eulenberg miniature score with each hearing of it.

The symbiosis of music and words is very powerful, as you rightly state, and I love this fundamental aspect of music too, as well as fugue in string quartets, church music and much besides. However, hearing fugue in Shostakovich shows me his skill and mastery but does not endear me to his music generally. There are, of course, composers who do not use fugue and I still love their music. Schubert comes to mind: off the top of my head I cannot recall him using this musical device but, John, I'm sure you'll set me straight on this. :)

I'll try and explain more clearly my affinity with fugue: for me, music isn't just about melody and shape. I listen for complexity of thought, possibly more than the aesthetic beauty itself. Knotty, complicated and somewhat intellectual as a concept, fugue is the way I think about things more generally - different lines of thought coalescing in the same 'key' but also independent and complex. Not that I like my literature that way, but I tend to view Shakespeare in fugal terms too.

Clear as mud, I hear you say!
Last edited by Tarantella on Wed Dec 18, 2013 10:07 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by lennygoran » Wed Dec 18, 2013 10:01 am

Chalkperson wrote: Just listen to led Zeppelin's Since I've Been Loving You for example.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=5QuGiMAEqE8
Listened to about 3 minutes worth--I'm not a knowledgeable classical music man but I couldn't pick up any connection to classical music--and frankly I'd much sooner listen to Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons than listen to this music--it didn't appeal to me too much--it's all a matter of taste I guess? Regards, Len [Jersey Boy]

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:03 am

lennygoran wrote:
Chalkperson wrote: Just listen to led Zeppelin's Since I've Been Loving You for example.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=5QuGiMAEqE8
Listened to about 3 minutes worth--I'm not a knowledgeable classical music man but I couldn't pick up any connection to classical music--and frankly I'd much sooner listen to Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons than listen to this music--it didn't appeal to me too much--it's all a matter of taste I guess? Regards, Len [Jersey Boy]
Trust me, there is a Fugue in there...
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Re: The Fugue

Post by lennygoran » Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:10 am

Chalkperson wrote: Trust me, there is a Fugue in there...
I believe you, I believe you! Regards, Len :) :) :)

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jserraglio » Wed Dec 18, 2013 2:06 pm

Now I don't have to feel guilty about pulling out my LZ albums. Still have the one I bought after seeing them tour during the release of Album # II. Great band, fugue or no fugue.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 18, 2013 2:45 pm

With his important organ fugues, Bach tended to write them in pairs, as though each time he turned to them in his mature career (which was not that often) he wanted to work out an idea two different ways, or perhaps two different ideas he had going at the same time. The pairings are as follows:

A minor, G minor
F major, C minor
B minor, C major
E-flat major, E minor

The Passacaglia and Fugue may seem not to fit in, but it actually has a "sibling" in the D minor "Dorian" Toccata and Fugue. In this case the pairing may be more strictly a matter of chronology. And that's it, just ten large-scale mature preludes and fugues for organ from the master.

The only works that don't fit the pattern are the youthful big works, there being three of these: The Prelude and Fugue in D major, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and the Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C major. However, their qualities fit in with the idea of working something out more than one way. Obviously, two of them begin with quasi-improvisatory toccatas, while the fugue subjects of the D major and the C major have a family resemblance.

Before someone reminds me, there are other works in this form, earlier, later, and in between, and some of them are very nice, but they are not on the scale attempted in the works I've cited.
Last edited by jbuck919 on Thu Dec 19, 2013 1:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Tarantella
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Wed Dec 18, 2013 3:13 pm

..."work out an idea two different ways". Apposite.

Thanks for sharing your intimate knowledge of these great organ works, John. I also very much love the fugues in 'The 48', deriving much pleasure from their infinite variety and inventiveness.

What about the B Minor Mass? Would you care to comment on Bach's use of fugue in that work?

(BTW, I love this section - just listen to the dissonance!!! Incredible. And reading just a tiny fragment of this music during the listening you can 'see' Bach's little inversions and some of his 'musical thinking' and word painting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdLCcQixNvg

If there is, indeed, no God then somebody is giving a pretty poor impression if it!!)

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Wed Dec 18, 2013 5:36 pm

Here's one of my favourite pieces by Mozart where he uses fugue - overture to 'The Magic Flute' - and it's your own Met:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h018rMnA0pM

I have this opera in a newish recording with Rene Jacobs on period instruments and it sounds even better using these instruments and in a reduced 'band'. I love this overture because Mozart isn't using that cliched A-B, A-B, A-B, BBB. Back and forth on the same notes, back and forth and then stop stop stop! It's hard to explain in words. "The Magic Flute" overture is the product of a more mature innovative mind, IMO, and written after those last symphonies we talked about earlier. And I always think when I hear it: "NOW we're getting interesting"!!
Last edited by Tarantella on Wed Dec 18, 2013 6:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 18, 2013 6:19 pm

Tarantella wrote:Here's one of my favourite pieces by Mozart where he uses fugue - overture to 'The Magic Flute'.....
Not every piece with imitative voice entry is a fugue, and this certainly is not, in whole or in part. Every other secondary baroque piece I play on Sunday has imitative vocal entry. The term for fugal style short of full-blown fugue is "fugato," but not even every imitative piece measures up to that.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Tarantella
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Wed Dec 18, 2013 6:25 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Tarantella wrote:Here's one of my favourite pieces by Mozart where he uses fugue - overture to 'The Magic Flute'.....
Not every piece with imitative voice entry is a fugue, and this certainly is not, in whole or in part. Every other secondary baroque piece I play on Sunday has imitative vocal entry. The term for fugal style short of full-blown fugue is "fugato," but not even every imitative piece measures up to that.
Yes, I'm aware of that but am surprised to learn that the overture by Mozart isn't a fugue or even a 'fugato'. Imitative voice entry can, of course, be canonic but "The Magic Flute" isn't that either. It's the development - where the composer goes from there - which is the telling point, for me.

Can you describe/explain the Overture, then, if it isn't 'fugato'? (I'm going to head back into my books!)

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 18, 2013 6:33 pm

Tarantella wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
Tarantella wrote:Here's one of my favourite pieces by Mozart where he uses fugue - overture to 'The Magic Flute'.....
Not every piece with imitative voice entry is a fugue, and this certainly is not, in whole or in part. Every other secondary baroque piece I play on Sunday has imitative vocal entry. The term for fugal style short of full-blown fugue is "fugato," but not even every imitative piece measures up to that.
Yes, I'm aware of that but am surprised to learn that the overture by Mozart isn't a fugue or even a 'fugato'. Imitative voice entry can, of course, be canonic but "The Magic Flute" isn't that either. It's the development - where the composer goes from there - which is the telling point, for me.

Can you describe/explain the Overture, then, if it isn't 'fugato'?
Well, the beginning probably is legitimately fugato. I'm not trying to hyper-correct. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Tarantella
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Wed Dec 18, 2013 7:13 pm

I've got Charles Rosen's "The Classical Style" in front of me. On page 319 he says about "The Magic Flute":

"The music (correspondingly) goes from the simplest of tunes and the most farcical of patter effects to the fugue and even the chorale prelude (a revival of this very special Baroque form that was to remain unique in the classical style until Beethoven's Quartet Op. 132 with its working of Veni Creator, Spiritus). Mozart was able to create the first genuinely classical religious style that could be placed with honour beside his imitations of the Baroque religious forms and textures".

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 18, 2013 10:25 pm

Tarantella wrote:I've got Charles Rosen's "The Classical Style" in front of me. On page 319 he says about "The Magic Flute":

"The music (correspondingly) goes from the simplest of tunes and the most farcical of patter effects to the fugue and even the chorale prelude (a revival of this very special Baroque form that was to remain unique in the classical style until Beethoven's Quartet Op. 132 with its working of Veni Creator, Spiritus). Mozart was able to create the first genuinely classical religious style that could be placed with honour beside his imitations of the Baroque religious forms and textures".
Rosen may very well have meant the fugue-like opening of the overture. The chorale prelude, which is exactly one and not just a feign, is the number with the two armed men, Der welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden, where the chorale tune is "Ach Gott vom Himmel sie darein" and the supporting lines of the cantus firmus are, guess what, fugato. Actually, that might be considered a strict fugue if there were more than two voices in imitation.

It's been years since I've read The Classical Style. I don't want to take a scholar like Charles Rosen to task for a comment made in such a brilliant book, but the Heiliger Dankgesang involving a reworking of Veni Creator Spiritus? I can't hear it at all. The characteristic interval of that movement is a major sixth, which does not occur in the Latin hymn at all. Google turns up that association only in a mention of Rosen's comment. Probably something I and a lot of other people missed, and wish Rosen were around to explain it anew.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Fugue

Post by John F » Wed Dec 18, 2013 10:44 pm

Is there only one hymn, "Veni creator spiritus"? I mean, only one old enough to have been referred to by Beethoven; the first movement of Mahler's 8th Symphony is a setting of the hymn's words to his own music.

Rosen makes mistakes and overstatements like the rest of us, just not as often. :)
John Francis

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:13 pm

John F wrote:Is there only one hymn, "Veni creator spiritus"? I mean, only one old enough to have been referred to by Beethoven; the first movement of Mahler's 8th Symphony is a setting of the hymn's words to his own music.

Rosen makes mistakes and overstatements like the rest of us, just not as often. :)
After further thought, here's my best guess. As you know, the movement is marked "in the Lydian Mode." Actually, the Veni Creator is assigned to the Hypomixolydian Mode, these assignments having all been made long after the Gregorian music was composed. Beethoven either encountered it differently or couldn't be bothered to write "Hypomixolydischen" so shortened it. The difference in terms of tonality is insignificant; both translate in any modern piece as being a major key. Now why am I bothering with all this? Well, in the last slow section of that movement, the characteristic motive is re-sol-la-sol, or just sol-la-sol, which is in fact a quote from a repeated motive in the Veni Creator. Whether Rosen had more in mind, I can't say.
Last edited by jbuck919 on Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Tarantella
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:27 pm

John F wrote:Rosen makes mistakes and overstatements like the rest of us, just not as often. :)
(Double cough)

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:30 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
John F wrote:Is there only one hymn, "Veni creator spiritus"? I mean, only one old enough to have been referred to by Beethoven; the first movement of Mahler's 8th Symphony is a setting of the hymn's words to his own music.

Rosen makes mistakes and overstatements like the rest of us, just not as often. :)
After further thought, here's my best guess. As you know, the movement is marked "in the Lydian Mode." Actually, the Veni Creator is assigned to the Hypomixolydian Mode, these assignments having all been made long after the Gregorian music was composed. Beethoven either encountered it differently or couldn't be bothered to write "Hypomixolydischen" so shortened it. The difference in terms of tonality is insignificant; both translate in any modern piece as being a major key. Now why am I bothering with all this? Well, in the last slow section of that movement, the characteristic motive is re-sol-la-sol, which is in fact a quote from a motive in the Veni Creator. Whether Rosen had more in mind, I can't say.
When we disagree with a scholar it's an "overstatement" and when we agree they're "very scholarly". I get it now. :lol:

But thanks for sharing your ideas and understandings about these things. These always provoke me into further thinking and reading. (I know, I need to get a life......!!! But what COULD be better than learning - don't answer that!!)

Having listened to the Overture of "The Magic Flute" again several times today I agree with you that it is either a "fugeto" or has "fugue-like" characteristics because Mozart drops out of it very often. However, it is very reminiscent of what he was doing in the "Jupiter" IMO. They both inhabit the same stylistic/technical sound world.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Dec 19, 2013 6:38 am

Many good examples have already been cited, but I'll mention one fugue that's a little less traditional: "Cool" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 19, 2013 3:23 pm

Ricordanza wrote:Many good examples have already been cited, but I'll mention one fugue that's a little less traditional: "Cool" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.
I don't hear that at all, Hank. Bernstein did write a jazz-influenced piece called "Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs," which is ironic, since "Cool" is about the reaction to the death of a character named Riff. (All my life I've had to catch myself not to call him "Biff." Guess I'm confusing WSS with Death of a Salesman.)


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Tarantella
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:02 pm

It intrigues me that he is "conducting" an ensemble that size!!

I don't hear any fugue either in WSS's "Cool"? But Bernstein uses complicated counter-melodies as he does in the famous Quintet ("We're gonna rock it) Tonight". In fact, at times this does sound like a fugue. Brilliant! And how difficult would those melody lines have been to sing? (Some singers actually do seem to flatten in the lower registers at times):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpaS2v-r7cE

This segment and "Cool" are my favourite numbers in that total masterpiece for the theatre (filmed version), and especially the phenomenal Robbins "Cool" choreography. And to think the great film critic Pauline Keal complained that the street kids in WSS were classical ballet dancers. Sheesh!!

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jserraglio » Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:08 am

sounds like a fugue?




Last edited by jserraglio on Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jserraglio » Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:51 am


So you want to write a fugue.
You got the urge to write a fugue.
You got the nerve to write a fugue.
So go ahead, so go ahead and write a fugue.
Go ahead and write a fugue that we can sing.

Pay no heed, Pay no mind.
Pay no heed to what we tell you,
Pay no mind to what we tell you.
Cast away all that you were told
And the theory that you read.
As we said come and write one,
Oh do come and write one,
Write a fugue that we can sing.

Now the only way to write one
Is to plunge right in and write one.
Just forget the rules and write one,
Just ignore the rules and try.

And the fun of it will get you.
And the joy of it will fetch you.
Its a pleasure that is bound to satisfy.
When you decide that John Sebastian must have been a very personable guy.

Never be clever
for the sake of being clever,
for the sake of showing off.

For a canon in inversion is a dangerous diversion,
And a bit of augmentation is a serious temptation,
While a stretto diminution is an obvious allusion.

For to try to write a fugue that we can sing.

And when you finish writing it
I think you will find a great joy in it.

or so...
Nothing ventured, nothing gained they say
But still it is rather hard to start.

Well let us try right now.
Now we are going to write a fugue.
We are going to write a good one.
We are going to write a fugue ... right now

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Auntie Lynn » Fri Dec 20, 2013 8:53 am

Leave us not confuse fugues with canonic imitation at whatever interval...where's Walter Piston when we need him...?

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Fri Dec 20, 2013 9:49 am

Auntie Lynn wrote:Leave us not confuse fugues with canonic imitation at whatever interval...where's Walter Piston when we need him...?
I'm sure most of us do the know the difference, since the canonic imitation is a much simpler form and more like a traditional 'round'. The fugue is far more complex.

The Glenn Gould exercise!! I'd completely forgotten about that. He was a very intelligent man. Odd, but intelligent.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 20, 2013 11:27 am

Tarantella wrote:
Auntie Lynn wrote:Leave us not confuse fugues with canonic imitation at whatever interval...where's Walter Piston when we need him...?
I'm sure most of us do the know the difference, since the canonic imitation is a much simpler form and more like a traditional 'round'. The fugue is far more complex.
A round is a very simple form of canon, but I wouldn't say that a canon of any musical interest is likely to be simpler than a fugue. Here is a movement from a Bach cantata that is a double canon, one between the two obbligato instruments, and the other between the voices. (This piece of pure delight is oddly on the dry theological subject of justification by faith.)



And since the season is upon us, I will throw in Bach's late work, which he actually published, the Canonic Variations on Vom Himmel hoch.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Fugue

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Fri Dec 20, 2013 11:44 am

my favorite fugue (yeah, it's Bach, how boring and unoriginal)

Image

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 20, 2013 11:57 am

ContrapunctusIX wrote:my favorite fugue (yeah, it's Bach, how boring and unoriginal)

As you probably know, that's also taken from a cantata (no.29), as is much of the B minor Mass. However, my favorite choral fugue, the one I consider to be the greatest choral fugue ever written, is the not borrowed first Kyrie from that work.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Fugue

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Fri Dec 20, 2013 12:39 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
ContrapunctusIX wrote:my favorite fugue (yeah, it's Bach, how boring and unoriginal)

As you probably know, that's also taken from a cantata (no.29), as is much of the B minor Mass. However, my favorite choral fugue, the one I consider to be the greatest choral fugue ever written, is the not borrowed first Kyrie from that work.
The Mass may be partly culled together from other earlier Bach works, but it's a master class on vocal fugues. You could pick the Dona Nobis Pacem fugue, or the Kyrie, or half a dozen others from this mass and all would be correct choices.
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:16 pm

Absolutely agree! Even listening to the Dona Nobis Pacem you posted here makes goose bumps appear on my skin. That complexity that I need in music is right there as in no other, IMO - 'parody' music or not. Bach reworked his own material. But what 'material' this was - never less than profoundly musical.

jbuck prefers the opening Kyrie as the quintessential (choral) fugue - that is also a stupendous part of the work. My favourite form: the fugue. The pinnacles of western art music: Bach, St. Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass (along with Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" and Opus 109. Go, you miraculous deaf man!!).

The baroque and pre-baroque periods were so rich that formal elements such as the fugue, passacaglia and chaconne lived on and I think most particularly of Brahms and the final movement of his 4th symphony - which I treasure beyond words!!

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Re: The Fugue

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Fri Dec 20, 2013 4:18 pm

Not to pimp my other thread, but technically speaking the third and final Molto adagio section of Beethoven's Heiliger Dankgesang movement from Op. 132 is technically a set of fugal variations, starting with a double fugue based on an abbreviated version of the 1st subject hymn and progressing from there.

I agree with you about Brahms, Tarantella. More than any of the other Late Romantics, Brahms sought to compose works that served as a summation of the entirety of Western Classical musical theory, combining the emotional power of Romanticism with the strict forms of Classicism and the Harmonic density and complexity of the Baroque period. One of the great contrapuntists, no doubt. Speaking of great choral fugues, his Ein Deutsches Requiem has some damned fine ones as well (dare I call it his "Mass in B Minor, Jr.? :mrgreen: )! The fugue at the tail end of the Handel variations is another gem. He rarely wrote what would be considered traditional fugues, but counterpoint is omnipresent throughout his oeuvre; and when he did set aside some time compose formal fugues, they ended up being some of the greatest ever composed.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 20, 2013 4:35 pm

ContrapunctusIX wrote:Not to pimp my other thread, but technically speaking the third and final Molto adagio section of Beethoven's Heiliger Dankgesang movement from Op. 132 is technically a set of fugal variations, starting with a double fugue based on an abbreviated version of the 1st subject hymn and progressing from there.

I agree with you about Brahms, Tarantella. More than any of the other Late Romantics, Brahms sought to compose works that served as a summation of the entirety of Western Classical musical theory, combining the emotional power of Romanticism with the strict forms of Classicism and the Harmonic density and complexity of the Baroque period. One of the great contrapuntists, no doubt.
Brahms early on wrote several fugues for organ. He was not an idiomatic organ composer, really not knowing what to do with the pedals. (For the Opus 122 chorale preludes, a true masterpiece, the standard performing edition in the US is by E. Power Biggs, who fixes the pedaling problems quite nicely.) These early fugues are not terribly interesting pieces, but Brahms never burned them in the stove, so he must have had some continuing regard for them. I don't expect anyone to listen to the following fugue all the way through (I can barely do so myself), but I present it in part because it is in the outlandish key of A-flat minor.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Fri Dec 20, 2013 5:37 pm

That fugue is a little too "devotional" to me and, as you suggest, not terribly 'interesting'. A Flat Minor - a 'remote' key, but one 'accessible' nevertheless. (Not to be confused with the favourite Soviet key, "A Salt Minor"!)

I'm eager to explore the organ works of Brahms because I know nothing of these at all. Once again, thanks for your knowledgeable insights.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 20, 2013 6:15 pm

Tarantella wrote:I'm eager to explore the organ works of Brahms because I know nothing of these at all. Once again, thanks for your knowledgeable insights.
His only important work is the Opus 122 Chorale Preludes. Mozart wrote two works for an organ in a clock which have been successfully transcribed for console organ, and they are masterpieces. (One of them includes a fugue.) Mendelssohn's sonatas at their best rise to the appropriate level, but like his entire opus are uneven. And that, I am afraid, is the extent of the important contributions of first-line composers of the current repertory to organ music since J.S. Bach. Everything else is to one extent or another a specialized interest, which does not mean that there is not good music in there.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Dec 21, 2013 8:48 am

Tarantella wrote:It intrigues me that he is "conducting" an ensemble that size!!

I don't hear any fugue either in WSS's "Cool"? But Bernstein uses complicated counter-melodies as he does in the famous Quintet ("We're gonna rock it) Tonight". In fact, at times this does sound like a fugue. Brilliant! And how difficult would those melody lines have been to sing? (Some singers actually do seem to flatten in the lower registers at times):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpaS2v-r7cE

This segment and "Cool" are my favourite numbers in that total masterpiece for the theatre (filmed version), and especially the phenomenal Robbins "Cool" choreography. And to think the great film critic Pauline Keal complained that the street kids in WSS were classical ballet dancers. Sheesh!!
I listened carefully again, and I'll concede that "Cool" is not a full-blown fugue. But it's certainly a close cousin. Take a look at this and note the instrumental section beginning at 1:40, and then the restated theme in very low notes beginning around 2:00:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMMAB3MNCKw

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Re: The Fugue

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Tue Jan 21, 2014 2:54 pm

I thought about making a new thread for my question, but I'll use this one instead.

Is it just me, or does it seem that the "other two" of the "big three" use counterpoint more extensively late in their creative lives? Perhaps it's only my perception. But, I notice in the late compositions of Beethoven and Mozart, a greater emphasis on fugal textures and contrapuntal development. For Mozart, the emphasis is marked - from K380 upward, we start to see the growing emphasis in his works. For Beethoven, the fugue as a development technique is present even early on his oeuvre. However in the late works, we see extensive contrapuntal writing of a more widespread and mature variety where these textures pervade entire movements of a work, rather than appearing as episodic departures.

I wonder if the increased focus in the works of these two composers had anything to do with the patronage of Gottfried van Swieten, who took both musicians under his wing at relatively young ages and introduced them to the music of Handel and Bach.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Tue Jan 21, 2014 4:23 pm

I've always regarded fugue as the more 'mature' utterance of a composer - that's to say it requires considerable skill and experience in composition and counterpoint to really "master" (and, some would say, that Beethoven never really 'mastered' the fugue). And presume that you directly refer to Fugue per se. From my understanding, Bach was 'available' for study for Mozart and Beethoven from a comparatively early stage. I'm reading and researching the life and works of Schumann for a lecture in 6 weeks time (my lecture actually concerns the Schumann and Brahms relationship). In one biography by Eric Frederick Jensen (2nd edition, 2012) the author makes this comment about Bach (in the context of Schumann's 'relationship' to him):

"It is often thought that Bach was 'rediscovered' as a result of Mendelssohn's performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829. If by rediscovery the exposure of Bach's music to a wider audience is meant, then there is some justification for its use. Mendelssohn's performance (and others that followed) introduced Bach's music to far more people than had known it during his lifetime. But rediscovery implies forgottenand that had not at all been the case with Bach. "You will find that a great many organists, cantors, etc. etc., in Germany possess one or more pieces by S. Bach" wrote Johann Nicolaus Forkel (Bach's first biographer) in 1801, "which these gentlemen consider a musical treasure solely because of reputation". Bach's music increasingly became available during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the keyboard works - especially The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg Variations - were held in great esteem". It would not be surprising if Schumann's initial contact with Bach's music was a result of his study with Kuntsch......... In the works of the 1830's, passages of fugue, canon or elaborate counterpoint are not common......But after the completion of Op. 5 Schumann benefited from a more detailed and exhaustive study of Bach's music"(138-9).

Certainly Jensen is referring here to Schumann, but the implication from Bach's first biographer's comments (quoted in Jensen) is that Bach's music was generally available for study from the "late" 18th century and this would have influenced Mozart. You may be right: van Swieten may have been the specific 'agent' for that access. And van Swieten did sponsor "Bach" concerts in Vienna. (I'm sure "Robbie" Landon would have had, or Neal Zaslaw or Michael Lorenz do have, definitive thoughts on the issue.)

(It's great to have a musicological discussion, rather than talk about the merits of comparative recordings. This is what I look for in a serious messageboard.)
Last edited by Tarantella on Tue Jan 21, 2014 4:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jan 21, 2014 4:24 pm

ContrapunctusIX wrote:I thought about making a new thread for my question, but I'll use this one instead.

Is it just me, or does it seem that the "other two" of the "big three" use counterpoint more extensively late in their creative lives? Perhaps it's only my perception. But, I notice in the late compositions of Beethoven and Mozart, a greater emphasis on fugal textures and contrapuntal development. For Mozart, the emphasis is marked - from K380 upward, we start to see the growing emphasis in his works. For Beethoven, the fugue as a development technique is present even early on his oeuvre. However in the late works, we see extensive contrapuntal writing of a more widespread and mature variety where these textures pervade entire movements of a work, rather than appearing as episodic departures.

I wonder if the increased focus in the works of these two composers had anything to do with the patronage of Gottfried van Swieten, who took both musicians under his wing at relatively young ages and introduced them to the music of Handel and Bach.
First, let's not confuse counterpoint and polyphony. Most music of the big three is fundamentally contrapuntal, meaning that it is voice-against-voice in a context of overall tonic-dominant-tonic progression. This was demonstrated in great detail by the work of the great music theorist Heinrich Schenker, but known to the composers themselves as well as their great successors (Chopin, Brahms) and some particularly astute commentators (Tovey).

What you seem to have noticed is that the particular polyphonic form of the fugue occurs late in Mozart and Beethoven. This is to be expected, since the Classical period began with a renunciation of the forms of the Baroque. It took quite a measure of genius after 1750 to re-introduce the fugue at all let alone provide preternatural examples of it that do not sound antiquarian in context. According to everything I have read, the desire of Mozart and Beethoven to introduce this form at some point in their own compositions was mainly a result of their exposure to Bach. (Of course, Handel may have figured in there as well.) The late appearance of the form in their works should probably be attributed to their own individual artistic development, since each could have written fugues much earlier than he did, Beethoven relying on the precedent of Mozart as well as Bach.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Fugue

Post by John F » Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:59 pm

An exception is church music, particularly the mass, which continued to include fugal sections all through the 18th century and beyond. Mozart's so-called Missa Longa, K.262, believed to have been composed in 1775 when he was 19, contains fugues. (These are missing from the short masses he composed under the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg's rule that the mass not last longer than half an hour.)

In purely instrumental music, fugues were sometimes used as closing movements, as in Haydn's quartets op. 20, written in 1772, and Mozart's quartets K.168 and K.173, composed the following year and doubtless emulating Haydn. Both composers then abandoned this gambit, and while each of them and other composers wrote extended fugato passages in symphony finales (Michael Haydn in C P.19, Mozart #41, Joseph Haydn #95, in that order) and other genres, those movements were in sonata form. It's very likely that Mozart knew Michael Haydn's symphony, which was published, and listening to its finale, I'm sure he did. It starts at 14:40.



Beethoven's inclusion of fully developed fugues in his late sonatas and quartets seems to me to have nothing to do with Haydn's and Mozart's fugal quartets of the 1770s. I think it's more likely to have come directly from his exposure to Bach, particularly the Well Tempered Clavier, but I don't know if this is actually true.

As for the increasing contrapuntal complexity in Haydn's and Mozart's music, I see this as emerging definitively in Haydn's quartets op. 33, composed in 1781, and Mozart's direct response to these in his own quartets dedicated to Haydn, on which he worked from 1782 to 1785. Those were also the years in which Baron van Swieten included Mozart in his circle of Baroque music enthusiasts, enabling him to study works of Bach and Handel in manuscript, and this may also have influenced Mozart's writing in the quartets, particularly the finale of the A major K.464.

However, Swieten didn't become a patron of Haydn until 1790 when Prince Esterhazy died and Haydn was nearly 60. Before that, Haydn was already "under the wing" of not only a patron but an employer who kept him very busy. So his relationship with van Swieten was very different from Mozart's.
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Tue Jan 21, 2014 7:46 pm

Baron Gottfried van Swieten, arbiter elegantium of the Imperial court in Vienna, first met Joseph Haydn in 1776 when he was visiting Vienna from Berlin. He knew Haydn considerably earlier than 1790.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by John F » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:00 pm

Tarantella wrote:Baron Gottfried van Swieten, arbiter elegantium of the Imperial court in Vienna, first met Joseph Haydn in 1776 when he was visiting Vienna from Berlin. He knew Haydn considerably earlier than 1790.
The point is that he couldn't have become Haydn's patron until after 1790.
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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:05 pm

His becoming a patron of Haydn had nothing to do with whether or not Haydn used van Swieten as a means of getting his hands on the music of Bach, which is what this discussion is about.

Haydn wrote much innovative music, despite the "isolation" he experienced in those Esterhazy years. All the more remarkable when you consider that fact.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:08 pm

I would venture to guess that Haydn was old enough to have heard for himself the tail end of the late Baroque era, and would have been familiar with the Baroque fugue with or without the help of Baron van Swieten. He would have been 18 at the time of JSB's death, and a ripe old 35 by the time Telemann passed.

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Re: The Fugue

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:17 pm

Tarantella wrote:(and, some would say, that Beethoven never really 'mastered' the fugue).
I could see how one would think that. Then I listen to the Finales of the Hammerklavier, op.59 no.3 and Sonata No.28 again and think better of the notion! :lol:

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Re: The Fugue

Post by Tarantella » Tue Jan 21, 2014 8:20 pm

I didn't say I agreed with the notion that Beethoven never mastered the fugue. And I agree with you about the 'Hammerklavier" - my all-time favourite piece of music in this world!! Let me say this: Beethoven gave a pretty poor impression of a composer who HADN'T mastered the art of fugue!!! :wink:

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