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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Oct 23, 2005 10:36 pm

• fugue •

Pronunciation: fyug • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Music) A musical structure in which a theme is extended and developed mainly by imitative counterpoint (combining two distinct lines) in different voices. 2. (Psychology) A state of altered consciousness in which a person wanders away from their present life and begins a new one. After recovery, there is no memory of the fugue episode.

Notes: This past summer, an 80-page draft of Ludwig von Beethoven's Grosse Fugue for Piano for Four Hands, written in Beethoven's own hand, was discovered in a drawer at a Philadelphia seminary. It is expected to fetch between $1.7 and $2.6 million at auction next month. You can hear the new piece at the NPR website. Fugal is the adjective, fugally, the adverb, and Bach was a better fuguist, composer of fugues, than was Beethoven.

In Play: There is little you can say about fugues; it is best to listen to them. Bach probably wrote the best. There is room to play with the psychological sense of this word: "Every time anything goes wrong in the office, Arthur seems to be off on a fugue and can't remember anything about the problem when he returns."

Word History: Today's Good Word was taken pretty much 'as is' from French, who got it from Latin fuga "flight". The Latin verb was fugere "to flee", closely related to Greek feugein "to flee". The Latin verb is also the origin of our word fugitive. You might have heard the Latin verb in the phrase tempus fugit, close in meaning to English "time flies", as in "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like an apple."
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Postby tcward » Mon Oct 24, 2005 12:15 pm

...and Bach was a better fuguist, composer of fugues, than was Beethoven.

I, and many others, would say that Bach was the best fuguist.

Beethoven's fugal stylings were probably more in homage to G.F. Händel. After all, Beethoven was known to have proclaimed Händel (coincidentally, both Dutchmen) the world's greatest composer.

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Postby gailr » Mon Oct 24, 2005 8:52 pm

This is your area of expertise, Tim; do you have favorites to recommend? (I only have Brandenburg Concertos in my library.)
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Postby M. Henri Day » Tue Oct 25, 2005 12:14 pm

Vater Bach is my favourite, but the Beet Gardener was no slouch, either ! Thanks, Dr G, for the link !...

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Postby tcward » Tue Oct 25, 2005 1:48 pm

For Definition 1:

The obvious -- Bach's spectacular Kunst der Fuge ("Art of Fugue"), downloadable from as an archive of MIDI files with the printed scores! (Originally I had the link posted, but it wasn't working -- too many odd characters -- and it turns out you need to subscribe to the page in order to download the file, anyway. Alas!)

Probably the most amazing thing about this set of pieces (which is really like a huge theme and variations) is that Bach apparently composed them strictly as a masterful exercise to demonstrate the possibilities. You can find many arrangements and recordings of this set (or many of its pieces) for various instruments -- organ solo, brass ensemble, string quartet, etc.

But in addition to this, Bach included fugues in almost every serious piece he wrote, both vocal and instrumental works. Even most of his not-so-serious music also includes fugal material at some point.

If I had the time, gailr, I'd love to sit down with some good coffee and listen to those Brandenburg Concertos with you!

Now, as for Definition 2...

It depends on what kind of alternate reality you want to pursue. Richard Strauss was certainly a master of the tone poem, works written to use sound to portray a scene or story. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is also well-known and respected for his use of orchestral forces for such purposes. Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, famous for their impressionistic compositions, also did a fine job of using music to mentally transport the listener to another place.

But for bringing on a truly different listening experience, the venerable Igor Stravinsky probably is unsurpassed. ;)
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Postby Spiff » Wed Oct 26, 2005 4:18 am

One of my favourite pieces of programmatic music would be Musorgskiy's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Also, this looks like the right place to plug Olivier Messiaen, who wrote some beautiful and truly original music. I recommend the "Quatuor pour la fin du temps" as a starting point.
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Postby tcward » Sun Oct 30, 2005 11:47 pm

I found this neat website:

The Canons & Fugues of J.S. Bach

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Postby Stargzer » Mon Oct 31, 2005 12:18 pm

Being an Old Folker raised on Rock and Psychadelic, my first introduction to Bach was Switched-On Bach by Wendy (née Walter) Carlos. As the article says, this was long before the development of MIDI (the Musical Instrument Digital Interface), so it was a much more intricate task to perform and record.

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