June 20, 2002
Vol. II, No. 22
"The Heart of Fugue"
Charles Dickens is my favorite author for much the same reason that J.S. Bach is my favorite composer: the Fugue. Dickens essentially wrote literary fugues, weaving multiple, simultaneous threads, relating, commingling, bringing them together in the end. Weaving - isn't that what Bach did? Can't you feel it in your hands when you're playing a fugue?
While the fugue had its beginnings as a vocal form, it reached its zenith in the hands of J.S. Bach and in the instrument of the organ. On the organ, the voices of the fugue are under the control of one performer. String quartets and choirs can handle fugues but there's something special about being able to do it all yourself. And how much fun is playing the bass voice in the pedal? You can't do that on a piano. Even if you could find a pedal harpsichord, harpsichords don't have the sustaining power of the organ. No, the fugue is really all about the organ.
So, in my little world, I've declared this the Summer of Fugue. I'm usually more than content to simply play a fugue without worrying about what makes it tick. Then last week I started reading "The Study of Fugue" by Alfred Mann.
The first half of the book examines the history of the fugue, born over 400 years before J.S. Bach. Warning: There's more to the fugue than meets the eye. The second half explores the composing of fugues through the presentation of classic instructional texts on the subject. Of these texts, the most interesting was written by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg who actually spent time discussing the techniques of fugue composition with J.S. Bach himself.
The next book I'll be working with is "The Technique and Spirit of Fugue" by George Oldroyd.
Oldroyd's book goes into much more depth on the techniques used by J.S. Bach to compose his fugues. It looks like a winner. More on that one later.
Finally, I'll be using R.O. Morris' "Introduction to Counterpoint."
It's a small, slim volume that quickly covers the study of counterpoint. I thought it would round things out. Unfortunately, it may be hard to find so as an alternative, there's always "The Study of Counterpoint" by Johann Joseph Fux (translated by Alfred Mann)
You're welcome to join me on my journey but otherwise I'll keep you posted along the way. Hopefully I won't get into too much trouble and have to dig out my Intro to Music Theory textbook!
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Have a great week and Fugue On!
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