What Is A Fugue?

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Trey learned about fugues, and developed his early fugue work, under the auspices of Ernie Stires. Phish has fugues in the middle section (the "Asse Festival") of "Guelah Papyrus", the jam in "Reba", part of "All Things Reconsidered", the horn parts before the all-vocals segement in "Split Open and Melt", and the third part of Tela (which is an atonal fugue with an eight-measure theme divided into two parts). (Thanks to Scott Holton, Andy Steele, Jonathan Rozes, and Matt Welsch.)

What's a fugue? "A fugue is a style where a theme is introduced by one "voice", which then plays a contrapuntal (playing notes that ascend or descend interactively with another voice) harmony mimicing that original theme. The second voice enters immediately after the first voice has finished the theme and repeats the theme (while the first voice is mimicing the them with counterpoint, creating interweaving harmony based on the original theme). The second voice finishes the theme and then adds a second layer of counterpoint, mimicing the original theme just alittel differently than the first voice did. As soon as the second voice has finished playing the theme, a thrid voice enters and plays the original theme while the first and second voices are mimicing the original theme and layering contrapuntal harmonies over the original theme (now being played by the third voice). Same thing for the fouurth voice and there is the fugue (usually limited to 4 voices)." (Dana Zuul 1/12/96)

Fugue vs. canon: Jeph Irish emailed (4/16/98) that "Row Row Row Your Boat" "is a circular canon, or round. A fuguing tune begins with a staggered entrance." In a canon, each voice performs the same melody in turns, but a fugue has similar but separate parts which end in a single chord. "It's all pretty much the same (a canon and a fugue), but a fugue is a little more complex. Plus, a fugue has two parts. The first section is homophonic in texture, or, rather, a basic song with one "voice" providing the melody while the other three "voices" provide chordal harmony. The second section is what was described above."

Not Fugues: Some Phish bits are sometimes referred to on rmp as fugues, but aren't. For example, "The Chase" section of "Fluffhead" (1:09 to 2:21 from the start of track 2 on Junta) involves Trey, Mike, and Page playing melodies that race around each other, but that does not a fugue make.

Douglas Hofstadter in Goedel, Escher, Bach (with thanks to Christian C. McKee, who called thi "a great bloody book"): "A telltale sign of a fugue is the way it begins: with a single voice singing its theme. when it is done, then a second voice enters, either five scale-notes up, or four down. Meanwhile, the first voice goes on, singing the 'countersubject': a secondary theme, chosen to provide rhythmic, harmonic and melodic contrasts to the subject. Each of the voices enters in turn, singing the theme, often to the accompaniment of the countersubject in some other voice, with the remaining voices doing whatever fanciful thing enters the composer's mind. When all the voices have 'arrived', there are no rules."

Etcetera: On a random note, Ian Hacking (Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Toronto and is author of Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory, The Taming of Chance, Representing and Intervening, and other works) gave a lecture 2/13/97 at UVA entitled "Was Fugue A Real Mental Illness?" Not sure what his answer was, or why he asked, but Bob Haladay noted that "fugue is Latin (or Italian or some damned thing) for 'flee'. ... In psychological terms, it is a serious disorder that occurs when an individual has a sort of mental breakdown, forgets himself and his past, and starts a new life somewhere else, thereby 'fleeing' his old life and old problems. That's probably what Hacking meant." BTW check out any of Bach's fugues for the harpsichord--you will not be disappointed.

"Deconstructing and reconstructing melodies, that probably came from writing a lot of fugues and stuff early in our career. The fugue teaches you about variations on a melody, exhausting every possiblity. I hear that when I listen to Sonny Rollins. He'll jam on very simple melodies, and build it up for a long time. He's into the slight variations. Which kind of traces back to a gospel type of thing, I think, where the song would go on for a long time, and they would take the melody around and each person would have their own little variation. The exact study of that would be like writing fugues. So the fugue in Fluffhead, that's all theme and variation type of thing.""
-- Trey Anastasio, to Addicted to Noise, c. 6.95"


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