Fugue, Glorious Fugue


skip the spiel and just play the fugue


the spiel:

Years ago, I first heard Bach's Little Fugue in G minor, on this new gadget everybody was talking about, called a "home computer".  This was in the mid '80s... 

(that's right, the NINETEEN 80s, wise guy)

...and I was in one of those little holes-in-the-wall that had sprung up back then, called a "computer store".  

I decided it was time for me to get one of these gizmos, and I was looking at the different models and looking through the demo programs they had.

One caught my interest right away - the Electronic Arts Delux Music Construction Set - and I asked the salesman to put it on. 

One of the demo pieces in the program was Bach's Little Fugue in G minor.  I didn't know the piece (yet) but I've always loved Bach so I put that on - and in the next moment, I experienced a life-defining event.  I saw Bach's score on the screen scrolling past, while a midi program played the individual voices, polyphonically.

To say I was rooted to the floor in awe and amazement would be to put it mildly.  It goes without saying that I bought the computer  (a Commodore Amiga 500, to be exact) and the Delux Music Construction Set.      

That was my introduction to music rendered on a computer, and I've been involved in that, in one form or another, ever since. 

I was so enchanted by the Fugue, that I had a fierce craving to play it on the guitar - somehow.  It is far more than one guitar can handle - it is, after all, an Organ piece.  The Organ is the fabled King of Instruments.   A mere guitar - at best a squire in the King's Court - cannot aspire to the throne.  Yet, I so longed to play the piece that  I tinkered with some arrangements.  Alas, until I could work out the logistics of playing a 4 part organ piece on a guitar, my dream was, shall we say - all wet.



Skip forward 3 decades and technology has taken a quantum leap forward - especially in the area of home computers, home recording, and video editing.

As amazing as that 1st generation Amiga was, today's technology is light years beyond it.  (To put it in perspective, when I first bought that ancient computer, a "geek" was a carnival performer who bit the heads off live chickens).



These advances in technology have enabled me to make the video of Bach's fugue that you will see if you click the link at the bottom of the page. 

(click here to shut me up and play the stupid fugue already)




spiel, cont'd...

Well, thanks for bearing with me.  This is the very same same piece I saw on that demo program, back in the '80s - so I guess I've fullfilled an ancient dream of mine.  To play Bach's Fugue in G minor on the guitar!   




So, what's a fugue, anyway?

A fugue is a multi-part composition, where a short subject is stated at the start of the piece, and the subsequent development of the piece is based around that theme.  The subject will be repeated by the other parts, imitated in other keys and registers, sometimes even inverted or reversed. 

Each of the independent parts, or voices, somehow  combine together to form a whole that is very much more than the sum of its parts.  They form a whole that is unimaginable when you hear the parts individually.

If you look at the music on the staff, the lines have to work both horizontally (melodically) and vertically (harmonically). 


Simply put, it's an insanely complicated musical form.

And all the while, as technically complex as it might be, the composer must never lose sight of the fact that it is primarily a musical composition - a work of art and a thing of beauty.

Bach is the supreme master of the Art of the Fugue on Planet Earth, and I would put him up against the best that any other planet has to offer.  Other composers may have fooled around writing some fugues, but J. S. Bach defined the style and composed a staggering number of mind-blowing ones.



An Idea is Planted

I had dabbled with multi-track videos, and made a few, and I was encouraged by my success.  I sent a duet I did recently to a friend and master luthier, John Price, and he jokingly suggested a quartet.  The Little Fugue sprang to mind instantly.  A mission formed in my mind and I became committed to the completion of my project.  I would finally play the glorious Little Fugue on the guitar!  I was so inspired that I cut the conversation with John short, not telling him what I was up to, and began immdiately!

A quick check on the web and the organ score was right there for download.

In my pitifully deluded mind, I imagined that it would be relatively easy to play each of the individual parts and lay down the tracks.  I thought I was just going to sight read the parts - of course I'd need a run through or so before recording.

Bach was not going to let me get away with that.  First of all I had to transpose the key to D minor, to get the maximum range out of the guitar.  The D (a fraction less than 2 octaves below middle C), is the lowest note you can reasonably play on a standard 6 string, while the Baroque organ can play notes so low you can only hear them if you're a whale at the bottom of the ocean, or you go to China and press your ear against the ground.  So drop D tuning is required (and even so there are still several concessions in the arrangement).

As far as just winging it for the recording, that turned out to be an idiotic idea.  I had to work out every measure, every note of this incredibly brilliant composition, and learn the parts almost as seperate pieces, to properly capture Bach's intentions and make the threads weave into the cloth that makes the fugue so alluring.   The parts are surprisingly tricky.  But playing the parts wasn't as problematic as synching it all up.  The timing is so critical that if there is the slightest error in rhythm or tempo in any one part, the woven cloth shreds into individual threads that no longer connect or relate to each other, and the fabric is torn asunder. 

This fugue is so perfectly constructed, so masterfully wrought, that I had to scrutinize and comprehend every element of it.  I listened to an orgen rendition by Ton Koopman endlessly.  I examined the organ score under a microscope.





Do you think that my obsession may have gotten a little out of hand?





An aside about marriage

You know you're married to the right mate, when they don't trivializeyour passions and drives - even if they don't necessarily share them  - and never deter you from forging ahead with your plans and schemes (as long as they're not unnecessarily suicidal).  

All my love and gratitiude goes to my wife and soulmate, Robin Friedlander who cheered me on, and otherwise, supplied me with coffee, nutrisystem bars, ibuprophen, and encouragement, and just peeked in on me every so often to verify that I was breathing and that I hadn't shriveled up into a dessicated husk, enshrouded in spider webs.


The Guitars

  I'm playing a Sergei de Jonge spruce top guitar for parts 1 and 3 (black shirt and red shirt) and a John Price cedar top for parts 2 and 4 (teal shirt and yellow shirt).  These are both such great guitars I don't know where to begin, so I'll just let them do the talking - or singing.


This has nothing to do with the fugue, but it was here in the template I was using to write this page, and it's pretty nice so I just left it there.

It's our trip to Chichen Itza, Mexico last year, in case you were wondering.


And now, finally, ta-da....

the Fugue!

larger file - better resolution (and sound quality) 


or YouTube




Well, thanks for sticking this out until the end.

I think I may have found a niche in the miniscule world of classical guitar, where niches are pretty hard to come by - if not damned near impossible.  I'm not saying I'm the first person to ever multi-track (that honor goes to the late, great, Les Paul), but on the other hand, I think what I'm doing here is just a little off the beaten path.

So check back often - I have a lot of ideas forming for projects that are going to continue to surprise and (I hope) delight you.


Marc Friedlander