Fugues: from the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Sep 27 2007 Published by under Music

Via YouTube, I came across this little gem. Who would have thought that you could create a beautiful fugue from a Britney Spears song?

Fugues are one of my favorite musical forms. There's something magical (and something mathematical) about the way it sounds when a theme counterpoints itself. Anyway - here it is, the Danny Pi video "How to Write a Fugue", featuring the "Oops, I did it again fugue", from a theme by Britney Spears.

Now that you've heard the "Oops I did it again" fugue, here's a better example of the form, by the great master himself, Johann Sebastian Bach. A little slice of musical perfection to brighten your day. The video is a bit heavy on clever tricks (it's the "Wedge Fugue", so naturally, they use a bunch of wedge effects), but the music is stunning.

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  • Scott Belyea says:

    Lovely Bach playing ... thanks!
    For a different scale of Bach fugue, try http://youtube.com/watch?v=2mZvdGAGlOo

  • BenE says:

    There is as you said Mark, a quality of perfection to the music of Bach and Mozart (I'm personally a Mozart fan) Some people have attributed this to the fractal nature of their music. I don't know if this is true but I'm sure there is certainly some kind of wide spectrum balance of order in their work. I find other composer, like Vivaldi for example, often have music that is more narrow band. Mozart's mix of order and disorder seems perfect on all levels. The little speedy and high frequency patterns are folded into patterns that are a little bigger and slower this recursively in such a way that there is a perfect balance on all levels: the order/disorder, high notes/low notes, fast patterns/slow patters, and for orchestras, even in the timber of instruments used seems to have that kind of wide spectrum recursivity. It's really music that is entropically perfect. Here's my example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtTqpqGIIYU

  • Coin says:

    Something that fascinates me, which I got from a mostly-but-not-absolutely reliable source, is the claim that apparently Revolution 9 is, itself, structurally a fugue. I'm not totally sure how to go about checking that out though.

  • You might want to consider that there's something intriguing about "Oops, I Did It Again," musically if not lyrically. Not only his Mr. Pi offered a very creative approach to writing a fugue by using Ms. Spears' pop melody (something that might attract some younger people to an exposure, however brief, to a great classical form, but the brilliant Richard Thompson has seen fit to include OIDIA on his 1000 YEARS OF POPULAR MUSIC 2 cd set. I've seen him perform it live a couple of times, and it hardly seems like the ear candy it did when Ms. Spears performed it. Go know.

  • SLC says:

    Barhs' Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, greatest piece ever written for the organ.

  • Pseudonym says:

    And because this is a mathematical-themed blog, we can't forget the Ricercar a 6 from Musicalisches Opfer. If Hofstadter had written this link text, it would be funnier.

  • complex_field says:

    many composers have used popular music over the centuries as inspiration for their works. Dvorak is one of them.

  • BWV says:

    The song makes a good fugue subject because it is harmonically simple and has a strong opening motive. Most of Bach's fugue subjects are even more simple than the Britney Spear's song (Die Kunst Der Fugue for example). A more sophisticated pop song - say a Burt Bacharach tune - would likely make a lousy fugue subject.

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