Four-voices Fugue on Basses
What a pleasure to record this with not only one Stu Hamm, but two of him!
What’s a fugue?
It is a musical composition in which a musical “theme” (called a “subject”) gets repeated over and over in various ways by various voices. A fugue is a bit like a canon on steroids. They are prime examples of contrapuntal texture which is a fancy way of saying that each voice works on its own and is independent in some ways from the other voices, yet they all work together and complement each other to form a cohesive “whole” that is much more than the sum of its parts.
I have fond memories of a very hard (but totally awesome!) series of harmony and counterpoint classes at the University of Vienna in Austria where we learned how to write simple fugues. There were lots of rules to follow and it seemed impossible to come up with a theme that would work beyond a few beats. An amazing challenge, for sure.
On Basses! (Really?)
This fugue – the first of the Well-Tempered Clavier by JS Bach, was composed for two hands operating a keyboard instrument. So, naturally, we thought – why not do it on basses! This would give us an opportunity to nerd out as we try to make four basses that are quite close in range, not sound muddy! Stu takes the lead with Voice 2 and chose the perfect bass for it – his Warwick Signature bass. Below that comes Voice 3, for which Stu used his acoustic-electric – a great way to distinguish the sounds!
I decided to use my Soprano Marleaux for Voice 1, which would stay out of the heavy low end sonically, and to bring in my six-string Consat Marleaux for the lowest voice. I used that low B string only once on the very last note for a nice fat ending.
Big thanks to Stu for stepping into this labyrinth of voices with me! And to Wolf for taking on the mixing!
Here are a few mind-blowing tidbits about this piece:
- This fugue has four individual voices (four leads, if you will.)
- Even though it has only 27 bars, the theme gets quoted 24 times!
- The theme shows up in various keys – G major, C major, A melodic minor, F major, Dm… I even found one that is technically B Locrian (you hear it as C major though)!
- Sometimes the theme starts on the root, other times on the five, as well as other scale degrees (like the seventh!)
- It shows up on the upbeat of every single beat of the bar: 1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and!
That there can be such beauty in repeating structures that are organized in quite sophisticated ways never ceases to amaze me. When I listen to this (or play it!) I can’t decide what is more enjoyable – to follow and appreciate the delicious complexity and depth or to just let the music take me away through a beautiful kaleidoscope of sounds. I invite you to listen and decide for yourself.
- In the video, I marked out the spots of the individual voices playing the lead by framing them with orange lines.
- I have the score – which in its original is a piano score – as individual voices for you below. I marked each occurrence of the theme with a pink star.
Thinking about playing this?
Go for it! It’s a blast! The score is above. Some voices require treble clef, but most I put in bass clef.
I don’t have TAB, but you can make your own by downloading this zip which contains compressed and uncompressed .xml files, midi as well as the Musescore version. Pull into your favorite notation software and create TAB there, if that helps you.