Canons and Fugues

The idea of a canon is that one single theme is played against itself. This is done by having "copies" of the theme played by the various participating voices. But there are means' ways to do this. The most straightforward of all canons is the round, such as "Three Blind Mice", "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", or " Frere Jacques". Here, the theme enters in the first voice and, after a fixed time-delay, a "copy" of it enters, in precisely the same key. After the same fixed time-delay in the second voice, the third voice enters carrying the theme, and so on. Most themes will not harmonize with themselves in this way. In order for a theme to work as a canon theme, each of its notes must be able to serve in a dual (or triple, or quadruple) role: it must firstly be part of a melody, and secondly it must be part of a harmonization of the same melody. When there are three canonical voices, for instance, each note of the theme must act in two distinct harmonic ways, as well as melodically. Thus, each note in a canon has more than one musical meaning; the listener's ear and brain automatically figure out the appropriate meaning, by referring to context.


Notice that every type of "copy" preserves all the information in the original theme, in the sense that the theme is fully recoverable from any of the copies. Such an information preserving transformation is often called an isomorphism, and we will have much traffic with isomorphisms in this book.


A fugue is like a canon, in that it is usually based on one theme which gets played in different voices and different keys, and occasionally at different speeds or upside down or backwards. However, the notion of fugue is much less rigid than that of canon, and consequently it allows for more emotional and artistic expression. The 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 things entered the composer's mind. When all the voices have "arrived", then there are no rules. There are, to be sure, standard kinds of things to do-but not so standard that one can merely compose a fugue by formula.


Bach left his Musical Offering unfinished as puzzles for King Frederick to figure out.

Folksonomies: puzzles math music mathematics

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 Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Hofstadter , Douglas R. (1979), Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Retrieved on 2017-10-25
Folksonomies: ideas connections