Learning about fugues through Lady Gaga

When hearing the phrase “classical music”, most folks wouldn’t immediately think of Lady Gaga. But sometimes neat things happen when you throw together two seemingly disparate items. As a way to demonstrate classical musical ideas, someone wrote a fugue based on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”. I think it’s brilliant.

Most everyone is familiar with a “canon” (or “round”). Who hasn’t sung “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” where one person or groups starts, then the next person or group starts once the first group gets to a certain point in the music? That is a canon. The melody is kept intact and in the same key for every group, and you can just keep singing it over and over again until someone (usually a parent) threatens to thwack you with a wet noodle.

Think of a fugue as a more complicated canon. You hear the initial theme, which is often quite short, and it eventually ventures off into other directions. Meanwhile, another voice begins the melody, but off by a fifth (most commonly – other intervals can be used). So in the above example, the first statement of the theme begins on D.  When the next voice enters at 0:13, it begins on A, which is five steps above D (a fifth). The next voice returns on D at 0:38. This is a three-part fugue, meaning that there are three voices.

So where do you hear the entrances? This is my list – I think I caught them all:

0:58 – starts on C in the top voice
1:03 – starts on C in the middle voice
1:19 – starts on E-flat in the middle voice
1:29 – starts on B-flat in the top voice
2:12 – starts on G in the bottom voice
2:19 – starts on D in the bottom voice

There are other quotes of the theme, but these are the ones I consider to be full statements (even though the full statement in this case is only two measures long). The arranger manipulates the theme, uses even shorter snippets, and also does things like turn the theme upside-down. Listen to the top voice at 2:02 – instead of having the theme go up, he has it go down. Cool, isn’t it?

So that’s the quick and dirty intro to the world of the fugue. J.S. Bach was a master of this form, and I imagine sometime I’ll talk about one (or more!) of his fugues here on the blog.

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