images It begins with one voice stating the subject. Another voice enters, and the initial voice is bumped into the dominant key where it is now referred to as the answer.

“At frequent intervals throughout a fugue, then, the subject will appear in one voice or another: at the top of the texture, at the bottom (the bass), or else tucked away in the middle surrounded by other polyphonic lines. The subject appears in different tonalities, too…without modulations a fugue would get badly bogged down. “(Joseph Kerman, Listen, p.96,Worth Publishers, Inc., 1972.)

Each subject is separated from it’s succeeding neighbor by bits of melodic fragments and other fun stuff, which are called episodes. Episodes serve to unify this little madness of subject variants and keep the whole business from cascading into polyphonic hell.

After awhile, the ears need a break from the aural carousel, and that’s where we take leave of this “…one-sided devotion to a single idea.”(ibid) and are utterly relieved to be given the countersubject.

The above description is primarily Baroque, but fugues are found all across the repertoire. The finale of Verdi’s Falstaff is a famous example of Romantic fugue. Unlike the predictable, albeit glorious mathematical fugues of Bach, sorting out the through-composed fugue of Verdi is an exercise in futility. At least for me.

Having performed two productions of Falstaff as the female principal, Alice Ford, I must make a public confession: I never have learned that damn fugue correctly. I know all the entrances, but not the episodes. Sing straight out when your turn comes round, then mouth gibberish to your neighbor and appear to be having a fabulous time. I am not proud of this.

Why the chat about fugues? Lately I’ve been feeling the circular turmoil of a fixed number of subjects built on a theme. As with all things on this journey, I can’t alter the form. I can only do my best to keep my place in the music. Sometimes the only way I can work this is by slipping inside my self. Things get too intense, and demands are greater than I can meet, so I find an emotional yurt and keep warm until the anxiety has passed. This periodic withdrawal is hard on one’s friends and family, but it is a core personality trait which is hard-wired within me.

When I withdraw, I fret about the effect on those around me. I withdraw so I can work it all out.

7 thoughts on “Fugue: Exposition. Alone in the Tonic

  1. Sweetie- Don’t forget to Simplify Life….sounds easier than it is….but your post sounds very complicated….look for the smaller simpler gifts in life…there is much joy in the small things!!! (your garden, smiles from your boys, a rainy day with some hot tea..)
    Once I ACCEPTED my life as God gave it to me, with all the pain and suffering, turmoil, as YES, all the good “little things” too….I was much happier…I have a personality that wants to make it all perfect, shoot for the stars…but it doesn’t bring me happiness…why… cause it is UNATTAINABLE…God doesn’t expect us to fix everything, nor does he expect us to reach the stars….He only expects us to live day to day, (and as my dad used to say….) STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES ONCE IN AWHILE! And also…BY MAKING GOD FIRST…all else will follow….

  2. Dear Silly,
    Complicated, as a fugue is complicated. But the tonic always returns, as does the coda and the final cadence. When the fugue takes off, you just have to hold on, trust your ear, and in the case of the Verdi, forget that it is even possible to count. You have to trust your instinct.

    Thank you so much for your love and support.

  3. It seems to me that withdrawing from social contact because of stress, and then fretting about that withdrawal’s effects, creates its own circle of anxiety. Like a stone tossed into a pond, the ripples create their own problems for you and those who care about you. How can you break the cycle?

  4. Thanks for the comments Helena. It is not so much about breaking the cycle as trying to learn how to be gracious about a natural rhythm. Good friends and family know to trust me when I say I am overwhelmed. In this case, I gave ample warning that in order to juggle some serious life issues, I would probably unplug for awhile. That it coincides with a emotional valley is coincidental. At this point talking about it just doesn’t help. Talking just means spending more energy by justifying and defending and explaining. I need my people to have faith in me-and trust that I know how to do this.

    If I were a monk and said I was going into a solitary retreat for a month, that would be understood and accepted. As it is, I can’t do that. I have two female friends who are depending on me for support, and I have so little to offer. Unless I can recharge in my solitary way, I won’t be useful to anyone.

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