It’s Pronounced Fyoog

There are few things in the world quite like writing a four-part baroque fugue. It requires a mastery of all of the technical nuances of counterpoint in a style that’s been dead for centuries. It requires a very intimate understanding of the specifics of fugal structure and form, key relationships and motivic interaction. It often requires hours upon hours of tweaking to get that single measure of music to work within all the constrictions you have to deal with and that you force yourself upon. It’s maddening, it’s complex – it’s like a giant puzzle that only gets more complicated as you go along.

And what do you ever have to show for it? A minute and a half of music that at best is just a pale imitation of the ridiculous contrapuntal acrobatics of Bach, and written 300 years after the fact. The good news is that now you have put serious time in practicing a skill that makes you eligible to make money teaching a dead art form in community college music theory programs. Hooray!

I studied fugue writing for a semester under the composer Yakov Gubanov while at Berklee, and got hooked on the stuff. Here’s one of my own Bachsploitations.

Fugue in E Minor – Adam Neely

Here’s a YouTube rendition of the piece.

The subject is this nifty little descending chromatic line. This often yielded harmony that likely would score low points in the classes of unimaginative adjunct theory professors in state colleges. Of course, it’s very true to the aesthetic since Bach himself wrote some seriously chromatic subjects with all 12 notes, like Fugue No. 24 in B minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I. I didn’t do anything nearly as imaginative or inspired (how the hell could I?), but the idea that a simple chromatic line could be a generator of baroque style harmony was something that I got really into.

I had to do all sorts of show off stuff, of course, like a stretto of the countersubject at mm. 21 in all four voices and the subject, countersubject and second countersubject all in inversion at mm. 27. I guess that makes me pretty cool, huh? It was a lot of fun playing with it, though, and I’m sure there is a lot more fugue writing in my future.

Especially if succumb to academentia and find myself end up as an unimaginative adjunct theory professor at a state college.


5 Responses to “It’s Pronounced Fyoog”

  1. 1 Bill Brasky June 22, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Please take this as constructive criticism, Adam. You are incredibly knowledgeable on your instrument, and an excellent teacher. I’ve seen several of your performance videos. What’s missing for me when watching you play is any sense of joy and emotion. It seems very mechanical….almost machine-like, & for an audience, it isn’t exactly riveting.

    I’d rather watch a performer who was flawed but takes me on an emotional journey, as opposed to a musician who is so technically perfect & sterile to the point where I might as well be listening to a MIDI file. For example, I can sit and watch MarloweDK’s videos for hours, because his enthusiasm & excitement over the bass radiates from every pore and that makes me get caught up in it, too. However, I can barely make it through a 2 minute performance video of yours without feeling detached and disinterested.

    I’d like to see you file the training and the theory in your back pocket, and just let your guts hang out for all to see. Move us! Show us who you are as a human being — warts and all. Sometimes those warts can be charming.

    • 2 adamneely June 23, 2010 at 4:31 am

      Hey Bill,

      Thanks for listening and critiquing, it’s very much appreciated.

      Turns out you ARE listening to MIDI files for most all of my videos, this one included. This is simply the Sibelius MIDI performance with a slightly spiffier patch from reason, and I’m just playing the bass part as an excuse to post my composition. You’re right, it is sterile and unexpressive, but I don’t have much to work with there – I’m playing with a computer, and I’m performing in a style that is foreign to me. This video was not meant as a performance video, obviously, it was simply to show what I have been working on compositionally. If you don’t like the composition, that’s cool, but I’m quite proud of what I wrote and I stand by it.

      I stand by my writing on all of my videos. I wrote what I felt and nothing less. My playing, of course, always leaves a lot to be desired simply because I’m forced to play with a computer a lot of the time. Because I sometimes write left-of-center stuff doesn’t mean that I have “let theory and training get to me” – I never have written anything to be more complicated that I have heard it in my head just so it’s more complicated.

      (Actually, it’s usually the opposite. I often have to simplify things so I/others can actually play it!)

      It’s interesting that you think that I am “technically perfect,” by the way, as a player, I couldn’t disagree more! I am in a constant fight with myself over my playing – it’s never remotely what I want it to be, haha.

      If you’d like to check out my ballsier playing, try this one.



  2. 3 Emma June 23, 2010 at 1:21 am

    Next up: writing a fugue for bass, voice, and piano.

  3. 5 Bill Brasky June 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Hi Adam,

    Well first off, I respect that you went ahead and posted my feedback instead of just burying it (as I’m sure many others would have) Kudos for that.

    Just to clarify, I wasn’t knocking the compositions themselves. I give props to anyone who can compose. To be completely honest, I wouldn’t even know a good fugue from a bad one. Not really my forte’.

    I guess what inspired me to write is because you seem like a nice guy, great player, good chops, etc. I would like to see you succeed on the highest level possible. I felt what I said about making a connection with your audience is important and worth noting, because while you may be in touch with how *you* feel playing a certain passage, it’s impossible to know how others feel about it unless they share that with you.

    There’s a Christopher Guest comedy about a community theater putting on a musical called “Waiting for Guffman”. Bob Balaban (as the Musical Director) is talking to Christopher Guest about the rehearsal process and he says, “To me, you rehearse, you rehearse. You get it perfect. You know exactly what you’re doing. And then what? And then you forget about it.”

    There’s no question that you’ve learned it, but now I’d love to see what happens when you forget it!! Shift the balance between calculated, mathematical playing and purely soulful response…and I’d love to see what happens!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Welcome to Adam Neely's blog/website. Check out his compositions, links, and information about lessons on the top bar, and enjoy the music!

Twitter Updates

June 2010
« May   Jul »

%d bloggers like this: