Perfected by Bach, fugues have enjoyed an impressive afterlife

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JUST before this year’s Super Bowl, a Philadelphia Eagles devotee sat down at an organ and started to play. There were more melodies than the average fan may have been used to, but the instrument soon quivered to the familiar sound of the Eagles’ fight song, “Fly Eagles Fly!” Elsewhere on the internet, a rival musician quickly composed a reply, riffing off “Shipping Up To Boston” to honour the New England Patriots. Remarkably, both pieces were fugues, a musical genre polished 300 years ago. They have challenged and seduced musicians ever since. 

European composers have used counterpoint, the art of harmoniously tying different melodies (or voices) together through a piece, from at least the ninth century. Fugues themselves are a variety of counterpoint. Derived from the Latin for “flight”, their name hints at how fugues work. A catchy “subject” melody comes in first. It is then…Continue reading

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