Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ana's Musical Puzzler & Challenge to Readers

Ana Darcy loves fugues. That's apparent from her books as well as elsewhere in her blog.

A fugue is a special form of polyphony. Polyphony ("many voices") is the combination of two independent parts or melodies in harmonious progression. A simple example is "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," where the same tune is begun by one voice, taken up again a phrase later by a second voice while the first continues, and taken up another phrase later by a third voice, producing a layered composition of three voices, with the result that all are singing the same melody but at three different points. All parts harmonize with each other.

A fugue is the most highly developed form of polyphony (also called counterpoint). We don't need to go into the "rules" for a fugue, but basically the first melody develops as it goes along, while a second melody, or a second version of the first version, develops independently. (Some fugues have three themes, or even more!)

It's a treat for the ears, or as one ancient writer described it, "it fills the brain with frisks." Ana loves those frisks. She finds the mental effort required to follow the development of two themes at the same time perplexing and exhilarating. Several of the simpler fugues are among her favorites to play. Just imagine playing a harpsichord or piano (or organ) with each hand playing a different melody, both harmonizing with the other and producing, in effect, a third kind of tune--two horizontal and one vertical. It is truly mind-bending.

At some point Ana realized that a simple, popular tune she loved would probably make a delightful fugue. Unfortunately she didn't know enough about musical composition to be able to write it.

Her harpsichord teacher, however, helped her locate a person who could: Larry Wallach, of Simon's Rock College of Bard, in Massachusetts. Mr. Wallach accepted the commission and composed a five movement suite on the tune Ana selected, each movement of the suite written in the style of a different baroque-era composer. Ana was thrilled and delighted. Her teacher commented that any baroque composer, had he been able to hear it, would have thought it was a completely normal piece of baroque music. Sadly, however, several of the movements were too difficult for Ana to play.

So what did she do? We already know that her favorite harpsichordist, Rebecca Pechefsky of Brooklyn, New York, recorded Ana's very favorite version of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1. (Listen to a sample at Music of the Galaxy.) Ana commissioned Ms. Pechefsky to record Mr. Wallach's suite for her, which Ms. Pechefsky did gladly and wonderfully well. The result is the world premiere recording of this suite by Larry Wallach.

"What is the tune?" you may ask. Instead of revealing it here, why not offer a sample and see who can recognize it? We'll provide only two hints. First, it's a tune that nearly everyone knows quite well, a tune that has been used and reused many times, in both popular and classical music. Second, this particular movement of the suite is written in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, and specifically resembles one of his Two Part Inventions. If you recognize the tune, simply put the name in a comment to this post. Have fun!

(Suggestion: right click and open in another tab.)

If you give up, the answer is here.


Anonymous said...

Lord of the Dance? Or is that too simple?

Al said...

That's not it--it's older! Much older! Extra hint: it's a hymn....

Bron Bahlmann said...

I don't know... have I actually found something that's before my time? I'm afraid I'll have to cheat!

Shirley Bahlmann said...

Okay, that was weird... Shirley wrote the comment attributed to Bron Bahlmann! Of course the music is not before HIS time... his metabolism hasn't even changed yet! He can eat EVERYTHING with no consequences!