Saturday, March 23, 2019

And Now Here's Glenn: So You Want to Write a Fugue

Today's entry comes from Wikipedia and is our Canadian contribution to Bach through our own genius Glenn Gould. 

So You Want to Write a Fugue? is a satirical composition for four voices and string quartet or four voices and piano accompaniment. It was composed by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould and was a final piece for the television show The Anatomy of Fugue, which was broadcast on March 4, 1963 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The work is the result of Gould’s intense study of the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, in particular Bach's late work The Art of Fugue, excerpts of which Gould had recorded in 1962. Structurally the piece is modeled on just such a Bach Fugue. The text, however, was written on the subject "So you want to write a fugue?" Both the text and the music are parodies of the rules and compositional techniques of the genre, as well as the relationship between intellectual methods and artistic intuition in the creative process (e.g., "Just forget the rules, and write one"). Lyrically, the 5-minute piece concludes tongue-in-cheek with the decision to "write a fugue right now!" The piece contains numerous quotes from various works of classical music, including the famous sequence of notes B-A-C-H, the Second Brandenburg Concerto by J. S. Bach, Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, and Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (altered from major mode to minor).

"So you want to write a fugue?
You've got the urge to write a fugue
You've got the nerve to write a fugue
So go ahead and write a fugue that we can sing
Pay no heed to what we've told you
Give no mind to what we've told you
Just forget all that we've told you
And the theory that you've read
For the only way to write one
Is just to plunge right in and write one
So just forget the rules and write one
Have a try, yes, try to write a fugue
So just ignore the rules and try
And the fun of it will get you
And the joy of it will fetch you
It's a pleasure that is bound to satisfy
So why not have a try?
You'll decide that John Sebastian
Must have been a very personable guy
But never be clever for the sake of being clever
For a canon in inversion is a dangerous diversion
And a bit of augmentation is a serious temptation
While a stretto diminution is an obvious solution
Never be clever for the sake of being clever
For the sake of showing off
It's rather awesome, isn't it?
And when you've finished writing it
I think you'll find a great joy in it (hope so)
Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, they say
But still it is rather hard to start
Well, let us try
Right now? (yes, why not)
We're going to write a fugue
We're going to write a good one
We're going to write a fugue right now!

Here's the YouTube of Glenn Gould and the performance:

We enjoy the preview of Spring in pictures today.


Friday, March 22, 2019

So You Want to Write a Fugue by Glenn Gould

This is Celebrate Bach Day on Google. Bach's final composition was missing its 'final' page.  Did it go missing?  Did he compose it it but had not written it down?  Did he deliberately leave it incomplete, by that meaning, is that what he intended?

So are there 47 bars missing? How do we know this?  This number is the result of much analysis and thinking.  What is known is that in these bars, Bach would have combined the main theme of the entire work with the other three themes of his final fugue.

There have been many written completions by others.   How many?  I haven't found that answer.  But there's a lot of time between 1750 when Bach died and the 19th century when the Bach Revival occurred. And even more time to our 21st century.  All the great composers have referenced Bach, so this unfinished fugue has received much attention.

There was a period of decline in his popularity after his death in 1750.  The decline is easy to explain.  His work was so complex that few could perform it. He did not pursue publication of the majority of his work - only the final compositions.  Most of his work was created for teaching.  And the musical trend after him was towards simple, more homophonic sounds.  His music manuscripts were dispersed to students and inheritors, who did not actively preserve it.  What did persevere was the use of his music for teaching keyboarding and counterpoint. So a gap occurred between his death and 1781. 

The Revival was supposedly sparked by Felix Mendelssohn's performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829.  Current thinking is that this performance was a major milestone along the way, rather than the beginning. His son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach left a large collection of his father's manuscripts to the German state library after his death in 1788. There they were made publicly available. His biography was published in 1802 and it is considered key to the Bach Revival.  

Most mysterious at the last notes in the fugue is a note in the handwriting of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, stating:  "At the point where the composer introduces the name BACH [for which the English notation would be B♭–A–C–B♮] in the countersubject to this fugue, the composer died."  How wonderfully dramatic, but it has been successfully questioned and disputed based on Bach's declining abilities before he died.  

That question of "How many completions are there of the Unfinished Fugue?" still intrigues me.  But I found this in article.  And it seems so satisfying as the conclusive completion.

"Fretwork musicians perform their own completion. There are many completions of Bach’s 15th counterpoint in “The Art of Fugue,” but Boothby’s is unique: “The parts of the fugue are proportionate to each other. The first section is 1.4 times the size of the second, and the second is 1.4 times the third, and so forth,” Boothby said. Taking that relationship to its logical conclusion, the fugue would have to be 47 bars, he explained. "

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

More On Jokes

After selecting jokes the other day, I got to wondering about what makes some jokes funny and others not so.  This was the top-rated joke that I retrieved:
Image result for the world's funniest jokes

Richard Wiseman did the research in the early 2000's to find the world's funniest joke (done by public submissions and voting on the website Laughlab).  He wrote about it in his book Quirkology.   On he has a downloadable pdf of the 1001 jokes submitted to Laughlab.  This is the first joke in the list, and it is a great one:

What does an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac do?
Stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.

While Richard was busy getting people to submit jokes and evaluate what is funniest, we've got lots of people experimenting with computers generating jokes.  The motivation is to create a more natural language between computers and humans.  It turns out that generating jokes is a path towards sophisticated conversation. Computers are good at knock-knock jokes and Q and A jokes - so far, they can be taught to work 'inside the box' with a rules-based approach.  Beyond that, there's still a lot of work to do on the path to natural conversation.  You can check them out at this site with computer generated jokes HERE.  You can try out the joke generator.  This is their top-rated joke:

What kind of murderer has moral fiber?
A cereal killer.

Along with the computer-generated jokes, an experimental site named Which Face is Real? was on the list.  I don't know how it related to computer jokes, but I checked it out.  It is HERE. The choice is between a real image of a person and a computer-generated image.  They all look real/unreal to me.  I can't tell the differences.

But then can I tell when an image is photoshopped?  
Remember the Grumpy Cat?  She turns out to be a real cat named Tard.  Are her pictures real or fake?  It turns out she looks like that.  Her owners have shared videos to prove her face is what it is in the pictures.  


So today's pictures are colour-stretched grunge abstracts.  


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Whither the Worms

Spring will happen tomorrow at 5:58pm, and that night there will be a full moon, and it will be a supermoon.  Our chances of a good viewing of March's full moon, called the Full Worm Moon, are considered poor.  Supposedly the name of the Full Worm Moon comes from the ground softening enough for earthworm casts to reappear, inviting robins and birds to feed, a true sign of spring - this from the Old Farmer's Almanac.

The first Almanac wouldn't have had this information, it was published in 1792.  That was before earthworms came to North America.  

There are only two native worms in Ontario, although there are 19 known species.  That makes 17 varieties of invasive worms. The 'earthworms' we are familiar with arrived from Asia and Europe about two hundred years ago in the ballast of ships.  A square meter of soil can support 2,000 worms.  Studies are finding that they are predators of native seeds. They 'devour' the leaf litter layer much more rapidly than native decomposers.  Our native plants and insects rely on a thick protective layer of decaying leaves. 

Here are a few worm jokes:

What do you call it when worms take over the world? 

Global Worming! 

Two silk worms challenged each other in a race
It ended in a tie.

What's the difference between Donald Trump and a worm?

One of them is a slimy, loathsome creature incapable of complex thought, the other one actually shows up when it rains.

This Donald Trump joke popped up along the way:
A man died one day and went to heaven. As he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him.
He asked, "What are all those clocks?"
St. Peter replied, "Those are lie clocks. Everyone on earth has a lie-clock. Every time you lie the hands on the clock will move."
"Oh," said the man as he pointed at one of them, "Whose clock is that?"
St. Peter replied, "That's Mother Teresa's. The hands have never moved, indicating that she never told a lie."
"That's incredible, " said the man.
St. Peter pointed to another clock, "That's Abraham Lincoln's clock. The hands have moved twice, telling us that Abe only told two lies in his entire life."
The man was impressed, and then asked, "Where's Donald Trump's clock?"
St. Peter said, "His clock is in Jesus' office. He's using it as a ceiling fan."

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Greening of St. Patrick

Beer is green, the Chicago River is green and Niagara Falls will be green tonight.  How did green get to be part of celebrating St. Patrick?  Here is the answer from Wikipedia:

Green first shows up in the 11th century pseudo-historical book The Book of the Taking of Ireland. Goídel Glas, who was the son of Scota and Niul, was bitten by a snake and was saved from death by Moses placing his staff on the snakebite. As a reminder of the incident he would retain a green mark that would stay with him and he would lead his people to a land that would be free of snakes.  This is emphasized in his name Goídel which was anglicised to the word Gaelic and Glas which is the Irish word for green.

That's quite a remarkable story.  

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hand out shamrocks on this day to the Irish Guards. They traditionally attend a parade of the Irish Guards:  William is Colonel of the Irish Guards. 

The rest of us will indulge in wearing and drinking green.