Abstract Image of the Fugal Phenomenon
In the first part of this essay, we traced the origin of the musical form known as fugue to the period of the religious wars in Europe, advancing the anthropological explanation of fugue as being representative in a purely abstract way of the patterns of social breakdown characteristic of the time and place. Fugue in its classical form, as perfected by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1759), has prototypes in the Late-Renaissance caccia and ricercar, but it comes into prominence, as a musical form of forms, only in the decades of the sectarian conflicts that followed in the wake of the Reformation. Fugue, we recall, is a musical procedure in which successive voices imitate an initial voice, the theme assuming the role of an object of contention among the voices, subjected by them to development through breaking it down into its constituent motifs, and at last resolving the strife by its resumptive unison restatement, typically as a chorale. The great exemplar is the second half of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, the whole of which was made famous, in Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement, by its inclusion in Walt Disney’s animated feature Fantasia, just before World War II. Incidentally, in a work such as Bach’s “D-Minor,” there is no real reason to separate the initial toccata or prelude – or whatever it might be called – from the fugue proper. The introductory matter serves to expose the basic material out of which the fugue (as it were) will compose itself.
Previously we traced the itinerary of fugue from the Seventeenth to the Late Nineteenth Century, ending with Franz Liszt’s homage to Bach, his Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H. (1855; revised 1870). Liszt’s score, in versions for piano or organ, would seem to be something of a non plus ultra in the development of the fugal art, but this is not, in fact, so. We also speculated on the anthropological meaning of fugue, suggesting that it corresponded to a ritual pattern of crisis, pursuit, and salvation; and we remarked that fugue had its beginnings in the era of the religious wars in Northern Europe, when indeed many people found themselves overwhelmed by crisis, fleeing under pursuit, and seeking although not always finding asylum or refuge. Fugue has a rich history in the period from Liszt’s death (1886) through the middle of the Twentieth Century, another historical period marked by the breakdown of societies and war. In this second part of our two-part essay, we will explore fugue’s new lease on life from the Victorian Era to 1950.