Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Fugue Writing Fun


Today I’d like to share with you a delightful, if impractical, method of fugue writing.  First, here’s the back story.

So I wanted to write a fugue.  And right away, I found out something.

Fugue writing is hard.

First, you have to come up with a good theme, one that matches other music nicely.  Weird intervals will make that difficult.

On the other hand, it can’t be too chord-driven, or you’re likely to end up with pesky parallel fifths, errant intervals whose presence instantly brands you as a rookie.

Fast forward.  Ok, so once you have a subject, its “answer”, a countersubject, and maybe some nice filigree filler, you’re ready to start working with your nice, neat blocks of music.

Then I encountered another problem.

My software doesn’t make it easy to shift around blocks of music.  I was hoping to work that way because playback lets you know instantly when things are really wrong in your layering of lines of music, or when you’re on the right track, but maybe only need to tweak a few things.

And I feared if I wrote it by hand I’d soon be up to my ankles in eraser crumbs and/or vacuuming out the piano.  Or surrounded by tiny slips of paper arranged precariously and Tetris-like on a table, easily disturbed by a slight breeze or curious cat paw.

I was stuck.  How could I move around these blocks of music?

And then it hit me.  Blocks of music.

A fugue model built of LEGO® bricks!

If I put measures of music on the sides of bricks, I could easily shift them around—both horizontally (leaving room for filler) and vertically (getting the right juxtaposition of lines).  Bricks containing the measures of the subject or countersubject could be held together with long, thin bricks to form a single unit.

Now I was onto something.

And, having children, I have enough bricks to accommodate the orchestral score of a Mahler symphony.

I chose 4×2 bricks to accommodate four beats of music per measure; the notes can be lined up nicely on the studs.  I tailored the paper measure size to match the length of the brick, transcribed my music uniformly, scanned it, and made a zillion copies (including blank measures) to tape to the bricks.  Partial and pickup measures, difficult to maneuver in my software, are now (literally) a snap with smaller bricks.

Another advantage that I then recognized was that each voice could be designated by a different brick color, or you could color-code the subject and countersubject.

Snapped together, the notes were now easy to play with, durable, yet super easy to modify.  Like…well, you know.

My grand machination of a fugue (grand machination! to use car terms, I’m not aiming for a Ferrari, but I’d like something grander than a Yugo) is not ready, but to show the principle in action, here is a photo of the beginning of a fugue in Bach’s Magnificat (Sicut locutus est, the actual score and music at this link).  You can see from the photo why the slips of paper were not going to work out.

Sample of fugue writing using LEGO(R) bricks being inspected by a cat

I hope eventually to construct something that is not totally unlike a fugue.

And as long as I don’t step barefoot on measure 38, I think I’ll be ok.


Note: LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this site.


2 thoughts on “Fugue Writing Fun

  1. Utterly unique. Congratulations! I want to hear this when it’s done!


  2. I like it! Especially the cat. The building-block idea is not half bad- there are a few very tight, rather academic fugues, that were probably assembled this way, in fact, like C minor, book I. Consistent counters (2), all triple-invertible, and very symmetrical and schematic structurally. The Sicut Locutus is similar in its consistency- almost squareness in fact. Send me your fugue when it’s done!



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