Rock Around the Croc: The Baroque Era and the Fugue

Welcome back to your weekly putting of some knowledge. I’m your host Sobek, I know less about music than I let on, and today we’re getting into the Baroque Era. Here’s some pretty music:

Actually, first, let me start with a timeline so we can all keep our historical bearings. For purposes of western music, things really start with the Middle Ages and plainchant, because that’s when we have music that survives to this day. I started this series (as did Professor Robert Greenberg in his wonderful series, How to Listen to and Understand Great Music) with the ancient world of Greece and Rome, but the reality is there isn’t much music that survives from that time period, so I think there’s more speculation than knowledge. Then we have this:

Middle Ages (400s to late 1400s)

Renaissance (late 1400s to 1600)

Baroque (1600 to 1750)

Classical or Viennese High Classical (1750 to early 1800s)

Romantic (1830 to 1900)

Modern (1900 to whenever)

So now to the Baroque. The period starts in 1600 because in October of that year, the first opera that survives to this day, Corsi’s Eurydice, was performed in Florence. It ends in 1750, the year that JS Bach died. That said, although the Baroque period is the only one where firm dates actually correspond somewhat to reality, that doesn’t mean people stopped doing Renaissance things on January 1, 1600, and started doing Classical things on January 1, 1750. Music, as with pretty much everything, has people who look to the past, those who try to define a new future, and those who are focused on what’s popular right now.

Some of the most prominent musical forms of the Baroque period are opera, fugue, cantata and oratorio, but we also see the rise of sonata and concerto that will form the basis of much Classical era music. I mentioned in a previous post that the three most famous Baroque composers are Vivaldi, Handel and Bach, but you may also have heard names like Arcangelo Corelli, Domenico Scarlatti, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and Claudio Monteverdi, and if you read the comments around here (I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t) you know I’ve recently linked Georg Telemann and Jean-Marie Leclare. There are lots and lots of others, and you will never, ever run out of Baroque music to discover. Vivaldi alone reportedly wrote around 800 pieces of music.

I start with fugues because they are so very representative of what Baroque music was about: a driving, motoric force with seemingly infinite details of ornamentation. Here’s Scarlatti’s “Cat Fugue:”

The way that a fugue works is, the composer works out a fugue subject – some bite-sized piece of music that is going to form overarching structure of the piece, and to which the music will periodically return. In this fugue you can hear it very clearly, a series of six ascending dotted half notes, followed by twelve eighth notes. That’s the theme, and it’s what gives cohesion to everything you are about the hear. A fugue theme is introduced in one voice (here, to upper voice), then that voice starts to play some decoration while the theme is re-introduced in another voice (here, the middle), and finally in the third voice (the lowest). The rule for introducing a theme in a new voice is, it must be the highest or lowest of any voice so far introduced. So you can do U-M-L, M-U-L, M-L-U or L-M-U. The reason for the rule is that once a voice comes in, it stays in, and if you introduce the upper voice, and then the lower voice, but the time the middle comes in it will be completely buried under everything else going on.

After all the voices are in, it is the task of the composer to dissect that theme, change it, rearrange it, flip it upside-down, do whatever you can with it, all to show off the melodic capabilities of the fugue subject. The more ornate your subject, the more difficult that is to do while still sounding coherent, but also the more options you have to demonstrate the possibilities. Along the way, the composer will periodically bring the subject back in its original form. Imagine the poles that hold up power lines as you drive along the highway, and you watch the lines rise and fall rhythmically from pole to pole (SYWM). Each return to the subject is like that pole, and the gaps between them are the musical space in which the composer performs his process of deconstruction and reconstruction.

The Scarlatti fugue is played on a piano, an instrument that had not yet been invented during the Baroque period. Fugues were played on organs or, I think more commonly, on the harpsichord. It’s the perfect instrument for the form, because of its characteristic attack and decay. Each note hits very distinctly, then fades out quickly enough that it can’t muddy up what the other notes are doing as much as a piano can.

This Vivaldi piece is played on strings, but I love the animation because it let’s you see how the different voices come in and interact with each other.

You can write a fugue that has four voices if you want to strut your stuff. Here’s Arcangelo Corelli:

Here, the Dallas Symphony has arranged a Handel harpsichord piece for five wind and brass instruments, which I think is fun. Obviously you can’t play complex polyphony on a solo flute, but get four of your buddies together and you can make it work:

The towering monolith of fugue work is Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier. This is the first half of a collection of preludes and fugues that move in order through each major and minor key. So it’s Prelude in C major, Fugue in C major, Prelude in C minor, Fugue in C Minor, Prelude in C# major, etc. Then he does it all again in book 2. Holy crap. I listen to a lot of music – a whole lot – but I’ve never made it through even one of these books actually paying attention.

By the end of the Baroque era, musical tastes were changing away from the busy, complicated style of the Baroque, so that when Bach wrote his Art of the Fugue in the 1740s, it was more proof that he was a musical dinosaur whose time was over. Even so, the great Beethoven thought fugues were not beneath him. He wrote his string quartet in Bb with the fourth movement that he called Der Grosse Fuge (I don’t know how to do special characters in WordPress). His publisher thought a fugue wouldn’t help him sell the quartet, so he convinced Beethoven to replace it, which he did, but then published it as a standalone work. Every one of his critics hated it and dismissed it as incomprehensible, but it has grown in stature over the ensuing years. You can hear how very, very different it sounds from the Baroque-era fugues:

I like to end these post with modern connections when I can. I can’t think of anything modern to compare it to, so here’s Worry About You, by Ivy. I first heard this as the intro to a TV mini-series called Kingdom Hospital, and the music is better than the show was (the show was okay).

Have a blessed week, and let me know what you’re listening to.



  2. Not sure what’s going on but I’m getting about 10 emails a day from GEOTUS or Don Jr.


  3. wakey wakey

  4. MJ, it’s been that way for months for me. If I’m using my phone or iPad to read email they don’t show the spam unless you look for it and I’ll open email on my desk top and see 7 or 8 emails from Trump organizations or the NRSC. And those are on top of the Trump and Trump Jr emails that land in my inbox

  5. Woke up at 1:30 with pain in my kidney, the one with the stones. Now at ER. The way I love to start Sunday.

  6. dissect that theme, change it, rearrange it, flip it upside-down
    Sounds like how I treat your mom and we all know how she enjoys a good fugueing.

  7. Good shit, Sobek.

    I got a chance to listen to Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor at Westminster Abbey back in 13. Still regard it as a highlight of my otherwise mundane life.

  8. I’m going to check all my coat pockets for 10 $100 bills I don’t remember putting anywhere or having.

  9. Vmax, you mentioned you would use the solar charger to charge up your bricks. What bricks are you using? We don’t currently have any extra power capacity for our machines and we probably should.

  10. Why the f would anyone watch a documentary about Fauci?

  11. Carin, how are the puppies and mama?

  12. The Big Tech PTN* team coming out to defend the Fauci ratings like they did for Captain No-ass gives me hope.

    *protect the narrative

  13. If you only listen to one of those pieces, listen to the Scarlatti. It’s my new favorite fugue, and I found it by accident while writing this post. Serendipity!

  14. I made a cromulent comment elsewhere that I thought I’d share here, wrt to what 2050 will be like:

    2050 will be a cyberpunk dystopia where you pay multinational big pharma for monthly boosters so you can have access to water clean enough that you only have to boil it. You’ll boil it over wood you harvested illegally and have to burn stealthily so the drones don’t electrocute you for harming Gaia/violating the green laws. Stay Safe!

  15. Fugue!

  16. Hope you feel better, BroTim.

  17. I found sweat pants with cargo pockets. “Gartens”. I can’t decide if they are ugly enough to purchase. Im looking for heavy weight sweats .

  18. Going to watch my dad’s church’s service online this morning. They fired their pastor this week for not doing his damn job, and it’ll be one of my dad’s friends filling in.

    I’m honestly surprised that the church is still going, there are very few people under 65, and the only children were the fired pastor’s. One of the last funerals, they had to get help from the funeral home because there are no longer six able-bodied men left in the church nor enough relatives.

    As you can tell, I am not a fan of the pastor. Ecumenism was not his strong point.

  19. Cargo pockets can hide a lot of hunnert dollah bills

  20. Mare?

  21. Fuuuuuuuu. Passing a stone, but also infection. I’m being admitted. Looks like my week is trashed.

  22. Momma and puppies are doing well. I have a lot of interest in the puppies. I will have to hold interviews.

  23. Hang tuff Tim. Had one hit on wed nite, was able to get my hands on pain mgmt and today is first day no mgmt required. But damn if opiods won’t constipate a body.

  24. Lumps,
    I have a Amazon basics, that has been quite reliable for over a decade. I like Anker products and have one of those, lastly I bought a Nitecore flashlight and a small power brick came with it. While I get fewer charges out of it, it is smaller than my phone so finds it’s way into my pocket frequently. One unfortunate drawback it they all use different cables so I am always trying to find the right one.

  25. Mare?
    I know her, she is on the radio a lot in Houston

  26. wait cargo sweats? where?

  27. Fugue Joe Biden!!

  28. I wonder which strip clubs Hotspur goes to where he’s handing out $100’s.

    I bet they’re not bed dusters.

  29. Haiti needs to start over IYKWIMAITTYD.

  30. “he U.S military occupied Haiti for nearly 20 years, from 1915 to 1934, so our footprints are in its sand. And as a nation proud of ending slavery, we should respect Haiti’s birth after the world’s first successful slave revolt in 1804 and its establishment as the first independent black republic. It has been paying a price for that ever since.”

    Mitch Albom wrote this a few years back. In his defense, after the first earthquake, he went down there are started an orphanage. Last i hear, he still goes down a week a month to help out. And this was in the height of his liberal period – he’s coming around to libertarian now.

    But that still … shit, if you can’t read the dates and think … UHM … no slavery since 1804? It’s been it’s own country since 1934? Its not been paying any price – it’s stuck in a quagmire.

  31. wait cargo sweats? where?

    Skip it. Using the pockets for anything heavier than a credit card will pull them down and expose more than you’d want.

    But that still … shit, if you can’t read the dates and think … UHM … no slavery since 1804? It’s been it’s own country since 1934? Its not been paying any price – it’s stuck in a quagmire.

    The average IQ in Haiti is 65.

  32. Haiti is French enough to be crazy.

  33. Hold up . I remember a few years back Bill and Melinda gates were going on and on about how they didn’t believe kids should inherit their parents wealth, for fairness … bla bla bla …

    Jennifer Gates, who was just married yesterday in a 2 MILLION dollar wedding events – lives on a 142 acre horse farm at the tender age of 25 and a long, long career of doing …. riding horses.

    Lookie here – they’re still peddling the lie: “Jennifer K Gates will inherit just a small amount of his father’s $96.5 Billion wealth. Bill Gates has said his children will only get a “minuscule portion” of his fortune and the rest will be funded for charity purposes. The Billionaire wants his children to pave their own path in life.”

    A “miniscule portions” could be … 1 billion. I mean, that would suck.

    The article says it’s her estate, but looking it appears to be owned by Bill. But never fear, they did buy her a 5 MILLION dollar apartment in NYC.

    They also brag that they kept Jennifer tech free without a cellphone until she was 14. which … is the age normal parents start considering giving their child a cell phone.

    I can’t even with people.

  34. It must be tough to not inherit your parents money in theory, but they buy you whatever you want.

    What is funny is that they think this will cause them to be productive on their own.

  35. Looks like haircut and oil change have to wait a few days.

    On the plus side, TV.

    …kill me now.

  36. Humn … it might be her “country” estate. It isn’t listed as one of his mansions. Of which the concern climate citizen has several. Five or so.

  37. I’m vehemently opposed to the death tax.

    Besides the obvious it’s anti-Biblical.


    I’m currently canning this relish recipe, but made with my serranos instead of habaneros. and all red bell peppers, no green. It’s delicious. Hot and sweet. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and did reduce the sugar by almost half and it’s fine. I think this will be great to mix into other things. Salsa, maybe a spicy mayo, in my kimchi pancakes, etc.
    I just had a dollop on bread with butter and it was yummy.

    I cut the recipe in thirds and still got 9 half pints plus one pint.

  39. Feel more better soon Brother Tim.

  40. I’m currently canning this relish recipe

    You know what would really go well with those peppers?

  41. I’m currently canning this relish recipe……
    Step 1 – Substitute main ingredient
    Step 2 – Eliminate another ingredient
    Step 3 – Halve third ingredient
    Step 4 – Reduce by 2/3s


  42. Mare, I have never been to a strip club/joint whatever those shitholes are called. Not even in the Navy. And I have no tattoos – some might think I never served.

    Anyway, if I want to see naked women I’ll get in bed with my wife.

    Or your mom.

  43. Leon, Leon, Leon,….it not about the utility. Its about the “look”.

    Try to bring fashion to the masses…….sheesh.

    Cargo sweats are da bomb. Nothing says rugged, ready to lounge like cargo sweats. Cargo sweats identify the wearer as relaxed but ready to go all McGuyver in a heart beat. Its what could be in the pockets that gives the wearer that air of mystery.

  44. People are like “he looks pretty chill but he got those pockets though”. Generally they be thinking twice about trying a mofaka wearing cargo sweats.

  45. Cargo shorts went out of fashion when young guys started carrying purses.

  46. You see a lot of guys toting around a back pack every where they go. They just can’t admit that they’re actually pussies, and it’s in fact, a purse.

  47. Most of my shorts are cargo shorts that carry no cargo in the cargo pockets. But it’s nice knowing I could theoretically put a picnic for a family of 4 in my pockets.

  48. Where TiFW at?

  49. love that surgery article

  50. surber even


    (Imgur video with sound)

  52. You weren’t kidding about the Trump emails. 14 so far today. Even if I were inclined to donate, now I won’t because I won’t reward that kind of harassment.

  53. I was wondering what surgery article. lol

  54. Let’s go Gustavo Almadovar! Hm. Doesn’t quite have the same ring.

  55. TiFW just posted a birthday pic on FB. Hubby’s side of the fam. Get well, Bro Tim. My mom is back in hospital. Fell during a potty transfer. I did get my weighted throw. 7#. It’s awesome.

  56. 2021 BBF Round 3 Results

  57. Just saw the next door neighbors loading their three year old son in the car wearing a dress.

  58. First “girl” ever named Walter in the history of the universe.

  59. I’m currently canning this relish recipe……
    Step 1 – Substitute main ingredient
    Step 2 – Eliminate another ingredient
    Step 3 – Halve third ingredient
    Step 4 – Reduce by 2/3s


    ‘Zackly, and I also added a little salt because they didn’t have any in the recipe at all and that’s just crazy. Probably an error on their part.

  60. Hotspur, calm down.

  61. HS, the fact that any kid born in 2018 was named Walter is already a warning sign.

  62. My mom is allowing the Drs to decide what is next. Huge. No broken bones. I work with 2 Walters. One is ranch boy strong. In his 70’s. He outworks everyone. Slow and steady. Other, worked at Intel, became a Greeter in his 60s. Waiting for full SS.

  63. Neither of them were born in 2018, so they’re both in the clear.

  64. They switched out my bed! New one is an air bed. Comfy. Not happy about the noisy inflation maintenance device, but I don’t expect sleep in hospital anyway.

  65. Small steps, Bro Tim.

  66. I will never understand why Hispanics camp out at the hospital when a family member is sick.

  67. You weren’t turned away from the hospital because it was chock full of those horrible unvaxxed covid patients, BroTim??

  68. Unvaxxed is anyone within 14 days of their jab.

  69. I’m getting pretty tired of being the bad guy. Great music BTW. BETTER THAN BOOBS.

  70. Thanks, Oso, I’m glad you liked the music.

  71. MMM scheduled for 610am. I’ve got to take a “skills assessment” for a new jerb in the morning, so I’ll see you reprobates at like 9.

  72. J.S. Bach fathered 20 kids, 10 of which survived to adulthood. The last one came when he was 57. Pray for Mrs. Bach. She was a very tired woman.

  73. Sobek, Dan liked the music. He is my life.

  74. I’m glad Dan liked the music, too.

    Also, Pups, I forgot to tell you I really liked the Rammstein/Cookie Monster thing. Good stuff.

  75. Trump, I liked you as President, but quit blowing up my inbox. 17 emails today, and the day’s not over.

  76. after watching multiple youtube videos I think I’m ready to install 2 subpanels in my home, one to expand the home one, and one to run to the garage for my power tools

    Over/Under on electrocution/burn unit bill?

  77. I liked the Cookie Monster one, too, sent it to both kids.

  78. I’ve been seeing lots of soibois and their liberated wives naming their kids old fashioned names like Walter, Harvey, Clarence, Henry (sorry Rosetta), Theodore, Zachary, etc.

    They won’t get their asses beat four times a week in school because bullying is no longer allowed.

  79. Names have a cycle. When I was a kid, nobody was named Emily except for people’s grandmothers. It has been a popular baby girl name now for more than ten years.

  80. The class ahead of mine had five Gingers (Gilligan’s Island, anyone?). I’ve only met one since, and it was short for Virginia, which is another name you rarely see these days.

  81. **happy dance for Braves win**

  82. My grandmother’s name was Corana. My cousin’s daughter chose it for her daughter (who is now about 2) and at first I was like, WTF.

    But upon reflection I really like that they chose it. My grandmother died in ‘85, but if she were still alive she would have been so happy and proud.

    So I guess I have to be less cynical. I could do that, right?

  83. I am thinking Zeke might be in his final hours. He was acting strange for a few hours, then he started pacing and panting, thinking he might be having another seizure I gave him a second pill. He has calmed down but phenobarbital is a barbituate so that is expected. I imagine hard choices are ahead.

    I would say that is good Spur, they live as long as we remember them. As long as she knows she was named after your grandmother she will remember her.

  84. Getting zero crap about jab status. Especially once they try to draw blood and see firsthand why…

  85. Hang in there Bro Tim

  86. Delta employed reckless pilots.

  87. The names here aren’t totally crazy but they are pretty weird.

    I’m really glad the moms decided to name all the boys Grayson and all the girls Brooklyn a few years ago. Makes things easy.

  88. Now that I think of it, MJrs closest friends are:

    Conley, Freya, Charlotte, and Brooklyn

    All girls. Pretty weird names.

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