Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gaga about the Fugue

A new video based on a very old tradition has been making the rounds. Italian composer Giovanni Dettori has composed a fugue based on a motif found in Lady Gaga's song, "Bad Romance." Composers have been using popular music for contrapuntal fodder for centuries -- sometimes to the disapproval of their audiences (or patrons).

The French folk song "L'Homme Armé" was extremely popular in the 1400's. And the shape of the melody lent itself very well to contrapuntal treatment. As a result, quite a few composers of the time used the song as a basis for their mass settings. So when you see a sacred work titled "Missa L'Homme Armé," then you know this highest form of religious music was based on a pop song.

Which takes us back to Dettori's fugue. As you can see (and hear) from the following video, it's a thorough treatment of Gaga's motif. This is counterpoint as championed by Bach, and if you pay close attention, you'll hear the thematic material transformed as it's played against itself, stretched, condensed, and even reversed.

And while the composition's a lot of fun, it also stands on its own merit. If you've never heard Lady Gaga, or knew of the origin of the theme, it's still an enjoyable fugue.

But just for reference, here's the music in its original context.

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