The teen fugue

Yesterday’s (1/10) Wayno/Piraro Bizarro revives plays on fugue and minor (exploited in a 2012 Bizarro), plus (in the title FUGUE IN A MINOR) a clunky play on A the name of a musical key vs. a the indefinite article (which are visually identical in all-caps printing):

(#1) The cartoon figure is a version of the classic portrait of the late Beethoven — the Beethoven of the Grosse Fuge — looking stormily rebellious in a Romantic red scarf, tempered by an image of Johann Sebastian Bach — the great master of the fugue as a musical form — in the powdered wig characteristic of the 18th century (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

The word plays are on fugue, musical (“this piece”) or medical (“drifted aimlessly”); and minor, musical (“A minor”) or chronological (“my early teens”, “a minor”).

A look back at the 2012 posting, which had a different play on minor (the minor of music or the minor of significance), and so provided no justification for Wayno’s title for #1, “The First Emo”, with its allusion to emo kids / emos, who stereotypically are sensitive, socially dissociated, rebellious teenagers. And then some reflection on the cartoon composer in #1.

The 2012 posting. From 4/10/12, “fugues”:

[A] Bizarro, with a pun on fugue:

(#2) [from 2022:] A composer not unlike Bach

(with an accompanying pun on minor). There’s a musical and a medical sense of fugue; from NOAD2:

Music a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.

Psychiatry a state or period of loss of awareness of one’s identity, often coupled with flight from one’s usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.

Remarkably, these two words share an etymology, going back to Latin fuga ‘flight’, related to the verb fugere ‘to flee’ — with metaphorical extensions of flee in two different directions, in two different domains. (Because of the common etymology, the two words are listed in dictionaries in a single entry, though the relationship between the two will not be obvious to any ordinary speaker of the language.)

In tandem with this ambiguity, there’s a parallel ambiguity in [the adjective] minor: a musical sense, referring to a scale or to an interval within that scale; and an older general sense, meaning ‘lesser in importance, seriousness, or significance’. The first is a metaphorical development from the second, and both are contrasted with major. So: a minor fugue, a contrapuntal composition in a minor key or a psychiatric condition of lesser importance.

minor in music. From NOAD:

adj. minor: Music [a] (of a scale) …  [b] (of an interval) … [c] [usually postpositive] (of a key or mode) based on a minor scale and tending to produce a sad or pensive effect: Concerto in A minor.

The musical sense is a specialization of the general ‘lesser’ sense: minor intervals, scales, and keys are seen as lesser deviations from the major — the interval of a minor third has its upper note lowered by a half-step; the crucial ingredient of a minor scale is the lowering of its third note; and a minor key is one based on a minor scale.

A key is named by its bottom note: the key of A, a song in G, the scale of F. By convention, an unmodified letter-name refers to the major key, so these examples are short for the key of A major, a song in G major, the scale of F major. As the NOAD definition of minor notes, the mode modifier is postpositive, following the key-name letter that is the head of the construction (B major, G minor); the modifiers flat and sharp are also postpositive (B flat, G sharp) and since they pick out the base note of a scale, they are interior to the mode modifiers  minor and major (B flat major = [[B flat] major], G sharp minor = [[G sharp] minor]).

More detail from OED3 (March 2002) on the adj. minor, with the full set of its examples illustrating the usage of the modifier:

A. adj. I. Lesser (in a relative sense) … 6. Music. … b. Of a key or mode: in which the scale has a minor third (and often also a minor sixth and a minor seventh). Also: (of a scale, melody, etc.) consisting of notes in a minor key. In naming a key minor follows the letter, as A minor. [1772 the minor mode of D; 1776 minor keys; 1786 The natural keys of C major and A minor; 1848 a Major or a Minor mode; 1886 minor tunes; 1889 the Harmonic Minor Scale … Melodic Minor Scales; 1915 the Beethoven D minor sonata; 1951 a minor key; 1988 Western major and minor scales]

Post-head minor (or major) in music — as in FUGUE IN A MINOR in #1 — parallels post-head Junior (or Senior) with proper names, and also the British, esp. public school, use of minor (or major) with proper names, in both cases denoting the younger (or the older) of a pair: Arnold (Zwicky) Junior, John F. Kennedy Senior; Henry Anderson minor, Smith Major.

Back to #1. And A MINOR. Which is ambiguous in print, so it can serve as the basis for a pun in which both senses of A MINOR are significant to the understanding of the cartoon. First, already noted, A MINOR read as A minor, with the musical sense of minor above, and with this musical sense of A, from NOAD:

noun A: Music [a] the sixth note of the diatonic [that is, major] scale of C major. [b] a key based on a scale with A as its keynote.

(The expression A minor has the name of the letter A, pronounced /e/, in it.)

The other (relevant) sense of A MINOR is as a minor, with the indefinite determiner a modifying the chronological noun minor, sense 1 in NOAD:

noun minor: 1 a person under the age of full legal responsibility: the court would take account of the minor’s wishes. 2 Music … [and on through senses 3 through 6] [semantically, ‘lesser one’, specialized to ‘child, kid, not yet adult’ vs. ‘adult, grown-up’, as the distinction is understood in law]

(The indefinite determiner a in a minor is normally unaccented, and pronounced /ǝ/; the pronunciation /e/ is used only under heavy accent, for contrast or emphasis, and it’s hard to construct a natural context for (a) fugue in a minor (child). So the two senses of orthographic A MINOR differ hugely in their prosody, and a bit in their segmental makeup, and don’t make for much of a pun in pronunciation; they’re far from being homophones. But the two senses are perfect homographs.)

Then, in #1 the composer depicted there — call him Batock /bétàk/, mostly Beethoven, a bit of Bach — has written a fugue in A minor about when he was a minor. Wrote a fugue about when he was an emo kid in a fugue (state), drifting aimlessly, with no sense of his identity or his past.

Emo kids. From Wikipedia:

Emo is a rock music genre characterized by an emphasis on emotional expression, sometimes through confessional lyrics. It emerged as a style of post-hardcore from the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement in Washington, D.C.

(#3) An emo kid meme from Old Glory brand t-shirts

… Often seen as a subculture, emo also signifies a specific relationship between fans and artists and certain aspects of fashion, culture and behavior. Emo fashion has been associated with skinny jeans, black eyeliner, tight t-shirts with band names, studded belts, and flat, straight, jet-black hair with long bangs. Since the early to mid 2000s, fans of emo music who dress like this are referred to as “emo kids” or “emos” … The emo subculture is stereotypically associated with the socially oppressed, sensitivity, misanthropy, introversion and angst, as well as depression, self-harm and suicide.

I’m struggling to imagine Batock as an emo kid, but clearly he survived that self-destructive period and eventually found himself — or, more accurately, lost himself in his drive to create a magnificent edifice of retrospective musical composition.

Batock’s roots. First, we have Ludwig van Beethoven, as painted by Joseph Karl Stieler in 1820, late in Beethoven’s life:

(#4) The Romantic icon

From Wikipedia:

The Grosse Fuge …, Op. 133, is a single-movement composition for string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven. An immense double fugue, it was universally condemned by contemporary music critics … [but] it is now considered among Beethoven’s greatest achievements.

… The composition originally served as the final movement of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 13 in B♭ major, Op. 130, written in 1825; but his publisher was concerned about the dismal commercial prospects of the piece and wanted Beethoven to replace the fugue with a new finale. Beethoven complied, and the Grosse Fuge was published as a separate work in 1827 [the year of Beethoven’s death] as Op. 133. It was composed when Beethoven was almost totally deaf, and is considered to be part of his set of late quartets. It was first performed in 1826, as the finale of the B♭ quartet

And then Johann Sebastian Bach, as painted by E. G. Haussmann in 1748, two years before Bach’s death:

(#5) The Baroque icon

Bach composed a gigantic number of fugues throughout his life … and then came The Art of (the) Fugue. From Wikipedia:

The Art of Fugue, or The Art of the Fugue (German: Die Kunst der Fuge), BWV 1080, is an incomplete musical work of unspecified instrumentation by Johann Sebastian Bach. Written in the last decade of his life, The Art of Fugue is the culmination of Bach’s experimentation with monothematic instrumental works.

This work consists of 14 fugues and four canons in D minor, each using some variation of a single principal subject, and generally ordered to increase in complexity.

… It is now generally accepted by scholars that the work was envisioned for keyboard. Despite disagreements on how (and whether) it was intended to be played, The Art of Fugue continues to be performed and recorded by many different solo instruments [there are many peformances on harpsichord, organ, and piano] and ensembles [especially by string quartets].

Performances of the Grosse Fuge and the Art of Fugue are thick on the recorded ground, but, sadly, I haven’t been able to find a single recording of Batock’s emo-retrospective masterwork FUGUE IN A MINOR.

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