Monday, May 9, 2011

Fine fugue fete

A fugue is a contrapuntal composition in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition. This was a great musical idea introduced by Bach and Raja being a sincere follower of Bach has used fugue in several of his compositions.  Key to the understanding of fugue is two terms – theme and imitation. Consider theme as a short melody that is played at a certain pitch by an instrument. The imitation of the melody could be played by the same instrument at a different pitch or by another instrument at a different pitch to constitute a fugue arrangement. What’s important is that while this happens, there must be multiple simultaneous voices.

For some strange unknown reason, Raja and fugue has not been discussed at length, though most sites that speak about Raja's work, do mention about his compositions using this technique. 

Fugue is not favored much other than in classical circles as it is considered too complex for ordinary composers. Fortunately, we are not discussing any ordinary composer. Let’s look at some of Raja’s work over the past 4 decades. Time for some Raja examples.

Manjal Veyyil from Nandu (1980 Tamil) – this is pure baroque pleasure. There are few film tracks that can match the quality of fugue that Raja has demonstrated in this track. A total contrapuntal gem! Raja has used his entire arsenal in this track to show fugue in film music – solo violin, violins and double bass, veena, guitar and also the flute. Let’s analyze this 1:55 minutes of grand orchestration. 
  1. 00:18 to 00:21 seconds, you will hear rapid violin strokes (10) played at a particular pitch. Observe that between 00:28 and 00:32 seconds, the exact same melody is imitated with the same violins at a different pitch.  
  2. From 00:33 to 00:37 seconds, the solo violin plays a new melody (the violins also play in counter melody in the background, but let’s ignore that for the moment), the groups of violins imitate the melody between 00:38 and 00:41 seconds at a different pitch.
  3. From 00:41 to 00:45 seconds, the solo violin plays the third melody and the group violins imitate this new melody between 00:45 and 00:49 seconds at a different pitch. It’s a back to back fugue arrangement. Show me one composition in Indian film music that can match this.
  4. Between 00:53 to 00:57 seconds, the flute plays a new melody. Between 00:57 and 1:01, the guitar imitates the same melody at a different pitch.
  5. Between 1:01:30 and 1:06, the flute plays another melody and between 1:06 and 1:10, the melody is imitated by a combination of guitar and veena at a different pitch!
  6. Between 1:15 and 1:22, the veena plays a slightly lengthy melody. Observe the imitation of the same melody between 1:23 and 1:30 played by the solo violin at a different pitch.
  7. Between 1:31 and 1:39, the guitar now plays the new melody. The groups of violins imitate the guitar melody between 1:39 and 1:47 at a different pitch. Between 1:47 and 1:55, the guitar plays the same melody with a third pitch; the background violins join the fray along with the guitar.

7 fugue arrangements constitute the interlude of this masterpiece. There is no other composer before and after Raja, who can do this in Indian film music! This work is no less than a grand concerto of Bach, should he have the 4 minute limitation of film music.

Let's hear Manjal Veyyil from Nandu...

Oru Kili Uruguthu from Ananda Kummi (1982 Tamil) takes the fugue idea to two types of voices – instrumental and human voice. (This has a Telugu equivalent Jili Bili (Sitara) but the interlude orchestration is different). 
  1. Between 00:01 to 00:09, there is a flute melody that is played. Observe closely, what happens after that. 
  2. Between 00:16 and 00:20 the 8 second original melody is imitated at a lower pitch but a faster pace using flute again. 
  3. Between 00:26 and 00:42, Raja uses two child voices singing ‘ku koo’. 
  4. Observe the melody every consecutive time. A short melody in one voice, an imitation in another voice at a different pitch, a third melody at another pitch, a fourth imitation melody at a different pitch and so on. This is the voice (human) equivalent of what Raja does with instruments in other fugue experiments. 

Let's hear Oru Kili Uruguthu ....

Devan Koil dheepam Ondru from Naan Paadum Padal (1983 Tamil). Listen to the clip between 44 seconds and 58 seconds. Focus only on the guitar and the flute that plays a melody – first a few bars for the guitar followed by the flute (44 to 47 seconds). Listen to exactly the same melody being played by the same instrument at a slightly higher pitch between 48 and 52 second and even higher pitch between 53 and 57 seconds. Another neat fugue work.

Let's hear Devan Koil ...

China Chinna from Mouna Ragam (1987 Tamil). Listen to the first 11 seconds of the clip. The theme is introduced by the flute in the first two seconds. The flute again imitates the melody at a different pitch. This is followed by the violins at the third and fourth pitch. A neat fugue package.

Let's hear Chinna Chinna...

Paadoo Sakhi Paadoo from Chaitram (1989 Malayalam) is a song sang by Yesudas. Raja sourced it from  – Poove Pani Poove from Nilavu Suduvathillai (1984). This track has some interesting fugue arrangements. 
  1. The first 4 seconds has the same short melody played in four different pitches to start off the fugue arrangement. 
  2. Between 00:29 and 00:30:30 seconds, there is a melody a synthesizer plays which is imitated between 00:30:30 to 00:33:00 seconds by the synthesizer at a lower pitch constituting the second fugue arrangement in the track. 
  3. Between 1:03 and 1:13 there is another beautiful fugue dialog. The melody is started off by the synthesizer, the imitation is by a solo violin at a different pitch; the synth plays the melody at another pitch and the solo violin takes it to another pitch in its imitation. What follows that is a C&R arrangement between the synthesizer and flute. 

Let's hear Paadoo Sakhi...

From here on, I am leaving it to the readers to identify the fugue parts in the interludes of some Raja tracks that prominently use this technique. Please comment back with the exact timing on the track where the fugue parts occur.

Thamaraikodi from Ananda Kummi (1982 Tamil) is another fugue treat served with guitar, flute and violins.

Here are the interludes are Thamaraikodi...

Yeh Thendrale from Nenjathai Killathe (1982 Tamil) – there are several fugue parts with voices, flutes and violins.

Here are the interludes of Yey thendrale...

Aala Asathum from Aala Piranthavan (1987 Tamil) has a fugue arrangement with trumpet and guitar.

Here are the interludes of Aala Asathum...

Appadi Paakarathunna from Ivann (2004 Tamil) has a fugue based prelude.

Here are the interludes of Appadi...

Here is some good examples on fugue from Vijay...

I will also not cover the "Mad Mod Fugue'" track of 'How to Name it".

Fugue has not been very popular among Indian film music composers, nor did/do most of them had/have the training and courage to handle such a musical ideas. To Raja, this is one more music idea. In my view, he does not even care if he was the greatest exponent of this technique in Indian film music!

Hope you had a fine fugue fete...