Trey’s recent performance at Carnegie Hall brought his musical compositions full circle, when he debuted “YEM” with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Bringing the song that first showed Trey’s extraordinary compositional abilities to the grandest stage in music, made for an incredible moment. Dating back to his early college years, while studying under Ernie Stires, Trey took it upon himself to delve into some of the most complex aspects of composition. Melding the styles of classical, jazz and progressive rock, Trey pushed his music to new levels with extremely complex arrangements. Perhaps the best examples of this are Trey’s fugues, which involve one of the most challenging compositional techniques.
A Fugue, which means ”flight’ or ‘chase’, is an advanced method for composing music that dates back to the 17th Century (prior fugal composers did not follow the same rules). A fugue is created through the use of multiple “voices, or parts, which literally “chase” the other parts through the piece. Involving the use of musical counterpoint, the voices imitate and follow each other until they finally arrive back at the opening key, or tonic. However, some fugues do not follow the conventional patterns in music, such as atonal fugues.
Although there were prior composers who used the fugal method, J.S. Bach is considered by many to be most influential. In his works Art of the Fugue, the Goldberg Variations, and the Well-tempered Clavier, Bach developed the fugal method further than ever before. Fugal compositions have continued in the works of artists such as Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinsky, and Trey Anastasio.
Listen to Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in B Flat” , played by the legendary Glenn Gould.
Trey has composed several fugues which have functioned as sections of both rock, and classical compositions. “The Asse Festival”, “All Things Reconsidered”, “The Chase” from Fluffhead (although not a true fugue) part of the composed section of “Reba”, the horn section before the vocal section in “SOAM”, and “Splinters of Hail” from the classical version of “Time Turns Elastic”, are all fugues. Writing fugues has clearly influenced Trey’s style, and has given Phish a distinct unique sound. Trey has brought fugal techniques to other songs such as “Demand”, which is not a literal fugue, but contains similar elements. In a ’95 article with Addicted to Noise, Trey talked about composing fugues:
“Deconstructing and reconstructing melodies, that probably came from writing a lot of fugues and stuff early in our career. The fugue teaches you about variations on a melody, exhausting every possibility. I hear that when I listen to Sonny Rollins. He’ll jam on very simple melodies, and build it up for a long time. He’s into the slight variations. Which kind of traces back to a gospel type of thing, I think, where the song would go on for a long time, and they would take the melody around and each person would have their own little variation. The exact study of that would be like writing fugues. So the fugue in “Fluffhead”, that’s all theme and variation type of thing.”
Two of Trey’s most complex fugues are available for stream below.
“All Things Reconsidered” 1995.7.1 Great Woods Amphitheater, Mansfield, MA- One of Trey’s most complex arrangements, reminiscent of Bach’s fugal style. This is perhaps the most classical-sounding Phish song.
“The Asse Festival” 1990.9.14 The Living Room, Providence, NY – This is an atonal fugue which eventually became part of “Guelah Papyrus”, but was played on its own until ’91. Listen as the notes literally chase each other through the song.