Wow, yay, LOL. 22.02.2022! Is it crazy how saying sentences backwards creates backwards sentences saying how crazy it is? 22.02.2022! LOL, yay, wow!
Okay, I’m not smart enough to keep going like that. So let’s get on with it, palindrome fans, especially so you have time to get to your 22.02.2022 party and … I guess drink and then spit out a bunch of champagne?
So, as it happens, musicians – forever distracted from doing more useful things – do have quite a history with creating their own musical palindromes, especially when it comes to the 18th century.
Let’s start off with the easy one – Weird Al, making a palindrome song with the lyrics. I… certainly can’t stop watching this over and over again; I can’t even quite describe why it’s so funny:
Musically speaking, there are some classics. Bach’s so-called Crab Canon is probably the most interesting, a puzzle-slash-joke from The Musical Offering.
That’s a great performance, but even better is these two acting out the absurdity of both parts being read from the same line. Bach would have chortled, were he alive today, I’m sure:
Now, I’ve cheated a little bit, which is to say the canon is palindromic but not technically a true palindrome (though you could easily turn it into one). The second voice of the canon is written backwards into the first voice, with its own clef at the end of the score.
Here’s a nice explanation (which also debunks the misunderstanding that this is a Möbius Strip – no, it isn’t):
Haydn’s Symphony No. 47 has the Minuet al roverso, which is a true palindromic composition. I suspect it was laugh-out-loud funny to the ensemble who first read the parts, or else they hated him, or maybe a bit of both. But it’s easy enough to follow even without the score:
Advanced bonus round
Okay, so no one came to your palindrome party, it’s almost February 23, and you need to drown your sorrows in some serious synthesis and theory? I feel you. This should keep you occupied until 23-02-2023. Maybe by then we can turn the theory into a Eurorack module.
Ever-popular Euclidean rhythms qualify as palindromes, too – in one of the rare (really) instances when mathematicians and music theorists converge neatly. (Yes, there are academic papers on this topic (bring them along to aforementioned party as favors):
There’s more, too. See that paper for a harmonic/melodic counterpart to the Euclidean rhythm, the palindromic triangle. Berg does palindromes in a big way. (Party music, there you are – who doesn’t love a little Balzacian Bergian Mysticism in a perfect romantic evening?) And if you want to get really into the weeds:
And you can write your own crab canon too:
Also – now that you’ve gotten this far and presumably it is now the 23rd of February, I love that this documentary starts picking apart whether Bach got so carried away with a fugue so much that it’s kind of not any good any more. It’s relevant only because YouTube started playing it when I clicked one of the crab canon vids.
Next time you get stuck in the studio listening to someone’s track and want to stop them, I dare you to use exactly that phrasing.
Why would I relate to that, getting carried away writing something in Germany when… uh, never mind.
And for my Finnish-speaking friends:
Image: M.C. Escher, Crab Canon.