Art of the Fugue

A veteran detective reckons with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of a famous concert pianist.

Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash

Following a flawless performance of The Art of the Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach, acclaimed concert pianist Matthew Constantine suddenly dropped dead on the stage floor. A veteran detective was brought in to investigate the possibility of foul play involved in the death. Having already interviewed several people and finding very little of interest, he began inspecting objects in the green room where the pianist had practiced for several hours. He opened the score of the music on the piano to find strange ramblings scribbled frenetically all over the pages.

I will create what I will create

I will become what I choose to become. I am.

The detective found it rather ironic that such an irrational man should dedicate his life to a composer whose works seemed to him to embody the paragon of reason and erudition. Though he had no talent for music whatsoever, the detective had developed a deep appreciation of Bach vicariously through his musician father— for the labyrinthine interweaving of simple melodies in an almost abstract and academic manner, before they achieve their resolution neatly in an ending cadence. Just as in his profession, in the unraveling of arbitrary mysteries, one has to be clinical in their approach if one is to earn a perfect resolution.


Several hours passed before the detective was found unconscious by venue staff. He had attributed his “slumber”, as he called it to exhaustion from a hard week’s work, before exiting the venue and writing his report, bringing the case to a swift close.

Some years later following his retirement, upon cleaning his office an addendum to the original report was discovered amongst a disheveled array of notes that had accumulated in a filing cabinet. The document was removed at the last minute and was never submitted. It reads as follows:


After writing a formal report on the matter of the death of Matthew Constantine and bringing the case to a logical conclusion, something within still compels me to expound a bit more on the possibilities of the cause of death. It feels rather inane to solely attribute such a dramatic death to something as trivial as water intoxication. To be clear, I do not believe there to have been foul play involved and I do stand by my own process of deduction that led to this conclusion. As I observed, an entire water dispenser of 11 liters had been half emptied of its contents over the course of two hours, in a completely carpeted room with Constantine never having once exited it. This anecdote was later corroborated by hallway surveillance footage. His erratic behavior and apparent disorientation, as noted by spectators, during his entrance to the stage was also consistent with the effects of water intoxication. The damage to his kidneys alone should suffice as evidence of such effects, but as the coroner noted, death in this case is extremely rare. There is a possibility that this may have been one of those freak cases, but with the absence of drugs in his body, such as MDMA, to help facilitate such a continuous imbibing, there is very little logical evidence as to why such an individual would consume that much. It is also rather unbelievable that an individual in such a state could then carry out a concert of an hour and a half with such flawless precision and attention.

After spending several hours in his green room, having apparently collapsed to no knowledge of my own, I want to put forth my own interpretation of events. While inspecting the sheet music that had been left atop the piano, to my horror I had found the entire book mutilated with cryptic phrases scribbled over every page. As I attempted to make sense of such mad ranting, I felt the presence of some entity slowly encroaching. I began to hear music being played in what sounded like the concert hall. I didn’t get the impression that the music was being performed—but was rather gradually unfolding, unto itself.

I do not completely comprehend what that entity was but I do have an inkling of what it wanted. As it began to impose itself, I got the sense that it was trying to unify with me. I felt the yearning of the music itself wanting to become whole through the conduit of a human mind. It could have been the voice of God or the spirit of Bach it was so perfect. But I err on the side of believing it to be the music for several reasons.

After waking, one of the stewards remarked to me about hearing piano music coming from the room and had assumed I was playing the piano. I did not recall ever touching a key but they insisted that the music was coming from the green room. In the time I was unconscious, it is entirely possible that the music did achieve a certain unity through me allowing a novice such as myself to play TheArt of the Fugue in its entirety—well, almost its entirety—you see, the piece is unfinished and still to this day remains unresolved and thus eternally yearns for completion. Some try to rectify this by inserting another short piece at the end to “complete” it, but Constantine never did such a thing. This is why I believe him to have already been dead before even exiting the room having been completely subsumed by the labyrinth of fugues from endless hours of solitary practice. Amid this takeover, I believe his guzzling of so much water from that dispenser to be a feeble attempt to hold onto his humanity—to feel himself whole as he was slowly being hollowed out over the course of who-knows-how much-time. But who knows?

Does music exist apart from humanity or is it of our creation? I no longer believe such questions answerable by someone as small minded as myself. My mind is porous and reality all too often seeps in. Perhaps Constantine might know.