Listening Lesson: 'Cat Fugue'

Wikimedia Commons

Age Range: Elementary

Learning Objective: Students will listen to Scarlatti’s Cat Fugue and understand the composer’s intent while writing the piece.

1. Domenico Scarlatti was an Italian composer who lived between the years 1685-1757.

Domenico Scarlatti
Domenico Scarlatti

2. Much of the music that Domenico Scarlatti wrote was for the harpsichord, a keyboard instrument that has some similarities with the modern piano. Learn a little bit about the harpsichord in this short video with Elizabeth Chua from the Bach Society of Minnesota.

3. Domenico Scarlatti also had a cat. Can you imagine what it might have been like if his cat interrupted him while he was trying to compose? Maybe it was something like this:

4. In fact, something like this did happen to Scarlatti, because he composed a piece for harpsichord called Sonata in g minor, K. 30 that has the alternate title "Cat's Fugue." Before we listen to it, let's learn about the word fugue (pronounced FEWG).

A fugue is a composition that begins with a subject, or one musical idea. In Scarlatti's "Cat's Fugue," the subject looks like this:

fugue subject
"Cat's Fugue" subject
Wikimedia Commons

Look at the shape of the notes on the staff. Can you imagine a cat starting in the low register of the harpsichord, walking up to the high part, and then walking back down, a little more quickly?

Once that subject is introduced, Scarlatti uses those notes over and over again, sometimes in bits and pieces. We call those bits and pieces fragments. Sometimes we hear the subject in different registers, meaning sometimes it is higher and sometimes it is lower.

The following video shows us a visual representation of all the parts of Scarlatti's "Cat's Fugue." The subject, which you might imagine as the cat's footsteps, are represented with red dots. As you watch and listen, count how many times you see/hear the subject or a fragment of the subject.

5. If you have access to a keyboard instrument, use Scarlatti's idea and improvise a subject or a melody that might look or sound like a cat walking up and down the instrument.

6. Can't get enough of composers and their cats? Check out Composers and their Felines.

Related Lesson Plans

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