Crab Canon

From Plastic Tub

crab canon cc. 1. musical An ouroboric tune that plays the same backwards or forward.1  2. meta. That which is conceptually or literally reversible; that which undoes itself (e.g., palindromes, fancy down jackets, presidential elections, New Orleans, erections, golems, drinks before noon). 3. A mirrored reflection. (No, it clef, er…). 4. Thai term for a male prostitute.


The follow text is a fragment lifted from Dapper Clementine’s senior thesis, Grignotti and the "Buggeroni" BDGDB Motif:

Bach appeals to the brain: pure head music. From the mathematically rendered precision of his cancrizans canons, looping and inverting like Möbius strips, to the cunning nomenclatural codings like his "signature" BACH motive2  -- Bach's music is a mirrored reflection of a stupefying intellect far removed from heart-wrenching, gut-twisting storms of Beethoven and Stravinsky.

But where to place the enigmatic Paolo Grignotti? Though he clearly stands in the shadow of Bach's intellect, his operatic forays suggest we look elsewhere. Indeed, Grignotti's numerous musical references to Bach's Mass in B minor may be read as homage -- or as "cryptic and often mocking allusions, hinting of ironic insincerity."3  While virtually all living critics agree on Bach's genius, Grignotti's opinion is open to debate. Does he display a sincere, imitative mimicry? Or is it insincere, a subtle mockery? Or is it all simply a case of a somewhat more heavy-handed realization by a jealous Grignotti?

No matter how we read it, Grignotti's evident debt to Bach rings clear in the crab canons and "coded" notations of his wry Buggeroni (1789). Listen, for example, to the reversible BDGDB motive, with its twisting and straining crab canon and its veiled noted references to the infamous "B"iberoni, "G"rignotti, "D"iamanta love triangle.

Grignotti's more bizarre themes have yielded more outrageous interpretations than these lighthearted musical puns. Indeed, before Grignotti's disappearance, there were more than a few suggestions that his music supplied La Ligue du Masque Cancéreux with encrypted directives. Pie-throwings, assassinations and ritual shoplifting were all variously linked back to "this madman's furtive work."4  But all these intellectual readings do little to explain the plaintive cry of The Sharper's Tale (1796) and the bitter stomp of A Sausage Became Her (1797); such heart-tugging tunes suggest Grignotti was made of more emotive stuff.

Perhaps Grignotti is best viewed as striking some peculiar balance, some sort of devil's bargain -- like Shostakovich, who, some one hundred and fifty years later, straddled two worlds, one foot in the avant-garde and a second steeped in romance, from the lonely, frightened howl of Symphony No. 15 to the tight-lipped, head-tripping experiments of Jazz Suite No. 1. It's little wonder he was so torn, for he lived in war-torn world. Some of his earlier work, like the haunting march of his Symphony No. 7 (27 December 1941), was written during the Siege of Leningrad, with Nazi troops closing in on his Russian homeland. Later pieces found him cowed, desperately trying to please the oppressive regime that arose from within Russia herself. Fine – enough about Shostakovich -- his demons are well known. Again I ask, “But what of the enigmatic Paolo Grignotti?” What demons tore Grinotti asunder?

See Also


Note 1:   The "canon cancrizans" (as it was originally termed) is a melodic counterpoint (or canon) which reverses the notes of the original melody (the "cancrizans", or "crab", scuttles backwards).

Note 2:  That is, the notes B-A-C-H, where H is German for B natural.

Note 3:  Professor Newton Periwinkle, Flying Pigs, Grignotes '62, p. 13.

Note 4:  Author unknown, Conversations with Flambini Lamenti, 1785.