FUGUE AND FUGAL PROCESS
See Anatomy of a Fugue
by Dr. Tim Smith for detailed definitions and explanations.
Many fugues have three phases: (1) exposition of subject material, (2)
series of single entries of subject in various keys, and (3) a concluding section
in the home key. The structure of a fugue is the result of process rather than
the result of using a conventional template. The fugue is an example of
form-from-polyphonic process, the use of motive in a rhythmic layered texture,
thematic cohesion from the continuous repetition of thematic cells and their variants.
Examples in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century literature
- Rota and Rondellus (types of medieval round); caccia (It. chase); sixteenth and
seventeenth century vocal motets, chansons, madrigals, masses--and instrumental
fantasia, canzona, ricercar (Sweelinck, Frescobaldi, Froberger, Gabrieli).
Bach's early fugues resemble those of Buxtehude, canzoni and ricercars.
- a vivid thematic idea ranging in length from a few notes to several bars, closure
is open-ended, harmonic reference is clear.
- a few extra notes at the end of the subject entry to make a connection
with subsequent material (accompanying counterpoint, countersubject). Links are
not used consistently throughout a fugue, a feature which helps one to determine
the contents of the subject.
- Imitative reply of the subject, usually at the dominant. Real answer if the subject
is transposed interval-for-interval, tonal answer if some of the intervals were
changed to comply with the harmony, usually to favor larger scale tonic emphasis.
- Subject-answer cycles in Exposition:
- In the first section of fugue ("exposition"), subject-answer pattern emphasizes
tonic-dominant harmonic cycles, every voice states subject or answer. An "a3"
fugue might have S(I)-A(V)-S(I) in the exposition.
- Episodes and Transitions:
- Connecting passages in which the subject is not stated intact,
connects one statement of the subject to the next. A "transitional
episode" is one which modulates. An episode is any passage that does not
include the whole subject. Episodes use motives and fragments from first part
of fugue, often in sequences. In the middle section of the fugue,
entries and episodes may alternate, a pairing of subject matter and
motive development passages.The middle section of a fugue may contain no
episodes and proceed from middle entry to middle entry sans linking
- Episode (alternate definition)
- means the same as "middle entry," the statement of the subject in the middle
section of a fugue.
- in some fugues, a counterpoint to the subject that is repeated in subsequent entries (not
necessarily every entry).
- Free counterpoint:
- counterpoint not repeated in subsequent entries. Usually based on
motives and fragments stated in first part of fugue.
- Invertible counterpoint:
- counterpoint that can change score position with the subject, countersubject or
other counterpoint, often at more than one interval.
- exposition entries that follow a short episode in the exposition
- Subject variation:
- See material on motive variation in general; fragmentation,
inversion, retrograde, augmentation, diminution, ornamentation and other
varied repetition techniques.
- Tonal Range:
- Various key plans created through subject entries. Integral to structure of fugue.
- Entry, middle entry
- statement of the entire subject in the middle section of the fugue.
- overlapping of entries, sometimes using abbreviated subject, sometimes a
constant feature, sometimes used at end as a closing stretto entry, total
stretto, partial stretto, tight stretto
- Pedal Point:
- used as in other forms to provide tonal keel action, used to terminate and
excursion through keys, used to reorient listener to home key, dominant or tonic
pedals very popular. Pedals sometimes used in developmental sections to
underscore each tonal center (can be dominant or tonic pedal in each key in a
series of keys).
- The final stage:
- return to tonic and unadulterated subject, sometimes heralded by a cadential
haitus. Good place for a stretto, pedal tones, tonicizing progressions. Coda
(codetta), the final entry, sometimes following a deceptive cadence, often over a
- Multiple Fugue:
- Double fugues, two subjects. Kyrie from Mozart's Requiem, second
subject on the words "Christe eleison"
- Usually a fugal passage within a larger, non-fugal form, such as fugal passages
in development sections.
- A "little fugues" such as a fugal variation. Distinction between the Fugato and
the Fughetto is passage (-ato) versus whole section with its own closure (-etto).
Symphony of Psalms, second movement
- Chromatic Invention in Mikrokosmos
Various instance of contrapuntal process throughout Mikrokosmos, especially books
4, 5 and 6.
- Concerto for Orchestra
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste
- Prelude, Chorale and Fugue (piano)
- Ludis Tonalis, Fuga Prima in C
Ludus Tonalis, no. 2 in G (in 5/8)
Ludus Tonalis, no. 3 in F
Ludus Tonalis, no. 9 in B flat
Sonata No. 2 for organ, third movment
Metamorphisis on a Theme of Carl Maria von Weber
Response to a question on Counter Subject:
As in all analysis of music, the determination of a counter subject has
an element of interpretation to it. The term "counter subject" refers
to a counterpoint that has more thematic significance than other
counterpoints to a subject. To make this determination, the analyst must
examine all entries of the subject to see is the counterpoint to the
an analytical outlook
- has special thematic significance
- is attached the subject as a secondary subject idea
- is repeated consistently throughout the fugue -- or
- is used in only a part or parts of a fugue.
A final determination depends on the analyst's interpretation of
context. It would be a lot easier if we could apply a kind of universal
check list to fugues and other structural genres. Yet, since all the music
we hear/see is human artifact, it is as unlikely that a check list would
work to describe the personality of the composer as it would to describe
the product of her/his imagination.
Thus, if one creates a musical law that says a composer must always
repeat a counter subject throughout a fugue, there will always be
exceptions that refute the law. If a composer did not use the counter
subject all the way through the fugue, we could say that she/he had
employed a counter subject-like idea and note where in the fugue it was
use -- or not used. We might also assume that counter subjects tend to
be used in a particular way but there will always be individual variance
to the practice. We can see such variance in the corpus of even one
composer, J. S. Bach for example. Perhaps we should look at music the
way we look a chaos phenomenon in general; that is, we can see common
pattern as well as individual variance, a kind of unpredictable and
disorderly order. This may help us better understand and appreciate the
creative imagination that produced the work.
I'd rather reserve a definitive study of counter subject and other
elements of the fugue for a specialized, detailed and advanced course on
contrapuntal process. This area is Dr. Smith's passion and you can learn
a great deal more about it by visiting his site on the web. All I want
here is a general concept of the "counter subject." We will move to new
material next week (except for students who choose a fugue as a semester
[NOTES AND ASSIGNMENTS]
[INDEX TO FORM]
[NAU] Last update, 6/25/04.