MUS 311 Counterpoint

O. Fugue, Chapter 15

Return to Home Page

Return to MUS 311 Menu

There is no such thing as "fugue form," rather, it is a compositional procedure. Yet, a ternary (ABA) plan is frequently (not always) encountered.

Fugues tend to be laid out as follows:

  • Exposition, where the subject is announced in imitative fashion

  • Development Section, which contains "free" material, and generally avoids the tonic key

  • Recapitulation, containing some reference to the subject in the tonic key.

The Subject

  1. Subjects vary in length, from one bar to eight or more.

  • The subject should be long enough to give the feeling of an identifiable line, and not just a figure.
  1. Soggetto--the subject of a fugue or other contrapuntal piece which is short (2-3 bars) and relatively simple.
  1. Andamento--a fugue subject of substantial length, which often falls naturally into two contrasting sections.
  1. A fugue subject should have some striking feature--melodic and/or rhythmic--so that it is recognizable when restated.

Fugue Subject Characteristics:

  1. It will have an interesting contour, including a climax.
  1. Subjects should not use period construction.
  1. It will usually begin on the tonic, sometimes dominant, note to establish tonality.
  1. It may begin either on or off the beat.
  • If a subject happens to begin on the leading tone or supertonic, it will be an anacrusis.
  1. Usually does not exceed the range of an octave--is often much less.
  1. May be used in stretto fashion, presenting interesting possibilities for development.

The Answer

Answer--the second appearance of the subject announced at the dominant.

  1. Typically following is a third announcement at the tonic, referred to as "subject form."
  1. If the fugue has four voices, the fourth announcement will usually be a second answer.
  1. The answer in a fugue may be real or tonal.
  1. In 3-voice fugues, the pattern of keys in the exposition is always: I V I (subject, answer, subject).

Three-Voice Fugue Exposition:

Exposition--the initial statement of the subject and answer in all voices. (There are usually as many announcements in the exposition as there are voices in the fugue.)

Countersubject--a melodic idea that appears consistently along with the subject in the exposition from the second announcement (answer) on.

  • A countersubject and its subject must be invertible, i.e., work as an upper or lower voice.
  • Some fugues do not use a countersubject, only free counterpoint to accompany the subject.
  1. When an exposition is extended by the addition of an announcement or by sequential extension, the cadence at the end of it often occurs in a key other than tonic.
  1. For entries to be considered "regular," the first two must occur in adjacent voices:
  • Most common: 1-2-3, 2-1-3.

Four-Voice Counterpoint:

Four-voice texture allows for the simultaneous sounding of all four notes of a seventh chord.

  1. Although linear considerations should govern doubling to a large extent, an effort should be made to avoid doubling certain chord members, e.g., a chromatically altered tone, or the third of a primary triad.
  1. Rhythmic activity may be evenly distributed, or not.  Two voices may be evenly paired, etc.
  1. In general, at least one of the four voices in a contrapuntal fabric is likely to be subordinate at any given point.
  1. In most 4-voice contrapuntal works, all four voices are not involved continuously.  One or two drop out from time to time, introducing a variety of textures.
  1. Short rests help to define the segments of musical thought, and make re-entries more obvious.

Four-Voice Exposition:

The exposition in a four-voice fugue simply carries one step further the pattern of three-voice fugues:  S.-I, A.-V, S.-I, A.-5.

  1. The use of tonal imitation is common.
  1. Frequently, but not always, a bridge passage will occur between the second and third announcements of the subject.
  1. In 4-part, an (entry) order is considered "regular" if the first two announcements are in adjacent voices, and if odd- and even-numbered voices alternate.
  • Regular orders:
1-2-3-4 2-1-4-3 3-2-1-4
4-3-2-1 2-3-4-1 3-4-1-2
  1. Orders such as 1-3-2-4 and 2-4-3-1 are not used because entries are not adjacent, and odd- and even-numbered voices do not alternate.
  • Bach, in five fugues, used 2134 or 3241, but the first two voices are adjacent, which is the most important consideration.

Subject as Related to Material that Follows:

  1. In most fugues, the point at which the subject ends and the countersubject or free material begins is quite clear.
  • It may be marked by a mild cadential "feeling," or
  • It may be marked by some new melodic or rhythmic element.
  1. As in 3-part inventions, the end of the subject is sometimes followed by a "link" that keeps the rhythm going and leads smoothly to the first note of the countersubject or free material.

Subject as Related to Answer:

Stretto fugue--when the answer is begun before the subject has been completed.

Special Devices:

  1. Rarely appearing in fugue expositions are: augmentation, diminution, contrary motion, stretto.

Counterfugue--when subsequent subject announcements are made in contrary motion.

Counterexposition--when, after a short episodic passage, a second exposition follows the first.  (Entry of voices is usually different.)

Return to Home Page

Return to MUS 311 Menu