The Analysis of Fugue - Spring 2019
(The Analysis of Fugue - Spring 2019)

It has often been remarked that fugue is not a form, but a texture. Yet fugues have conventional outlines, and formal schemes have been devised by a host of theory pedagogues, ranging from Cherubini to Gedalge and Prout. Donald Francis Tovey admonishes against this “jelly mold” approach, and remarks that “the formal rules given in most technical treatises are based, not on the practice of the world’s greatest composers, but on the necessities of beginners.” Despite the distinctive features of the genre, fugues are not organized differently from other types of compositions. As Robert Schumann noted, “I know of a connoisseur of music who once mistook a Bach fugue for a Chopin etude – to the honor of both.” This seminar will examine fugue through the study of examples from J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, known as the “48.” Dubbed “the Old Testament” by the eminent 19th-century pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, The Well-Tempered Clavier has been justifiably regarded as one of the monuments of Western music. The seminar will begin by examining the techniques of imitation, beginning with strict canon, and proceed through a survey of the traditional compositional procedures associated with fugue, such as stretto, augmentation, diminution, and invertible counterpoint. After classifying the different types of fugue, the seminar will focus upon the analysis of individual fugues, concentrating in particular on the multifaceted possibilities that these imitative procedures have in expressing a fugue’s intricate voice-leading. Supplementary readings will range from instructional manuals by Bach’s contemporaries, such as Kirnberger and Fux, to individual analyses by Riemann, Schenker, Schachter, Renwick, and Dreyfus, as well as Tovey’s illuminating commentaries for all 48 fugues.