Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

Hi All, 

I found this the other day and thought I'd post it for those who haven't seen it.

It's an archive of theory books that can be downloaded for free.

Here's the site...

There is an excellent filter and search engine in the music category. I found a few of my favourite text books easily enough including this for all you fugue geeks.....

Views: 284

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Great resource Mike, thanks for sharing that!

Thanks for sharing Mike:)


You're welcome Ingo and Bob. The resources the site has are enormous and can probably provide a wealth of material on any subject.

I'm skimming over The Technique and Spirit of Fugue right now, and already it has been highly educational and enlightening. Thanks for the pointer!

Thanks, Mike, very helpful!

I also came across this two weeks ago:

I bought Thomas' book "100 Tips", and have been marvelling at its precise and practical approach from a composer with a lot of studio sessions under his belt. Also very well-laid-out, and the videos are very well done.

An example of the wealth of detail: he describes that in the real world brass players really prefer no key signature in their parts, instead the composer should just put in all the necessary accidentals note by note - an approach against all the text books, but nevertheless preferred by a pro player.

Have you had experience of this?


It's a great read and taught me almost single-handedly about fugue, glad you are enjoying it.
That's a great site John. Early on, I always used signatures for trpts and bones, but eventually didn't bother. I have never used signatures for french horns.

@Mike: I found his historical analysis of Bach, in particular how it relates to the older custom of remaining in the prevailing mode in the Answer (without modulation), refreshingly insightful. It gives a whole new perspective on the "answer in the dominant key" issue.[*]  (Besides, it was also entertaining to see how he tears to pieces the usual "this violates the rules we postulate, therefore it must be an exception -- but we can't say why" rhetoric all too common in texts on this subject.)  It certainly got me thinking more about several aspects of fugal writing that I haven't paid that much attention to before.

[*] Incidentally, while reading that chapter, I was instantly reminded of Bob's first fugue which he posted here, in which the answer effected an immediate (and somewhat jarring) modulation to the dominant key, and in the course of my trying to make the transition less jarring, I stumbled upon the solution of remaining in the tonic key for just a tad longer so that the modulation could be slipped in, in a smoother way.  Revisiting this incident in light of the aforementioned chapter shed new light on why this was more effective.  It's amazing how, even in such a seemingly trivial matter as which key the answer enters, fugues are such fertile grounds for deep consideration of musical issues.

Thanks, Dave: filed away for reference!


It has been probably about 25 years since I read that book, but presume you are talking about tonal answers? I have hunted it out and it is now in my reading list again.

Funny you should mention answers as I was chewing the cud on this the other day. In my almost (but still clinging on to gravity here and there) atonal language, subtleties  like modification to an answering subject are quite unnecessary, but I was thinking about distortions beyond any accepted parameters within the exposition. As my fugues have progressed, I have distorted thematic material as a matter of course, but not in the exposition. 

I should be in jail for all my fugal violating......

Yes, tonal answers (though I find that term somewhat misleading).

I think the concept of necessity (of a tonal or real answer) is already the "wrong" way to look at it. Not really "wrong", you understand, but not as insightful, as the book points out.  I thought the book's perspective on this issue much more fertile ground for innovation than the usual "because of 18th century harmony rules we need to modify the Answer because the subject has characteristic X".  The idea is that the tonal answer isn't really a modification, so much as an imitation of the subject in, in the context of the book, the plagal register (i.e., instead of being a diatonic transposition to the dominant key, it's a restatement in the same mode).  Viewed in this way, we can generalize it in a different way from the usual tonality-sensitive context tonal answers are defined in.  Outside the realm of traditional harmony, for example, one may distinguish between an answer that remains in the chosen set of pitch classes that the subject appeared in, vs. an answer that transposes each pitch of the subject by n semitones, preserving all intervallic relationships. And of course, every shade in between as well.

Furthermore, such distinctions can be applied in a more insightful way than the mere adherence to some preconceived formula blindly followed.  The analogue of a tonal answer might be to remain in a particular mood or flavor slightly past the end of the subject, for example, with a gradual transition away; whereas the analogue of a real answer might be to boldly introduce the transposed sonority immediately as a contrasting effect.  Thus this gives us a way to work with the underlying motivations for choosing one type of answer over the other that's deeper than merely the unhelpful, uninsightful, "the rules say so" or the equally unhelpful "because a random flip of the coin indicated so".

As for violating the rules of fugue, whatever that even means, I say that perhaps one reason for the decline of the fugue as a general compositional technique may, in part, be due to the nitpicky pedantry that has developed around what constitutes a "proper" fugue and what doesn't.  IMO, the more important issue is whether said fugue is a convincing piece of music, rather than whether it follows the letter of some pedantic set of rules concocted by some pedantic theorist!

The book nicely points on some discordant 2nds and 7ths in Bach's WTC I, no.2 in C minor as examples of where melodic line trumps pedantic rules of harmony prevalent at the time.  The pedant would of course diligent engage in finding some justification for such "violations", perhaps concocting some elaborate rationalization that "explains" why Bach did that, but I say, that's because they are too obsessed with the letter of the rules and have lost sight of the spirit of the rules.  The so-called rules are generalizations meant to guide the composer to what others have done before, rather than iron shackles from which one requires written consent to be granted exceptions from!

It is for this reason I have no qualms at all about writing a fugue that has an answer a minor 3rd above the subject, for example, as I did in my Noises in Two Voices.  I currently have a sketch of a fugue subject that features an answer a major 2nd above the subject, that, if I ever find the time, would be scored for orchestra (haven't decided on the size), and perhaps blurring somewhat the notion of how many "voices" are strictly in the fugue.  A fugue that features motivic development like you mention would be right up my alley of fugal explorations.  In fact, a similar idea has recently occurred to me, of a fugue whose subject actually appears in truncated form in the exposition, and through the course of the composition gradually unfolds with each succeeding entry and only appears in its full glory at the very end, ala Sibelius' penchant for pieces where the full theme only appears at the end of a piece or movement, appearing only in fragmentary form in the beginning (cf. symphony no.4, slow mvmt).


You've put a smile on my face, knowing that you are enjoying Mr Oldroyd - I'm pleased to have put you in touch with him. I will definitely have to re-read it now to keep up to speed with you. It was a classic case of learn it and forget it with me...

You are right in that an answer could be moulded from the limited set a subject is derived from. An answer in this context would probably distort the theme due to the limitation of the set (note choices) and subject and answer would have to be carefully worked out to test viability - although I suspect the best way to go about that would be to write a subject, find an answer whose shape corresponds approximately but has the most notes in common with the subject (if one is going for a "tonal" procedure - or should we call it a Set answer?) and then add any notes outside of the subjects pitch set (or rather just the notes it uses) one needs to mould the answers shape close enough to be satisfactory. Then combine all notes used by subject and answer into a set and from there work out your c/s using those notes....well at least it makes sense in my head.....:-0

Reply to Discussion


Sign up info

Read before you sign up to find out what the requirements are!


© 2021   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service