A fugue in 1 voice? Ludicrous!

Recently I noted that all 3 of my fugue attempts have been in 4 voices, and so I started sketching a 2-voice fugue instead.  While doing that (which will be a separate piece, btw), a crazy idea occurred to me: what if I took the reduction of number of voices to its (il)logical conclusion -- i.e., a 1-voice fugue?

Well, the debate about whether there is even such a thing will probably be endless, so let's skip that part and just look at what I wrote. The single voice states the subject, then sneakily (or not-so-sneakily) answers itself, then plays modulatory episodes to link various different entries (including pretend-strettos by interrupting itself while stating the subject) and finally rounding off with a coda-like phrase.  There are a few places where it suggests multiple voices via the age-old trick of alternating between high and low notes -- and thus keeps up the pretense of trying to harmonize with itself, fugue-style. :-P

Anyway, this entire analysis is probably completely ridiculous, but at least I can say that this is the first time I wrote an unaccompanied melody of this length that can stand on its own.  While the audio was generated by the default piano patch, this piece can conceivably be played by any other solo instrument that has the requisite range -- harpsichord, say, or perhaps it could pass as a viola sonata, or a ditty for steel drums, or something like that.  (I did try rendering the audio with a steel drums patch, and it seems to be very much in character with the ludicrity of a fugue in 1 voice.)



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  • This would play well as solo viola, but calling it a fugue really is a pointless stretch :P

  • Haha I know, it's pretty ridiculous to call it a fugue.  But it did come from me trying to write a fugue-like thing in 1 voice.  After I wrote the subject I was actually sorely tempted to write a 2nd voice for it... but resisted the urge. :-P

  • HS

    Not fugue but a fugato part perhaps.

    Maybe you would have achieved a conceptual fugue if you had baked in from the outset even more octave/register displacement and written the line in such a way as to exploit it further,

  • @Mike: True, I could have done more to make it appear like a bona fide fugue, even though it's straddling the line of just exactly what constitutes a fugue.  But since it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, I didn't really want to put too much more effort into it than I already have.

    @Bob: I know it isn't a "real" fugue (whatever that means), but at least it came out of the (admittedly rather crazy) idea of what one might get if one took to the extreme the idea of minimizing the number of voices in a fugue. At least I didn't end up copying Cage's 4'33" by having a 4-voice fugue where the subject is a series of rests of different durations, and the "counterpoint" consists of "harmonizing" rests of different durations together. :-P

    @Nikola: I knew this would be right up your alley. ;-)  In one of your previous pieces you said that you wrote something because of me; now I can say that I wrote this partly because of your thing about music being "too pretentious". :-P

  • @Kristofer: excellent idea.  I'll keep it in mind the next time I write a tutti solo. :-D

  • For reference, Bach fugue for solo violin


  • Thanks for the link, that was impressive for a solo violin. Though technically it actually has 3 or 4 voices, even if it's only on a single (mostly monophonic) instrument, and a good part of the piece uses multiple stops for the voices.  In theory, one could take the material Bach wrote and expand it more fully to be 4 full voices, say, for 4 violins or some such ensemble.  What I had in mind, though, was an actual single-voice "fugue", if such a thing even exists, which it may very well not.  It's an interesting exercise to see how far one can push the definition of fugue, and what results might come from it.

    I found it interesting that not all aspects of the fugal form (or texture, or whatever you call it) are inextricably tied to multiple voices.  Having modulatory episodes lead to subject entries, for example, turned out to be a technique that works fairly well in prolonging an extended melody while retaining interest, and doesn't really depend on there being more than one voice.  The I-V-I subject-answer harmonic structure also doesn't require multiple voices, and works fairly well as a purely monophonic melodic gesture to introduce an extended melody.  Imitation can also happen within a single voice, though it certainly lacks the contrapuntal aspects of a "true" fugue.

    These observations, in turn, leads to interesting questions about what exactly is the role of the multiple voices in the fugal form.  Is it possible to have a fugue that doesn't depend on modulatory episodes to link subject entries? Is it possible for a fugue not to have the traditional I-V-I harmonic structure, but something else in its place?  The second question seems quite certainly answered in the affirmative, even as far back as Pachelbel, and certainly in modern forms of fugue. The first question, though, seems like an interesting direction to explore, that perhaps hasn't been explored that much yet.

  • Hey HS. This is a cheerful piece.

     Fugue - meaning 'to chase' (another voice :)  

    Im afraid yours is more like playing tag with oneself. 

  • Hi Gregorio, yes, I know this is stretching the definition of fugue. That's kind of the point. :-P  Though of course, one would be hard pressed to actually acknowledge it as a fugue...

  • Wow..Anna Maria.  She seems to have a limited fundamental range though, which is understandable given the partials she reaches.

    I do hope for all mens' souls that the female side of our species doesn't evolve this into speech!......

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