Hi everyone

My first ever score upload, having just joined CF over the weekend. Here goes...

This original composition is called "Bells Fugue (in C major)", for solo piano.  I should preface by mentioning that this piece is NOT intended to be a Baroque-style fugue, even though it opens with a verbatim quote of the Subject from Bach's Fugue #1 in C major from the Well-Tempered Clavier series.  Aside from that Subject (first 1.5 bars and then repeated in various voices throughout), I've completely remodeled the harmony and counterpoint, and to do that I adapted a chordal technique from jazz pianist Bill Evans, in his composition "My Bells" (thus my title).  Specifically, Bill will tend to move around a static chord shape diatonically beneath the melody, in this case a P4 interval in the left hand, paired with a 1st inversion major triad built a whole step above the upper bass note.  This results in a more modern harmonization, and helps realize a goal of trying to bring Fugue form into the present day.  This technique does, however, violate some cardinal rules of Baroque fugue construction; namely the prohibition against parallel 5ths and octaves moves.  Also, as we know, Bach typically limits himself to 3 or 4 voices for the most part, whereas my texture tends to be a lot thicker - quite often up to 6 voices (which may make this a bit more physically challenging to play, but hopefully worth it).

Here's the Soundcloud link to a recording of it: https://soundcloud.com/frank-paul-918241242/bells-fugue

If you happen to want to read the score, you can get a PDF of it here: https://storage.ning.com/topology/rest/1.0/file/get/10943614681?profile=original

I would be grateful for any constructive critical feedback.

Musically Yours

Frank Paul

Vancouver, Canada



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  • As a fellow fugue-ologist, I feel obliged to listen and respond to this. :-)  In my own musical journey I have also eventually converged on the fugue as the crystallization of my musical expression (at least for the time); I have not composed anything other than fugues for the last 8 years. Though I have been less adventurous and have mostly remained within the confines of traditional harmony, albeit I have certainly pushed the form where what Bach wouldn't have gone.

    But enough already about myself, this thread is about your work, not me.  It is certainly an interesting take on fugue. I wasn't entirely convinced, however, by the quotations of Bach's fugue on the same subject verbatim, albeit with modernized harmonies.  I would have composed a completely new subject along modern lines, and developed it accordingly.  I would also use a more fugue-like texture, i.e., more contrapuntal than what you have written here, with multiple interacting lines, though whether or not that's a direction you wish to take is, of course, your own prerogative.  Some ex-members of this forum have done exactly this, with pretty interesting results. (Out of respect for their rights to their work I won't post examples here, but I can share them with you privately if you're interested. And I'd like to mention also, that some of these examples are pretty modern in terms of harmony; some are borderline atonal.)

    Overall, I'd say your idea has potential; but rather than cling on to quotations of Bach, I'd suggest diving full force into a completely modern idiom, with a new subject completely based on modern harmonies and rhythms, developed along contrapuntal lines.

    • Hi H.S.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to this piece, and also for providing your feedback, which I greatly appreciate.

      I was interested to hear that you focus on fugal writing in your own compositions, and have done so for some time. I look forward to looking at and/or hearing your work.  Do you have any archival postings here at CF?  Also, just out of curiosity, do you perform your own works in recitals or anything like that?  Or maybe live recordings? 

      Anyway, I totally take your point about how it might have been better in my piece not to quote Bach at all, but rather go more "all in" on the "modern idiom" objective, and also to use accompaniment that is more specifically contrapuntal (I think my piece has a lot of First Species in Parallel Motion, but not to quibble :-)).  This fugue was a "model" composition, meaning derived by combining a given melodic line from one piece with an accompaniment approach pulled from another reference piece, but there ends up being a bit of a "cookie cutter" aspect to the workflow doing that. Most of the other fugues I've written don't take this approach. I'll probably post more of those here in the coming months.

      And - yes please - if you don't mind sharing some of those other past examples with me privately, I would totally appreciate that!  

      Thanks again H.S. - I'm looking forward to more chats with you on this topic of fugues.



      • BTW, I just realized that the ex-forum member's original posting that I referred to still exists on this forum and is publically accessible, so I retract my word about sharing it privately. Here it is:

        Here's a fugue by another forum member that features non-traditional harmony:

        • Chimera - fugue in 4 voices by Gregorio X.

        Sad to say, I'm merely a self-taught "hobby" composer with no connections. On top of that I don't play very well, so I have not actually played any of my fugal works. The only compositions I can play myself are earlier works that have a much simpler texture.  As far as my own fugues are concerned, I believe all of the complete ones have been posted on this forum at one time or another.  Let me look them up... here they are in chronological order:

        • Fugue in A minor - for string quartet. My very first attempt at fugue -- not very successful, but it is what it is.
        • Fugue in 7/4 (piano) - a 2nd attempt at fugue, with questionable success. There are two recordings played by another forum member - the only live recordings of my fugues so far.
        • Fugue in C# minor - tinted with the tritone. My first "successful" fugue IMO.
        • Noises in two voices (fugue in D) - a humorous take on fugue, with answer coming in at a minor 3rd above, and then at every other interval except the "correct" 5th - until the very end, upon which, finally "chancing" on the "right" answer, interrupts itself and walks off in a huff. :-D
        • Fugue in 1 voice - not a fugue, really, but pushing to the (il)logical conclusion the minimization of the number of voices in a fugue.
        • Exuberance: fugue in E - arguably one of my better works in this form.
        • Fugue on a theme by Erwin van Delft - intended to be an example of how one might develop a theme fugally, in reply to a piece posted by one Erwin van Delft, forum member.
        • Fugue in E-flat major - a joke fugue on a 3-note subject.
        • Fugue in E minor - features answers entering a minor 6th below an oddly harmonically-ambiguous subject. Has a literal off-beat ending.
        • Fugue in G - a much more "traditional" fugue. Nevertheless it does stray into C# major in the middle - something Bach would never have done.

        Looking forward to hearing your other fugal works.

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        • Oh wow, this is awesome - a treasure trove of member's fugues to check out (and I certainly will!).  Thanks for compiling this list, H.S - much appreciated!

          • If I may, I second the recommendation of the above-mentioned Mike Hewer who is still very active helping composers (including myself) if not currently on this forum. He's certainly one with a solid formal grounding and a track record of commercial success. I myself have little interest in fugues and the Baroque in general so it would be pointless to comment on your piece in detail as it would likely only show my own ignorance. My gut instinct, as with Ingo, was that the harmonies are too dense for the form and that a more strictly contrapuntal approach might work better but that's just me -- it's certainly an interesting take

            • Thanks for taking the time to listen to this piece and to provide some feedback, David.  It's interesting to me, from some of the reactions, that in referring to this as a fugue (maybe aided and abetted by actually quoting Bach in the Subject), there seems to be an expectation from the listener that the piece should play by all the rules of Baroque fugue, including counterpoint.  I've certainly done that in other pieces, some of of which I'll post here eventually. But for this treatment, I was very specifically trying *not* to adhere by the Baroque idiom, and in applying a harmonization technique borrowed from Bill Evans, to come up with something somewhat different. But I take your point.

              Question: Do you study privately with Mike Hewer? Does he offer private instruction services of some kind?

              • Hi Frank -- just to answer your question, I don't study with Mike Hewer or anyone else for that matter. But he picked up on one or two of my works in the past which he was impressed by (particularly the "War Trilogy" of symphonies and recent 15th) and becuase of his expertise in the area of orchestration and mock-ups, I've able to ask him for tips on occasion.


                • Awesome!  I'm going to look for those two works and give them a listen.  I really want to slowly start learning about orchestration, so seeing how other members here go about that monumental task surely has to be part of the process.  Cheers!

              • I think it's a matter of how one defines a fugue (modern or otherwise).  I'm not talking about being bound to Baroque rules here, but distilling the ancient art to its core essence, and applying that to modern idioms.  Is the essence of fugue in the contrapuntal texture and development of a central subject over the course of the piece? Or does quoting and reharmonizing a Baroque fugue sufficient to qualify a work as a fugue, even if it no longer retains the contrapuntal texture so characteristic of the form?  It could be argued both ways, I suppose.

                Personally I lean towards the former as an option that grants more room for innovation.  One does not have to be bound to Baroque harmony or rules of counterpoint at all. Hewer's work that I linked to is not bound by such rules as concord and discord, prohibition against parallel 5ths, etc.. (IIRC one of his works deliberately indulges in parallel 5ths for that special sound.) But in treating the subject contrapuntally, he was able to weave new webs of sound that on the one hand is so reminiscient of a Bach fugue, yet on the other hand clothed in a completely foreign harmonic language unimaginable in Bach's day. Gregorio X's Chimera also uses completely modern harmonic language, and even uses an inverted entry in the exposition -- something that would likely make Bach scholars cringe -- but within the context of the piece it just works so well. Another ex-forum member's fugue is not bound by a strict number of voices, but come and go as they please, adding extra notes to fill out modern jazz-like chords.

                One does not even need to be bound by the strictures of the fugal form. I frequently take liberties in stretching the form, for example. In Exuberance I freely introduce new, unrelated material in the course of my episodes (and then proceeds to use it as mini secondary subjects for fugal development), quote Beethoven, and surreptitiously structure entire passages around various fugue devices of the subject and countersubject, ending the entire piece with a retrograde entry. I have plans for pieces where the fugal texture is actually background accompaniment to the actual main themes that have nothing to do with fugal development. Liz Atems, another forum member, wrote a symphony with fugal texture that takes quite a few liberties in form (it started out as an actual fugue, but in the course of development she decided that it departed far enough from a strict fugue that she renamed it). One can also imagine a fugue or fugal piece where the subject mutates over time, changing a little every time it appears, and ending in a form completely alien to its first appearance. The possibilities are endless.

                Of course, that's not to say the second approach doesn't have merit. Quoting from another composer (or indeed, oneself, like Shostakovich was wont to do) is an age-old tradition; a cleverly done reharmonization of Bach would certainly qualify as a worthy piece to stand on its own. I'm not so sure, however, about calling the result a fugue, but that's just me.  At the end of the day the composer has the right to call a work whatever he pleases, no matter what others say. :-D

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                • Those are very thoughtful comments - thanks, H.S.  I especially like your opening sentence: "I think it's a matter of how one defines a fugue (modern or otherwise)", because I've been thinking about this question a lot lately myself.  I think the difficulty, ironically, is that we have Bach.  I say that because he was arguably the first composer to really codify and fully manifest what a fugue is, having evolved canonical writing exponentially.  And so he kind of laid it all down for us, and in his conception, there are absolutely no gaps or shortcomings. In other words, we didn't need any further development of that form by other, later, composers to fully flesh it out, which means that a clear, unambiguous definition of what a fugue is, is basically "what Bach did".  But in order that we don't sit around here, 250+ years later, merely cookie-cutter emulating Bach (although that is actually a good learning process to go through), maybe it's necessary to think about a higher-order, and at the same time, more simplified take on what is allowable in a piece of music that can be rightly called a fugue, both reflecting, and at the same time, independent of Bach's definition.  Personally, and this is just my own opinion, but I think that an absolutely critical ingredient would have to be the Subject, which starts the piece and is then recycled numerous times throughout, first in the Answer, then further via Middle Entries, False Entries, and Retrograde/Inversion and things like that. If you don't have the multiple-times repetition of a short melodic fragment across multiple voices, then I don't see how one can claim to have written a fugue.  Beyond that, the question of whether it must also employ strict counterpoint or not - well, I think maybe that ought to be debated.  Why can a modern fugue not bend the definition a bit? Then again, I think from your comments we're saying pretty much the same thing! Cheers

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