Fugue for Three Voices


Here is a fugue for three voices (except at some cadences, where chords are filled in) played on the harpsichord, with a rather "cuckoo" like subject. I've gone ahead and done one of those score-sound video merges, so you can do both looking and listening at once.  It is divided into 4 strains and then a coda.  It doesn't follow all of the rules as I only know the basics at this point.  

I hope that you enjoy the music.

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  • Welcome to the world of fugue writing, Daniel! :-)

    It's not bad for a first try at fugue (definitely better than my first attempt!), though the following points stick out to me:

    - The subject is not a bad choice for a fugue subject, but can be a little challenging to work with if you're relatively inexperienced with fugue writing. For one thing, it's a bit on the lengthy side, which constrains your possibilities somewhat.  If you're new to fugue-writing, I recommend choosing a shorter subject, and one with less harmonic complexities, so that you have more room to maneuver.  Generally, fugue subjects are best when they are short, simple, and memorable.  The simpler they are, the more variety of treatments and fugal devices you can apply to them, and the more different contexts you can put them into.  Of course, long subjects aren't "wrong" in any sense, but they do require more skill to pull off successfully (Bach has examples of this, obviously).

    - Your subject also has a modulation to the subdominant, which I find to be actually a very clever idea to bridge the answer to the next entry of the subject in your exposition (I might steal/borrow this idea sometime :-P). However, in your answer it causes somewhat of a harmonic clash with your counterpoint (the middle voice plays G# in the 1st beat, so G# is lingering in the ear when the G natural comes in on the 3rd beat; you may need to tweak the 16th notes there to smooth this transition out a bit more). Still, if you're still feeling your way around a fugue, my recommendation is to avoid these kinds of harmonic complexities in your subject until you feel more confident at handling them.

    - At the end of your exposition you have a conclusive full cadence, followed by an unaccompanied entry. This isn't "wrong" per se, but the idea behind a fugue is its driving forward momentum that gradually builds up until it climaxes. Having a strong full cadence right after the exposition somewhat spoils this -- the music has just started getting going, and suddenly it screeches to a full stop.  Of course, this could be done deliberately for effect, if that's what you intended, but the more usual approach is to continue the melodies past the end of the exposition and let them "wander" onwards, with the voices "chasing" each other (hence the name "fugue", meaning "chase") through episodic material eventually leading to the subject re-entering in a new light.  As such, an easy solution is to let the melodies wander into new keys or develop motifs in new directions as the exposition draws to a close, and then let them "play around" a bit before re-introducing the subject.

    - Also, a common practice in fugues is to have the subject entries enter "surreptitiously" in the middle of seemingly-unrelated counterpoint. It's one of the things that make fugues so interesting to listen to, in fact -- you're hearing counterpoint that seems unrelated to the subject, but suddenly you realize that the subject has entered in the middle of it all, in a new light you hadn't thought of before, and is harmonizing perfectly with everything else. What you have here is a series of clearly-delineated sections punctuated by full cadences, a pause, and overt entry of the subject. Which isn't unattested, as Bach also does that sometimes; but when done as often as you have it here, it breaks forward momentum and is thus somewhat less satisfying to listen to.  It would be much more interesting to listen to if you had one voice playing a bridging passage linking the end of the previous section to the subject entry in the next section.

    As far as fugue "rules" are concerned, don't get too caught up in the letter of the rules, because even Bach himself (ostensibly the epitome of fugue) broke each of the "rules" at some point or another.  Rather, I'd recommend listening to more fugues, by Bach and also by others, to get a better feel of what's out there, and also how masters like Bach twist and turn within the constraints of the fugal form and breathe life into what can easily become a constricted, inflexible medium.  WTC I & II are highly recommended study material if you want to really get into fugue writing, as well as The Art of Fugue (though I confess I haven't studied the latter as yet).  And also Pachelbel fugues in Magnificat, for a slightly different (somewhat older, but no less valuable) take on fugue than the Bach norm that seems to have become a "standard model" among contemporary music teachers, though IMO there's much more to fugue writing than the narrow corner of the field that is Bach's.

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