I posted my fugue in E-flat major back in August last year, but like Liz, the comments about lacking a stretto passage haunted me. Initially, I denied it; the piece was done, I wanted to move on, didn't want to toss things up again, the lack of stretto was to be a lesson for the future, etc.. Then months later, after being away from it for a while, I listened to it again, and the thought came, maybe I could sneak in a stretto or two without disrupting the existing structure too much? Bar 27 was the prime candidate: it had the climactic subject entry in the upper voice, and was a cadential point.  I didn't act on this thought immediately; I let it simmer in my unconscious and mulled over it once in a while.  Eventually, listening to it again, the thought kept coming back to me repeatedly: bar 27 would serve as an ideal place to insert a stretto passage just before the concluding passage.

So a few days ago, I decided to finally sit down and sketch out some possible stretto passages to be inserted at bar 27. My first attempt was a flop: it inserted an extra bar after 27 to accomodate a series of stretto entries, but the result sounded comical and out-of-place. Disappointed, I left it for a few days, thinking that it was probably a dud and I should just stick with what I already had.  Then today, I decided to see if I could salvage the idea.  After a few more tries, the idea occurred to me that perhaps there was no need to insert an additional bar; instead, I could just rewrite the lower voices (which were mostly silent or holding long notes anyway) into stretto entries.  And I liked the result enough that I thought it would be worth posting it here.

So, what do you think? Is this better than the original version? Worse?  Should I keep the stretto entries?  Do they work in this context?  Comments & feedback welcome.

Score: fugue.pdf

Audio: fugue.mp3

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  • Hi HS, both versions here are very well done, you have admirable skill for this style.  Without studying this further I find the differences between the two versions to be small but I do prefer the updated version as it seems to bring the piece to a more logical conclusion.  To my ear that is an important element since this piece has a lot of momentum that demands careful resolution and could possibly benefit from further revision in that regard.

    Quite well done, thanks for posting!

    • Thanks, Ingo!  The change is really just in 2 bars, the addition of the stretto entries underneath the existing melody line and a reallocation of the ascending quarter notes from the 2nd voice to the 3rd voice (the first notes transposed down an 8ve to fit the 3rd voice's register). So yeah, it's a small change.

      As for making the conclusion stronger, I'll have to mull over that. :-) I did tweak the midi to play the last subject entry in the bass a tad stronger, in accordance with the joke in this piece that the subject is an often-used sequence of last 3 bass notes.  But perhaps another series of strettos leading up to this conclusion? Not sure. It's definitely food for thought, though.

  • Hi,

    I would love to hear a slower tempo of it please. Thank you.



    • Hi Nick, here it is. I dialed it back from 90bpm to 85bpm. It's a little slower than I'd like, but perhaps this is more suitable for you?

      fugue.mp3 (slow version)


      • Thanks HS,

        I should explain, I'm not the best at site reading so I play by ear mostly.  So the speed change is to help me hear it more closely. Fugues are a massive undertaking. Most composition students are required to write one to get a BM. I only had to write an invention in two parts.  I would love to tackle a fugue at some point so I bought a book on it, "Counterpoint in the Style of J. S. Bach".  It's to me very similar to fractal art.



        • Welcome to the same boat! ;-)  I also play by ear mostly, and my sight reading is ... shall we say, non-existent?  I mean, I can read music, but nowhere near fast enough to play it at tempo.  These days, I don't bother with playing my compositions myself; I let the computer do the hard work for me. ;-)

          I should say that I write fugues deliberately in a way that breaks with tradition in some way, because I resent the straitjacketed, mechanical way that the art of fugue is being taught these days.  This particular fugue uses a joke subject consisting of only 3 notes, the sequence of bass notes in a stereotypical concluding extended (ii)-V-I cadence.  Having started at the conclusion, the fugue then develops "backwards", as it were, negating the conclusion by stating the subject in the dominant key ("The End. The End? well, there's more!"), with a tongue-in-cheek countersubject that pokes fun at the endless runs of 16th notes that some fugues tend to devolve into. Ironically speaking, because the subject is so short and generic, the countersubject features prominently throughout the fugue, almost as though it was the "real" subject.

          I also experimented with modifying sequences in this fugue, by extending the end of sequences with additional material to "postpone" the subject entry and thereby increase tension and anticipation, so that when the subject enters it's more satisfying. E.g., m.10 "drags out" the end of the sequence in mm.7-9 so that the bass entry at the end of the bar is more powerful. Also m.21 inserts additional material after the end of the countersubject in the 2nd voice so as to postpone the subject entry of the 3rd voice to m.22.

          After the long elaborate joke (i.e., the entire fugue :-P) of developing the conclusion-like subject, the bass voice in m.31 declares finally, conclusively, that this time it's really The End -- an augmented subject entry.

  • Finally had a chance to listen to both versions carefully whilst following along in the score. It's obviously a masterful, very Bachian fugue, and a nice example of a very compact and self-contained piece in the genre, the kind of fugal exercise I wish I could write (mine always seem to go way afield, including the one I'm working on now). Congratulations!

    My main impression is that although the subject is very short, it isn't really only three notes, since those notes are nearly always followed up (after a double-dotted crotchet) with a running semiquaver figure that then becomes the countersubject. As a result, the "joke" aspect doesn't really work for me - there is at least one fugue in WTC (Book I, I think) with a subject equally as short, or nearly so. Also, on my first listen to the second version I totally missed the stretto, so short as it is. I don't think that stretto really makes much of a difference - either way the end is convincing. My suggestion would be, if you feel a stretto is necessary, to have each entry continue on with the semiquaver motion before thinning out to start the coda. The semiquaver motion in all 4 voices would be something hitherto unheard in the piece, and would, I think, better cap it off.

    • Liz, thanks for taking the time to listen to this little piece of mine.  I believe the Bach fugue you have in mind is WTC book 1 no.8 in E major, which, in some analyses, could be construed to have a 2-note subject followed by a running semiquaver countersubject.  I don't quite remember now, but I believe it may have been part of my inspiration for writing this fugue of mine.

      Having the strettos followed by the countersubject in stretto is indeed a marvelous idea! Although one that I fear I may not have the chops to pull off. Or rather, it would require significant reworking of those bars, which I'm not quite inclined to do right now, since I really do want to move on with this piece. But maybe this thought will remain with me and come back to haunt me a few months later, and perhaps then I will embark on this ingenius suggestion.

      Now as far as fugal jokes go, for a while now this crazy idea's been bouncing around my head of a fugue subject that ostensibly consists of a single (very long and emphasized) note, pushing the idea of shorter subjects to its logical conclusion.  It's sorta similar in construction to this one and to WTC I no.8, a long note followed by a flurry of fast notes that supposedly is the countersubject, though by your analysis it could very well be construed to be actually part of the subject (at least the initial segment of it).  I haven't quite embarked on actually putting this down on paper yet, but maybe one of these days when I'm feeling burnt out from "serious" composing.

      An even crazier idea I have, in the spirit of pushing things to an extreme, is a fugue subject consisting entirely of a rest of a specific duration. Entries would be spotted by ostensible gaps in the counterpoint, and the exposition would be a strange, ambiguous thing where the subject is present but not heard. :-D  Probably an unworkable idea, but it's in the back of my mind, seeking to find some convincing way to be realized, defying the impossibility.

      (I have previously also written a "fugue" in a single voice, where a single melody ostensibly "chases its own tail", as someone put it. I'm unsure it's convincing, though. As a solo melody it can stand on its own, but I wasn't able to make it somehow convincing as a fugue (or a pseudo-fugue). Probably me chasing after rainbows. 😂)

      • Hi H. S.,

        Just listened to WTC I E major and that might well be the one I was thinking of, though it seems there was one other as well. Your one-voice fugue is not the first - Holmboe did it in his solo flute sonata and again (sort-of, the fugue quickly turns into something freer) in his solo cello sonata - though on a cello, with double-stopping you sort-of have a second voice. I'd be interested to hear what you did with the idea.

        The idea of having a subject announced with a rest is an interesting one - though I'll bet someone has already tried it. Would be interesting to see what you come up with if you choose to try it. A fugue subject consisting of a single note followed by a rest and a countersubject followed by a series of fast notes sounds eminently doable - the subject should be very easy to make recognizable.

        I have to say again that I greatly admire your ability to write such masterful fugues in a Bach-like vein. I can't seem to write something like that for the life of me. My Sinfonia Solenne started out as a fugue, but the expressive interest took over and there is really nothing truly fugal in it besides three expositions. Something like that is starting to happen with the one I'm working on now too - the subject is Bach-like, but the countersubject is tuneful and the two together form a sort of double theme. The exposition is sort of Purcellian, then when the first episode starts, the character changes entirely, into more like something from the early Romantic era (or maybe Mahler). I'm determined this time to keep some semblance of control and write a truly fugal development, but it won't sound anything like Bach, and at best, it will be another pseudo-fugue because the episodic material is new and unrelated to the subject and countersubject.

        So, kudos to you again!




        • No matter what self-doubts you may have about your Sinfonia Solenne / symphony no.1, I still regard it as a fugue. An incredibly long, masterfully developed fugue, and something I aspire to be able to write one day.  I'm a fan of pushing the envelope of what may be considered a fugue; my long-term goal is to eventually write a piece that's simultaneously a fugue and a full sonata-allegro form. And, if that succeeds, I'd love to write an entire symphony that's simultaneously a fugue. (Yes I'm totally insane in trying to outdo Beethoven, but hey, if you aim high, even if you never reach the goal you'll at least get somewhere meaningful.)

          So whether it's Bach-like or not, I'm definitely looking forward to your upcoming fugue! Even if it's a "pseudo-fugue".

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