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I've recently finished the first complete draft of a short fugue I've been working on. My intent was not to write a Bach-style fugue, or to perfect Palestrina-esque counterpoint, I just wanted to write something nice while I am away from my studies on winter break and this is what resulted.

It is scored for 5 parts: Piccolo, 2 Violins, Viola, and Cello, and is in D Major.

Thoughts? Criticisms? How can I improve from here as a composer, and what would you have done differently in a work of this style? Thank you in advance for your time, this community is incredibly helpful to me as a composer.

Here is a link to the score: http://imgur.com/77YU7RQ

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True, but my intent was to say that it sounds archaic to me. I did qualify it in that respect.

Greg Monks said:


Also, it is a serious mistake, especially in classical music, to refer to anything as being archaic.

I got your back, Michael. Say what you want.

Thanks! Being an admin though means you have to be more careful. That's why i try to qualify by saying that it's just my opinion. Always good to keep in mind that everything on here is just someone's opinion, actually...

I thought it was flute when it came back in.

As a trumpet player and brass enthusiast, this made me smile ear to ear. 

Rodney Carlyle Money said:

A fugue is easy to write. In fact it only took me 10 minutes to correct your mistakes by reworking your subject and real answer. Your subject needs to have a cadence, but it also needs to modulate leading to the answer. You chose to do a real answer which modulates to the dominant, but you failed to fully modulate to the key of A major so you are missing G#'s and your piccolo line is still following D Major forcing your counterpoint to clash. When composing fugues, and polyphony in general, each line must be its own melody while the intervals of the notes line up perfectly to create the harmony. You were correct in that your answer should have faster notes than the subject, so when I reworked your opening 8 measures leading back to D Major to the 2nd subject stated by the 2nd violin in measure 9 I used your exact rhythms but fixed the lines so they are true stand alone melodies that modulated and that created a perfect harmonic progression also.

I disagree with your orchestration also. What in the world is a string quartet playing with a piccolo player? It's like a mature, sophisticated European string quartet was about to perform Bach on a concert then some annoying Yankee from 'Merica says, "Hey guys, can I play too? Me good also." A piccolo is such a cold instrument compared to the warmth of strings. A flute would work perfectly and sound as expressive as the strings in the range that you wrote. So I would change the piccolo to flute.

Here's my reworked opening 8 measures of your exposition. I used trumpet and horn just to annoy you, just picking with ya, LOL.
Score: https://app.box.com/s/su274fbszsuazq2w2ov58p4prdwlszr3
Sound File: https://app.box.com/s/ifewse6qodl1dwl1uvij8vzlyi7sybom

Thank you so much, this analysis is of more value to me than you can imagine. I think I'll spend some time going over this and reworking the fugue. I appreciate all the time you took.

It's funny you mention the orchestration, as I wrote the piece for a wind quintet originally, with a flute playing exactly the part you specify. I'm a string player myself though and I liked the string/piccolo version so much I kept it.

You can hear the original, wind quintet version here: 

https://soundcloud.com/powys/fughetta-in-d-major-for-wind-quintet

Rodney Carlyle Money said:

A fugue is easy to write. In fact it only took me 10 minutes to correct your mistakes by reworking your subject and real answer. Your subject needs to have a cadence, but it also needs to modulate leading to the answer. You chose to do a real answer which modulates to the dominant, but you failed to fully modulate to the key of A major so you are missing G#'s and your piccolo line is still following D Major forcing your counterpoint to clash. When composing fugues, and polyphony in general, each line must be its own melody while the intervals of the notes line up perfectly to create the harmony. You were correct in that your answer should have faster notes than the subject, so when I reworked your opening 8 measures leading back to D Major to the 2nd subject stated by the 2nd violin in measure 9 I used your exact rhythms but fixed the lines so they are true stand alone melodies that modulated and that created a perfect harmonic progression also.

I disagree with your orchestration also. What in the world is a string quartet playing with a piccolo player? It's like a mature, sophisticated European string quartet was about to perform Bach on a concert then some annoying Yankee from 'Merica says, "Hey guys, can I play too? Me good also." A piccolo is such a cold instrument compared to the warmth of strings. A flute would work perfectly and sound as expressive as the strings in the range that you wrote. So I would change the piccolo to flute.

Here's my reworked opening 8 measures of your exposition. I used trumpet and horn just to annoy you, just picking with ya, LOL.
Score: https://app.box.com/s/su274fbszsuazq2w2ov58p4prdwlszr3
Sound File: https://app.box.com/s/ifewse6qodl1dwl1uvij8vzlyi7sybom

I apologize if I've misunderstood you, I now see what you're saying and I agree.

michael diemer said:

Sorry Sam, I didn't mean to offend you. In fact, I admire anyone who can actually produce a fugue these days. It's something that I consider to be one of the most difficult things to do in music. I can indeed appreciate how hard it was to accomplish, and you do deserve credit for having the willingness to undertake such an exercise.

Still, to me (and of course only to me), fugues will always sound archaic. I'm actually surprised to hear myself say that, because in other threads I have defended writing in older styles. So if someone likes to write in the Baroque style, or Romantic, or Impressionistic, that is totally valid. And if someone wants to write fugues, that too is totally valid. I did not mean to imply that it is not. I was merely curious whether you were doing an academic exercise, or had more serious intentions.

And Greg's point is well taken. There definitely could be a use for fugues in film music, in fact I'm sure I've heard that somewhere along the line. And a well-done fugue can also have its place in a "serious" piece, so long as it makes sense compositionally. So please accept my apology, and again I did not intend to be dismissive, but I see now that is how I came across. And kudos for sticking up for yourself!

For the modulating and the other (not so) tedious exercises, check the form on wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugue#Musical_outline

Read the whole article, when you're at it. And there are many pages on the net about fugue-writing. It's better than spending time trying to grasp what people (archaic or not) say in a thread like this. 

Thank you for adding this. I have read the article before and am aware of fugal structure. The example form provided is a great visual help in imagining the flow of a fugue, but in the end it's just an example, not a skeleton. I've found trying to write from a pre-existing fugue structure line for line is just too difficultly limiting to development.

You're right that the fugue is discussed very little online, and when it is it's almost always analysis (which are always still helpful), not composition specific articles. I suppose it makes sense considering the relative obscurity of writing fugue to most modern composers. 

Also, I've just listened to some of your music and your counterpoint is gorgeous.

Per-Erik Rosqvist said:

For the modulating and the other (not so) tedious exercises, check the form on wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugue#Musical_outline

Read the whole article, when you're at it. And there are many pages on the net about fugue-writing. It's better than spending time trying to grasp what people (archaic or not) say in a thread like this. 

The on-line thing doesn't lend itself to teaching the art of fugue. It's more a hands-on process.

Learning fugue privately is how I went about it, because they weren't teaching what I wanted to know, in college and university.

One of the problems in terms of learning fugue is that most sources, resources, teachers, are far too traditional.

There was some wonderful modern fugue being written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by such composers as Smetana, Richard Strauss, Hindemith, Holst, Barber, Schoenberg, Bartok, and so on. They're all worth examining because each had his own approach. In Also Sprach Zarathustra Strauss wrote a fugue using a tonal treatment of a 12-tone-row, Smetana used the modern scale (diminished scale to jazz players), Hindemith used his Harmony With A Minimum Of Rules, Bartok used melodies confined to a narrow range of notes in Music For Strings, Percussion and Celeste. This latter was common practice that had been explored by tonal composers such as Robert Schumann in Chopin (the piece, not the person) from Carnaval. Bartok wove a fuga maestrale from such material.

It would behoove all young, modern composers to take a crack at developing their own method of writing modern fugue.

Sam: I'm afraid I can't say much about the traditional fugue or add constructive comments about the score. I'm somewhat a newbie myself in this regard. But I can say that the subject was very simple, which is not a bad thing. I also thought of scores for historical television shows and movies. The instrumentation you chose lends an air of playfulness to the piece. I had to listen twice to the mp3.

This whole discussion of fugues led me to a bit of Internet research, and I discovered some interesting modern fugues. If you're interested in modern fugue writing you may want to check out Henry Martin's Preludes & Fugues recordings. There are two of them and both are on Spotify. I particularly like his Fuga XIV in F sharp minor and Fuga XV in G major. Spotify also has a playlist called The Art of the 20th Century fugue. You may also be interested in Ligeti's Musica Ricercata XI: Andante misurato e tranquilo.

What struck me about all of these compositions is that they evoke a mood.

Anyway, I liked it. Although I might sound as simplistic as the boy who thought the clock smelled of old people: I liked your composition's playfulness, and it made me smile.

Thank you for your kind words, I'll definitely take some time to listen to the Henry Martin pieces you've linked.

Deborah Young said:

Sam: I'm afraid I can't say much about the traditional fugue or add constructive comments about the score. I'm somewhat a newbie myself in this regard. But I can say that the subject was very simple, which is not a bad thing. I also thought of scores for historical television shows and movies. The instrumentation you chose lends an air of playfulness to the piece. I had to listen twice to the mp3.

This whole discussion of fugues led me to a bit of Internet research, and I discovered some interesting modern fugues. If you're interested in modern fugue writing you may want to check out Henry Martin's Preludes & Fugues recordings. There are two of them and both are on Spotify. I particularly like his Fuga XIV in F sharp minor and Fuga XV in G major. Spotify also has a playlist called The Art of the 20th Century fugue. You may also be interested in Ligeti's Musica Ricercata XI: Andante misurato e tranquilo.

What struck me about all of these compositions is that they evoke a mood.

Anyway, I liked it. Although I might sound as simplistic as the boy who thought the clock smelled of old people: I liked your composition's playfulness, and it made me smile.

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