Bach, Well Tempered Clavier
Historical Background of the Fugue and how it fits into the greater context of Bach’s careers. Introduction
The fugue can be defined by Schulenberg as ‘A contrapuntal composition (or section or movement of a larger work) in which a theme, called a subject, is introduced in one voice and then imitated repeatedly at different pitch levels or in different keys by all of the parts’. The fugue originates from the Renaissance motet, an instrumental piece from the 16th and 17th centuries usually with a title such as ‘fantasy’. Contrapuntal style during this time was used within the constraints of the modal system, but the majority of contrapuntal features and devices of fugue style were still available to these earlier composers such as Corelli and Vivaldi. The earliest use of the word fugue in the 16th century actually meant canon strictly applied. This then developed into the fugue as known today. This is evident in the works of Josquin and Buxtehude, imitative contrapuntal ideas evolved in some of their works. At the time of The Well-tempered Clavier certain fugal features are defined. In the exposition a second voice or countersubject almost always follows the subject the countersubject is frequently at the pitch of the dominant. Regular countersubjects pre-dominate in order that the unity of the fugue may be emphasised. A third voice may enter with the subject generally after a slight delay. There many also be an inverted countersubject. Episodes are generally included in fugues, these are connecting passages between two expositions and their function is to prepare for the next entry. Although the fugue is typically known as a baroque era style of music, composers such as Mozart, Beethoven and Braham’s have extended the style of the fugue. A prominent feature in their fugues is the episode. The episode is generally used and developed more, it normally occurs straight after the exposition. J.S. Bach is well known as the leading composer of fugues and keyboard music in the Baroque era. Bach developed the fugue as it is known today. The Well-tempered Clavier book one and book two contain 48 preludes and fugues in all the keys of the chromatic scale. It is widely accepted the Bach’s The Well-tempered Clavier was modelled on J.C.F. Fischer’s Ariadne musical, a set of 20 short preludes and fugues in a chromatic key order ascending from C-B. The prelude always preceeds the fugue and is a dance which is generally associated with arpeggiated movement. Bach began writing the ‘Well Tempered clavier book one’ during his Cothen Period, where he was director of chamber music. It was completed in 1722. The second book was written during his Leipzig period. Bach had many influences in writing his fugues. Michael Praetorius was one of these; he was an influential renaissance composer who discussed the traits of the fugue and its beginnings. Joachinn Bureister was another influence; he organised and studied contrapuntal music in the way that it is studied today. Bach was also strongly influenced by the composer Dietrich Buxtehude, as a youth Bach would visit Buxtehude in which he would gain an ‘outpour of creativity’. Some of the features Buxtehude uses are evident in Bach’s early organ fugues such as the five section Prelude and Fugue in A minor.
Book 1, Fugue in d minor
In Bach’s time the final liberation of the key of D minor from the Dorian mode was completed. Bach used this new tonality in some of his most significant works, including the ‘Organ Toccata’ and the ‘Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue’. The intense feeling created by this key can also be heard in this fugue. The prelude preceding this fugue is light and delicate with mainly arpegiated movement. This provides contrast. This fugue along with fugue number six and fifteen and from book II number six can be classified according to Groocock as ‘a fugue for three voices with stretto’. The fugues in this group have stretto as an...
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