Fugue is a complex style of composition that can be employed in almost genre; this page will give you a general sense of what late Baroque fugues involved. Fugal writing is a very complex form of counterpoint. In the Baroque it could also be considered a genre, as many pieces were composed as stand-alone fugues.The most important thing to remember is the role of the fugue subject as the main melodic idea that is imitated throughout the piece.
Even though fugues were being composed throughout the Baroque, Bach is considered to have no equal in the composition of fugues, so this page is included in this section with him, rather than in the Instrumental Music in the Baroque section.
In music, a fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition.
The English term fugue originated in the 16th century and is derived from the French word fugue or the Italian fuga. This in turn comes from Latin, also fuga, which is itself related to both fugere (“to flee”) and fugare (“to chase”). The adjectival form is fugal. Variants include fughetta (literally, “a small fugue”) and fugato (a passage in fugal style within another work that is not a fugue).
A fugue usually has three sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation containing the return of the subject in the fugue’s tonic key, though not all fugues have a recapitulation. In the Middle Ages, the term was widely used to denote any works in canonic style; by the Renaissance, it had come to denote specifically imitative works. Since the seventeenth century, the term fugue has described what is commonly regarded as the most fully developed procedure of imitative counterpoint.
Most fugues open with a short main theme, the subject, which then sounds successively in each voice (after the first voice is finished stating the subject, a second voice repeats the subject at a different pitch, and other voices repeat in the same way); when each voice has entered, the exposition is complete. This is often followed by a connecting passage, or episode, developed from previously heard material; further “entries” of the subject then are heard in related keys. Episodes (if applicable) and entries are usually alternated until the “final entry” of the subject, by which point the music has returned to the opening key, or tonic, which is often followed by closing material, the coda. In this sense, a fugue is a style of composition, rather than a fixed structure.
The form evolved during the 18th century from several earlier types of contrapuntal compositions, such as imitative ricercars, capriccios,canzonas, and fantasias. The famous fugue composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) shaped his own works after those of Johann Jakob Froberger (1616–1667), Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706), Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643), Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637–1707) and others. With the decline of sophisticated styles at the end of the baroque period, the fugue’s central role waned, eventually giving way as sonata form and the symphony orchestra rose to a dominant position. Nevertheless, composers continued to write and study fugues for various purposes; they appear in the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), as well as modern composers like Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975).
It was in the Baroque period that the writing of fugues became central to composition, in part as a demonstration of compositional expertise. Fugues were incorporated into a variety of musical forms. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Johann Jakob Froberger and Dieterich Buxtehude all wrote fugues, and George Frideric Handel included them in many of his oratorios. Keyboard suites from this time often conclude with a fugal gigue. Domenico Scarlatti has only a few fugues among his corpus of over 500 harpsichord sonatas. The French overture featured a quick fugal section after a slow introduction. The second movement of a sonata da chiesa, as written by Arcangelo Corelli and others, was usually fugal.
The Baroque period also saw a rise in the importance of music theory. Some fugues during the Baroque period were pieces designed to teach contrapuntal technique to students. The most influential text was published by Johann Joseph Fux (1660–1741), his Gradus Ad Parnassum (“Steps to Parnassus”), which appeared in 1725. This work laid out the terms of “species” of counterpoint, and offered a series of exercises to learn fugue writing. Fux’s work was largely based on the practice of Palestrina’s modal fugues. Mozart studied from this book, and it remained influential into the nineteenth century. Haydn, for example, taught counterpoint from his own summary of Fux, and thought of it as the basis for formal structure.
This musical form was also apparent in chamber music Bach would later compose for Weimar; the famous Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor(BWV 1043) (although not contrapuntal in its entirety) has a fugal opening section to its first movement.
Bach’s most famous fugues are those for the harpsichord in The Well-Tempered Clavier, which many composers and theorists look at as the greatest model of fugue. The Well-Tempered Clavier comprises two volumes written in different times of Bach’s life, each comprising 24 prelude and fugue pairs, one for each major and minor key. Bach is also known for his organ fugues, which are usually preceded by a prelude or toccata. The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, is a collection of fugues (and four canons) on a single theme that is gradually transformed as the cycle progresses. Bach also wrote smaller single fugues, and put fugal sections or movements into many of his more general works.
J. S. Bach’s influence extended forward through his son C.P.E. Bach and through the theorist Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg (1718–1795) whoseAbhandlung von der Fuge (“Treatise on the fugue,” 1753) was largely based on J. S. Bach’s work.