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A fugue French or fuga Italian is a polyphonic composition with two or more voices, built on a subject theme introduced at the beginning. Each successive voice enters in imitation of the subject in a manner similar to singing Row, row, row your boat. As such, the fugue is a wholly polyphonic composition, harkening back to the textures and techniques of the Renaissance.

Polyphonic writing during the Baroque was a technically demanding style and mainly popular in Northern Europe, culminating with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Fugue Techniques Fugues use techniques beyond the simple imitation or echoing of Row, row, row your boat. For example, after the initial sounding of a subject, subsequent statements of the subject are heard with distinctive counterpoint known as a countersubject.

Composers dramatize and develop the fugue subject by using a variety of techniques such as pedal point, inversion, retrograde, augmentation, diminution and stretto.

A pedal point is a sustained tone, typically in the bass, that continues sounding as the harmony changes, alternating between consonance and dissonance as the chords progress. Your browser does not support the audio tag. Inversion refers to flipping the contour of a melodic figure. In other words, an inversion of a melodic figure has the same rhythm as the original figure, but the contour moves in the opposite direction.

The top staff is an inversion of the the bottom staff. A melodic figure which is the reverse of a previously or simultaneously stated figure is said to be in retrograde. In other words, it is played backwards. Augmentation is a lengthening of duration values while retaining the same pitches. For example, the augmentation of the notes below are twice as long: Your browser does not support the audio tag. Diminution refers to a shortening of duration values while retaining the same pitches.

For example, the diminution of the notes below are half as long: Your browser does not support the audio tag. This is basically the technique used when you sing Row, row, row your boat: phrases overlap and pile up one over another. The technique and art of writing a fugue, using the above techniques and many others, is called counterpoint. After the statement of the subject, a second voice, known as the answer, enters and states the subject with the subject transposed to a closely related key.

Once all the voice entries have appeared, they interweave a bit and cadence, forming the exposition of the fugue. Subject statements are back to back, starting from the highest voice and progressing to lower voices, one after another, until the final voice is sounded in the pedals. The entrance of the second voice, after the initial statement of the subject, is accompanied by a countersubject moving in faster notes. Performance of this piece requires two hands and two feet!

Development In the development, the Bach continues to work the material introduced in the exposition, but dramatizes it with modulation and free form manipulation of the subject see techniques detailed above. The sections featuring free treatment of material is called episodes.

The episode is usually followed by a statement of the subject to help anchor the listener and provide a sense of formal organization. Return Finally, a sense of return is created by bringing back the original key and stating the subject in its entirety, often cascading subject entries for increased excitement.

The practice of ending a minor mode piece with a major chord is called a Picardy third. It was thought the major chord provided a stronger and happier ending than a minor chord.


Fugue for organ in G minor ("Little"), BWV 578 (BC J66)

Contact Form in Art Music All of the archetypal forms strophic, binary, ternary, rondo, and theme and variations play a role in art music. Minuets from the Classical period which appear often in composite forms like symphonies and string quartets are ternary. Ritornello form, the Baroque version of rondo form, was used in the fast movements of concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and others. Art music forms are also sometimes based on themes - a motives, phrases, or melodies that will be repeated, transformed, and varied over the course of the piece.


Form in Art Music



Fugue in G minor sheet music for piano or keyboard



Fugue in G minor, BWV 578 (Bach, Johann Sebastian)


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