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How many measures for the subject? #2759979 08/20/18 07:59 PM
Joined: Feb 2014
Posts: 262
caters Offline OP
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I am planning on writing a fugue by itself before I try to put a fugue into a sonata. I am reading up on fugues, particularly how to write them. I know counterpoint and I composed a canon so this shouldn't be all that much trouble. I plan to have 4 voices in my fugue for the purposes of balance(after all I am writing for the piano and having 2 voices per clef seems more balanced than just having 3 voices(2 in the treble clef and 1 in the bass clef) But there is 1 thing I am wondering. How long should the subject be?

Right now I am trying to compose a fugue in C minor and I have this so far for the subject:

G, F, Eb, D, Eb, D, C, Bb, C, Rest
1, 2, 3 4, 1, +, 2, +, 3, +, 4

That is just 2 measures. Now of course I could change the time signature and I might after I have all the notes down if I feel that 4/4 is not a good time signature. And of course changing the time signature will change the number of measures 1 theme or subject takes up.

But, I feel that 2 measures is insufficient for a fugue subject. And I have heard from Classical FM's article on 10 steps to write an amazing fugue, that some short musical idea like one that takes up 2 measures, needs to be expanded upon for a fugue subject, otherwise there isn't implied harmony when you get to writing the countersubject.

Is 2 measures sufficient or should I expand upon these 2 measures for the subject of my fugue?

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Re: How many measures for the subject? [Re: caters] #2760056 08/21/18 09:53 AM
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Eric399 Offline
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Have you studied Bach's Welltempered Clavier? That could teach you a lot about suitable themes for fugues. The length is not as important as the character - the theme should be instantly recogniseable every time it reappears, even with all the other voices around it.

Re: How many measures for the subject? [Re: caters] #2760186 08/21/18 09:36 PM
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Steve Chandler Offline
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Listening is crucial to learning the art of composing fugues. Bach is the best place to start when it comes to composing a fugue, but plenty of other composers have written admirable themes. Mendelssohn, Franck, Beethoven, Liszt and then there are 20th century fugue composers. Ives wrote a fugue (in 4 keys IIRC), Barber wrote an awesome one in his Piano Sonata, Shostakovich, wrote 24 preludes and fugues. If you've studied and analyzed even some of these you wouldn't be asking internet strangers how to write a fugue theme.

I could say your subject is too short but Bach wrote a lengthy fugue in C major on a theme of just two bars. It starts at 4:29 of this video.
BTW, this fugue uses just about every device in fugal writing, inversion, stretto, inversion and stretto simulatneously and then the pedal comes in with augmentation and all three happen simultaneously. This is old Bach at his best.

The important aspect of a fugue theme is that it must be recognizable and memorable. I didn't quite get the rhythm of your theme, but if I was using your notes it would be quarter, quarter, dotted quarter, eighth, eighth, eighth, eighth, eighth, land in a quarter note low G instead of c, then quarter rest. BUT, that's probably just the first phrase. Have you analyzed fugue subjects and their fugues? You say you know counterpoint, that's a good starting point. If I was you I'd start with writing a fugal exposition, it's a smaller bite of the apple. Then I'd start working out what could be done with the theme, inversion, stretto, counter subjects/secondary themes, episodic development, augmentation/diminution.

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