Fugal Composition: A Guide to the Study of Bach's 48

Fugal Composition: A Guide to the Study of Bach's 48

Fugal Composition: A Guide to the Study of Bach's 48

Fugal Composition: A Guide to the Study of Bach's 48


Eminently readable despite the complexity of its subject, this book guides the reader in studying the 48 fugues of the composer's Well-Tempered Clavier. Author Joseph Groocock analyzes each of the fugues individually, both verbally and diagrammatically, and includes such elements as overall structure, episodes, stretto, subsidiary subjects, and countersubjects. Meanwhile, the volume's editor supplies comparative analyses using current and previous scholarship on every fugue illustrating where the author supports or challenges other viewpoints. In all, the analyses contained here establish the extraordinary diversity of Bach's fugal style in such a way that reader and researcher alike gain a new understanding of these significant and beautiful works of music.


This book is addressed primarily to those who are beginning the study of fugue, though it may also be of interest to those who are safely past their examinations and who wish to delve more deeply into this fascinating study.

Fugue usually appears on the syllabus during the latter part of a university music course, the assumption being that a student by this time has gained a reasonable level of skill in harmony and counterpoint, in ear-training and general musicianship. Fugues test all these aspects of musical technique.

The ability to write a good fugue depends on the ability to think fugally, and this can certainly not be learned overnight. Progress may seem slow, but with the mastery of each stage there is increasing satisfaction. Unfortunately, this is often overshadowed by one besetting worry, namely, being able to write a good fugue under examination conditions at the end of the course.

Whether the examination is one year or two years away, it is inevitable and hangs like the sword of Damocles over all. The teacher, well aware of this, is sometimes tempted to opt for safety and to adopt the method of training advocated by most textbooks, that is, to instruct the class in the “rules” of fugue and to encourage students to write many fugues of one stereotyped pattern. Whatever does not seem to have a direct bearing on the main objective (the examination) must be completely ignored. He may even pass on the advice given by one writer who says that none of the fugues of Bach should be studied, because Bach did not have to write a fugue in three hours under examination conditions.

This advice is manifestly absurd. It is as if one were to attempt to teach sonata form while scrupulously avoiding the study of any actual sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. Furthermore, it is likely that most members of the class already play Bach on the piano. Are they then to be told to stop doing this until after the examination? Or at least to shut their ears and their minds to what their fingers enjoy playing?

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