The Bach Fugue

The Well Tempered Clavier: Prelude and Fugue No. 11 in F major, BWV 856

This task takes the prize as being the most mind-bending and frustrating of exercises so far. After going through the twenty four pieces available I chose a fugue which I considered to have a tempo which I could follow combined with a straightforward meter and an easily recognisable theme. I genuinely hadn’t considered how complex things could get when one is allowed (and technically able) to move the theme mid-phrase between the two staves.

I counted fourteen repetitions of the primary motif which includes (primarily from bar 36 onwards) brief excursions using just the first five notes before breaking off into short episodes which (as far as I can tell) serve to lay the foundation for the closing sequence, running from bar 54 to the end at bar 72.

I didn’t come across any instances of melodic inversion but contrapuntal inversion was shown as early as the end of bar four when the theme is taken up by F4 in the treble clef. The bass clef provides a run of twelve semiquavers (discounting the two in bar 4 in the bass clef) followed by a dotted crotchet trill on the B♮. When the bass clef receives the theme at the end of bar 9 on the G in the treble clef gives us the same twelve note accompaniment followed by a trill on the dotted crotchet on E4.

After poring over the score for a couple of hours I still couldn’t find any solid examples of augmentation (lengthening) or diminution (shortening) other than that which would naturally come about by the restrictions of the Western scale (having only so many notes to use) such as the five note runs played by the middle voice in bars 30, 32 and 34 (discounting the tied notes from the end of the previous phrase) roughly mimicking the theme at double time.

Bach gives us a stretto section beginning at the last note of bar 36 where the theme is handed down from A (A5) to the A below (A4) then to A3 in the bass clef and the carefully placed trills provide a satisfying punctuation and handy reference points.

I think that the greatest mistake that I made with this piece was going into it with a “Rock” mindset and expecting two staves clearly divided, the lower stave taking the left hand and the upper taking the right. There are three voices in this piece and the middle one floats gracefully between the two staves, taking the melody with it.

Spending so much time with such an open and visually clear score has given me renewed respect for Bach and his counterpoint.

Click here to view Page One and Page Two of the score marked with instances of the primary theme.

Click here to view Page One and Page Two of the score marked with the contrapuntal inversion (A), trills (B) and Stretto section.

Click here to view Page One, Page Two and Page Three of the score with my initial markings and notes.

Click here to hear the reference recording.