Bach Fugue Bwv 846 Analysis Essay

Technical note: The fugues of Book 1 (left column) have been migrated to Flash, and Book 2 is now in process.

Fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier
Johann Sebastian Bach:
Forty-Four Fugues and Select Preludes
by Tim Smith and David Korevaar

On behalf of David Korevaar and myself (Tim Smith), welcome to this study of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. This project was begun over my sabbatical year of 2002-'03 and is ongoing. Dr. Korevaar's sensitive and dazzling interpretations have been its inspiration. Upon hearing his fugues, you'll want to enjoy his many more excellent recordings spanning a wide range of genres and composers. In addition to browsing the links to the left, you will enjoy reading Dr. Korevaar's comments on the performance of the WTC in Character and Counterpoint and my thoughts on teaching with Metaphor, Mystery, and the Music of Bach. Educators planning to use this material may wish to consult the Index of Contrapuntal Operations and Learning Objects. Many of the fugues are paired with quizzes where students may email feedback to instructors.

Selected resources for study of the Well-Tempered Clavier and J. S. Bach

This fugue in C major, the first fugue from the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, presents several interesting aspects:

  • The voices appear in the exposition in the unusual order of subject - answer - answer - subject.
  • After the exposition Bach presents numerous stretti without any interruption.
  • The only measures where the subject is not present are measure 23 and the two last measures of the fugue.

Some authors propose various numerological symbolism. The 14 notes long subject is said to be related to Bach's name:

B = 2, A = 1, C = 3, H = 8
2 + 1 + 3 + 8 = 14

It is also said that the subject appears exactly 24 times in this fugue representing the 24 fugues in the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. But as you will see in our analysis, there are only 22 complete subjects. To be able to get to the total of 24 subjects you need to include two incomplete presentations of the subject. The first incomplete appearance is in measure 14:

The 4 last notes are missing, yet this voice enters in a stretto, so you really hear it as a subject entrance even if the 4 last notes are missing.

The second incomplete appearance is in measure 15 where only the first 7 notes are presented:

In the third incomplete appearance in measure 20, we only hear the first 3 notes (although you may find some relations between the sixteenth notes in the next measure with the 32ths notes of the subject):

It is up to you to decide...

Follows the complete analysis of the fugue. We have numbered the subject and answers appearance. Incomplete appearances, appear in green color:

©2005 José Rodríguez Alvira. Published by teoria.com




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