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fugue

fugue (fyōg) [key] [Ital., = flight], in music, a form of composition in which the basic principle is imitative counterpoint of several voices. Its main elements are: (1) a theme, or subject, stated first in one voice alone and then successively in all voices; (2) the continuation of a voice after the subject, forming an accompaniment to the subject statements in the other voices and sometimes assuming sufficiently distinct character as to be called a countersubject; and (3) passages that are built on a motive or motives derived from the subject or the countersubject but in which these themselves do not appear. Those sections in which the subject appears at least once in all voices are called expositions; those in which it does not appear at all are called episodes. Expositions other than the opening one often modulate. The formal structure of any fugue is an alternation of exposition and episode, and an infinite variety of formal scheme is possible. The term fugue designates a contrapuntal texture which may be in any formal design. Imitation as the systematic basis for musical texture was first applied during the generation of Josquin Desprez, Loyset Compère, and others, c.1500. During the 16th cent. the technique was further developed in the instrumental ricercare and canzone. In Germany in the 17th cent. composers such as Sweelinck, Froberger, and Buxtehude developed contrapuntal pieces based on one subject, which led to the fugal style exemplified in the Art of the Fugue, the Goldberg Variations, and the Well-tempered Clavier of J. S. Bach, the master of fugue. After him fugue was adapted by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven to the classical style. Brahms was the chief composer to make use of the fugue in the romantic period. A contemporary volume of preludes and fugues is Paul Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis (1943).

See A. Mann, The Study of Fugue (1958), R. Bullivant, Fugue (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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