WTC I/2 in C minor – Prelude 

from Siglind Bruhn
J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier
In-depth Analysis and Interpretation

I/2.1.1 The prelude-type

Most remarkable in this prelude at first sight are the very striking changes in tempo, texture and material. These unusual features are a result of Bach’s decision to “upgrade” a smaller prelude in C minor which he had written for his son Wilhelm Friedemann. The contrasting sections found in the Well-Tempered Clavier version represent those insertions which the composer added later. (A detailed comparison of the original version and with the C major prelude – which is identical in the Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann and the WTC – follows at the end of this chapter.)

In its attitude and expressive aims, the prelude in C minor is very similar to the preceding prelude. Any attempt to render this piece as a display of virtuosity would certainly be counterproductive to the musical idea; equally, an emphasis on the horizontal process in one or both of the voices would fail to convey the essence of this composition. The main body of the C minor prelude represents the category of pieces determined primarily by harmonic processes; i.e. just as in the C major prelude, each bar stands for a harmonic step whose relationship to the harmonic surroundings determines the “message” and the dynamic representation.

 

I/2.1.2 The overall design of the prelude

The first harmonic progression ends in bar 4, the steps until there being:

bar 1 = i,

bar 2 = iv64,

bar 3 = vii + C pedal,

bar 4 = i.

Since structural breaks in this prelude are defined solely by harmonic processes, this cadential close must be regarded as the indicator for the end of a first (short) section. The next harmonic progression – and with it the next structural section – ends in bar 14 where Bach concludes a modulation to the relative key of Eb major. The final steps of the cadence in this new key are (in Eb):

bar 10 = V2,

bar 11 = I64,

bar 12 = IV6,

bar 13 = V65,

bar 14 = I.

There are 4 such structural sections in this prelude:

I

bars 1-4

(full cadence in C minor)

II

bars 5-14

(modulation to Eb major)

III

bars 15-18

(modulation back to C minor)

IV

bars 18-38

(complex, extended cadence in C)

 

I/2.1.3 Practical considerations for performers

As in the preceding prelude, this harmonically-determined piece does not allow for any melodic articulation or single-voice phrasing since it is not the melodic element which counts here: all notes are to be sustained for the exact length of their written value. Phrasing between the structural sections, i.e. between one closed harmonic progression and the next, will be conveyed through the tension curves (for performers on the modern piano this is attained through dynamic modifications which correspond with the harmonic development).

The dynamic relationship between consecutive notes might pose a problem for many performers. The result one should be aiming for is to transmit a chord progression behind the single sixteenth-notes; thus the notes forming each chord must sound as equal as possible, and greatest care has to be taken to avoid emphasis of the upper pitches.

Choosing the tempo is a very complex matter because of the indications Bach gave for the portions which he added to his son’s smaller piece. For the harmonically determined part alone, the same would hold true as for the C major prelude: the tempo should be chosen in order to best convey the idea of harmonic processes. Too fast a performance easily diverts the listener’s attention by what appears as a display of virtuosity, and too slow a tempo makes it impossible to hear more than just one chord at a time.

Next, there is the question of a meaningful balance of tempi between the four sections. One reasonable assumption (and the choice of many artists) is to interpret the final “Allegro” as a return to the original tempo, thus giving the prelude a rounded form. For the two tempi in between, the following proportion works well:

 Presto = twice as fast as the main section;
translation: 2 bars in bars 1-27 = 1 bar in bars 28-33

Adagio = twice as slow as the main section;
translation: 1 bar in bars 28-33 = 1 eighth-note in bar 34

Allegro = back to the original tempo
translation: 1 eighth-note in bar 34 = 1 quarter-note in bars 35-38.

This option results in a well-balanced overall structure within that portion of the prelude which abandons the initial two-part texture. What we will hear are

-

six bars, on the dominant pedal and between pedals:

bars 25-27 = 3 bars in original tempo

+

bars 28-33 in Presto = 3 bars in original tempo;

-

six bars, on the (extent or implied) tonic pedal:

bar 34 in Adagio = 2 bars in original tempo

+

bars 35-38 in Allegro = 4 bars in original tempo.

Another option assumes a 2:3 proportion between the outer sections on the one hand and the Presto–Adagio on the other hand. While this option does not maintain the balanced structure mentioned above, it allows a simpler transition into the fugue. (Approximate metronome settings: (a) beginning beat = 72, Presto = 144, Adagio = 36, Allegro = 72; (b) beginning beat = 88, Presto = 132, Adagio = 66, Allegro = 88. The tempo in the fugue would be chosen either in complex proportion after a simple proportion within the prelude: (a) fugue beats = 96, or in simple proportion after a complex proportion within the prelude: (b) fugue beats = 88.)

The ornaments in this prelude include two inverted mordents: one (obviously contained in the autograph) in the middle of the Adagio bar; the other (deriving from an early copy) on the final note. The first is played with E#, following the harmony of this bar, while the last is a whole-step ornament.

In addition to these embellishments, the two arpeggios in the Adagio are worth considering carefully. Is the upper note primarily part of the (vertical) arpeggio, or is it first of all part of a (horizontal) melodic line?

If one plays the note as the score seems to indicate, without any sophisticated interpretation, then it would sound as the last note in a broken chord. According to the requirements of Baroque style, this broken chord has to start on the beat, which would cause the uppermost note to fall after the beat. The question is therefore whether a melodic continuity would be destroyed by such a rendition.

Particularly relevant in the second arpeggio (see bar 34m), the rendition with F as an (after-beat) last note would interrupt the melodic flow quite awkwardly. In this case it is therefore certainly preferable to interpret the melodic note as independent of the chord, i.e. to play the F together with the bass note C on the beat and then arpeggiate the remaining chord notes.

Going back half a bar to the beginning of the Adagio, the upper note E can probably be perceived in two ways, either as a chord note or as a melodic component. A realization similar to that of the second arpeggio is therefore possible (and perhaps beneficial to the symmetry in this bar) but not necessary for its understanding. (The practice described above was quite well-known in Baroque times: performers were expected to understand, from their immediate grasp of the musical “sense”, whether or not an arpeggio included the upper note, and then play accordingly. The fact that there was obviously no need to specify this in writing may indicate that musicians usually did understand – or, perhaps just as often, that they were students of the composer and thus could be taught during the lesson.)

 

I/2.1.4 What is happening in this prelude?

The harmonic patterns that determine the “message” of this prelude are twice eclipsed by secondary processes: in one instance by sequences (see the second section); in the other by a bass pedal. The development of tension in the entire prelude as created jointly by all these processes can be described as follows:

In the course of the first simple cadence, it is the subdominant which commands the greatest tension; this tension subsequently finds a stepwise resolution through the dominant towards the tonic. The dynamic equivalent to this process is approximately

p - mp+ - mp- p

The following section begins with a string of sequences. The first question is therefore: what kind of relationship exists between the two bars of the model (bars 5 and 6). If, e.g., the step from the Ab major chord in bar 5 towards the D7 chord in bar 6 is taken as active, this model sets the pattern which the next two-bar combinations must follow – on a generally softer level because the sequences are descending. The section is rounded off with a cadential close in the relative major key Eb major. The dynamic equivalent could be expressed as

mf - mf + - mp+ - mf - mp - mf - mp - mp - mp - p+ 

After this very extensive second section, the third section is surprisingly short. No new string of sequences delays the return to the home key; instead, the harmonic progression moves directly into the steps of the simple cadence in the initial C minor key (see bars 15 to 18). The dynamic development of these four bars should therefore appear more like that of an appendix to the preceding section than as an independent section: 

mp - mp - p+ - p

The fourth section of the prelude needs a much more detailed description. In the Well-Tempered Clavier version, it commences in the middle of bar 18, thus making this bar the only one of those built on the same surface pattern which contains a change of harmony. (In this matter it seems difficult to decide which of the two versions reflects the composer’s true intention. The text of the initial Little Prelude shows bar 18 with two equal halves and a repeated C bass, while the version preferred in today’s Urtext editions of the Well-Tempered Clavier quotes a bass note Bb on the third beat of this bar. The latter version certainly sounds harmonically more convincing, but it does so at the expense of continuity – this bar diverges significantly from the pattern observed throughout the remainder of this part of the piece.) The bass-note transition from C to Bb converts the tonic chord into an inverted V7/iv (dominant-seventh of the subdominant) and thus triggers a new, active harmonic motion. This then leads very soon (see bar 21) to a dominant pedal. 

The gradual tension increase inherent in any prolonged pedal note is enhanced here not only by the rising pitches of the chords (see bars 21-24 and 25-28), but also by the sudden change, in the latter portion, to a more virtuoso, toccata-style texture. This new surface pattern prepares the intriguing inner expansion with which Bach enriched his original version of this prelude when including it in the Well-Tempered Clavier.

The ensuing passages constitute not only a change in tempo but also a surprise in their surface patterns. While the harmonic basis remains for a while on the dominant pedal, the one-track, broken-chord texture gives way to a virtuoso two-bar figure in Presto (see bars 28-30d: U). This figure is imitated in stretto (after one bar and thus overlapping for exactly one bar) by the lower voice. Both the model and its imitation are then sequenced, thus creating a suddenly dense polyphonic structure. The leading upper voice adds a second, related but shorter figure (see bars 32-33d) which is also imitated by the lower voice in the following bar. Within these six bars with their pattern of two-part imitation, the harmonic change from the dominant to the tonic pedal note is carried out in such a subtle way (somewhere between bars 30 and 31, but with an absence of the actual bass note) that the urge to come to a close seems as if suspended. 

When the tonic pedal finally appears (see bar 34d), it marks the beginning of yet another section, headed Adagio and featuring a recitative-style upper voice over scarce, arpeggiated chords. These surface features – the switches in tempo, texture and character – are so intriguing that the tonic pedal again stands little chance of claiming the necessary attention to announce the end of the piece. The third change finally returns to the texture which had determined the last bars before this adventurous expansion (compare bars 35-38 with bars 25-27). Thus the bracket is finally closed.

Regarding the dynamic design in this final and largest section of the C minor prelude, the above observations permit the following conclusions:
 

-

The obvious point for a climax is the downbeat of bar 28; here, the last and longest ringing of the dominant pedal note coincides with the beginning of the Presto and the change to the denser polyphonic texture. This climax has been prepared in the continuous buildup which began at the end of the last home-key cadence in bar 18.

-

After the climax, the overall tension diminishes in a twofold downward sweep. A (much smaller) second peak falls on the downbeat of bar 34 – here, the first appearance of the tonic pedal note coincides with the beginning of the Adagio and the first arpeggiated chord.

-

The overall decline of tension is then continued to the end of the piece.


This overall development of tension can be expressed in the following dynamic terms. (“pf “ here = poco f. The spacing of the bars – see: 28, 30, 32, 34a, 34b – depicts the actual time of the musical process in what might be the most desirable tempi.)

 

bar

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

30

32

34a

34b

35

36

37

38

mp

mp+

mf

mf

mf +

pf

pf

pf +

f

f

pf

mf

pf

mf +

mf

mp+

mp

p

The graph sums up the development of tension throughout the entire prelude (ex. 14).

 

 

Prelude in C minor – Postscript:

Comparison between

-

the original version of the C minor prelude
(as given in the Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann) and

-

the C major prelude
(which is identical in the Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann and in the WTC)


Although the first two preludes in the Well-Tempered Clavier share a common origin from the Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann, their adaptation is significantly different. While the C major prelude remained unchanged, the minor-mode piece underwent considerable alteration.

In the initial version of the C minor prelude, the Presto, Adagio and Allegro portions were not yet in evidence: from the dominant-seventh chord in bar 25, Bach went directly into two closing bars over a tonic pedal. A comparison between this shorter version of the C minor prelude and the prelude in C major reveals striking parallels:

-

In the C minor prelude, each of the first twenty-four bars – with only one exception which was already referred to – consists of a half-bar pattern which is repeated in the second half of the bar without any alteration or variation (just as in the C major prelude).

-

The first four bars form a simple cadence here, harmonically progressing from the tonic to the subdominant, dominant-seventh and tonic (just as in the C major prelude), while the bass retains the tonic keynote (which it did not in the C major prelude). 

-

The second section of the C minor prelude combines elements of both the second and third sections of the C major prelude: descending sequence + modulation (compare with prelude in C major, bars 5-11), target key approached through the sixth chord which is then followed by a complete cadence (see the process of sequences / inverted tonic / perfect cadence in bars 12-19 of the C major prelude).

-

Both preludes feature a prolonged dominant pedal note in the fourth (final) section. The Wilhelm Friedemann version of the C minor prelude commences with four bars which continue the two-part pattern characteristic of this piece. After these, the last three bars bring a gradual but significant change: first into a one-track texture of a whole bar’s length (see Little Prelude, bar 25), then into a mock three-part structure comparable to that which characterizes the C major prelude, and finally into a one-track broken-chord descent.


The main differences between the pieces (still comparing the Wilhelm Friedemann versions) manifest themselves towards the end:

-

While the C major prelude in its fourth section features four bars of a very intense harmonic activity before it reaches the dominant pedal, the equivalent development in the C minor prelude is confined to two bars only and is therefore much weaker in effect.

-

In the C major prelude this development reaches a dynamic intensity which drops suddenly to give way to a new dynamic start on the dominant pedal. The analogous development in bars 19/20 of the small prelude in C minor reaches its similar dominant pedal section by means of a gradual buildup.

 

WTC I/2 in C minor Fugue

 

I/2.2.1 The subject

Commencing on the second eighth-note of a 4/4 bar, the subject is two bars long. The initial notes are heard as an upbeat – not so much to the downbeat of the following bar but more likely to the middle beat of bar 1. 

The Eb which falls on the first beat of bar 3 marks the end of the subject. This fact, evident from a comparison with all later subject statements, is supported by the harmonic background: the dominant is reached, in the form of a ninth chord (G B D F Ab) in the middle of bar 3 and resolved onto the tonic on the following downbeat.

One of the remarkable melodic characteristics of this subject is that it contains three identical note groups: the initial three-note figure C-B-C, metrically placed as an upbeat, is repeated twice in its equivalent metric position. These identical groups have to be regarded as structurally corresponding – i.e. each of them initiates a separate little sub-phrase.

The rhythmic pattern displays a fairly regular combination of sixteenth-notes and eighth-notes, complemented by a single quarter-note towards the end which features as a syncopation. The pitch pattern of the subject comprises a mixture of steps and leaps. Upon closer inspection, a much clearer picture emerges, since almost all stepwise motion presented in sixteenth-note rhythm can be unmasked as written-out ornaments: the figure C-B-C is obviously a spelled-out inverted mordent, and the F-G-Ab can be read as a slide. Furthermore, none of the leaps is a high-tension interval. The main body of the subject can therefore be said to represent neither a primarily linear nor a highly emotional pitch progression. If one were to reduce the subject to its unornamented line, this is what remains:

C-G-Ab, C-D-G, C-D-Ab––GFEb or C-G-Ab, C-D-G, C-D-F––GFEb.

The harmonic background is that of a simple cadence as shown in the example below. Bach s harmonization contains only minor variations in the course of this fugue; see e.g. the entry bars 26-28 where iv is replaced by VI (ex. 15).

The sequential structure is a determining factor in the subject’s dynamic outline. Within the first subphrase (the head motive), the initial four notes remain in the range of the tonic; the fifth note, however, moves on to the subdominant. This harmonic progression indicates an increase in tension within the first subphrase. Logically in a sequential pattern, this serves as a model for the subtle development of tension in the following subphrases; thus three similar dynamic increases result.

When attempting to organize these three increases within a more encompassing pattern, we find that there is more than one possible conclusion to the overall development of tension.

-

On the one hand, there is a melodic scheme which one can choose to observe. The three subphrase climaxes together with the last note of the subject build a peak note line describing a stepwise movement from the fourth downwards to the keynote (Ab-G-F-Eb).
Performers who adopt such a melodic approach will interpret this hidden line as a consistent diminuendo. Within this frame, the ascending three-note group in the middle of bar 2 will sound as an extension of the note F – which makes sense because there is no change of harmony at the immediate emergence of the syncopation.
This interpretation of an underlying decrease in tension throughout the subject is supported by the overall harmonic progression which also has its climax on the subdominant represented by the first peak note. 

-

On the other hand, one may prefer to focus on the rhythmic structure. In this case the syncopation, quite in contrast to its integrated role in the first interpretation, makes an impact of its own. Performers who feel that the hidden line of three descending peak-notes is extended and refers back to this syncopation as its ultimate target, will interpret each subphrase as more intense than the preceding one. They will thus read a crescendo, through the three subphrase climaxes until the syncopation, followed by a release of tension only in the last three notes of the subject.

 

I/2.2.2 The statements of the subject

There are altogether eight subject entries in this fugue:

1.

bars 1-3

M

3.

bars 7-9

L

5.

bars 15-17

M

7.

bars 26-28

L

2.

bars 3-5

U

4.

bars 11-13

U

6.

bars 20-22

U

8.

bars 29-31

U

(ex. 16)

Apart from the interval adjustment in the tonal answer, the subject appears unchanged throughout the fugue. Both the interval variation in the major mode statements and the raised third at the end of the last entry (Picardy third) are regular features. The fugue does not contain any strettos or parallel entries.

 

I/2.2.3 The counter-subjects

The C minor fugue features two counter-subjects. Only the first is truly independent. 

CS1

makes its first appearance immediately after the initial subject statement; i.e. it stretches from the second sixteenth-note of bar 3 to the downbeat of bar 5. The very obvious change in the rhythmic pattern (only sixteenth-notes in bar 3-3m, only eighth-notes thereafter) and the pitch level (see the tenth interval C1-Eb2 in bar 3m) reveal that this counter-subject is structurally conceived as consisting of two contrasting subphrases. The first segment presents a descending scale which most probably describes a decrease of tension; the second, much larger, segment also moves essentially in a falling direction. Its most likely interpretation is therefore as an even more pronounced diminuendo.
(A short word on alternative interpretations of the dynamic development: Climaxes on either the lower C, the target of the descending scale, or the – admittedly interesting – F#, are inadvisable since they debilitate the polyphonic clarity. Both notes coincide with tension peaks in the subject. Already the very even rhythmic structure in the second half of the counter-subject weakens its impact in the context of simultaneous lines; an additional dynamic parallel would offset the requirement of independence.)

CS2

is introduced against the next subject entry. It starts belatedly on the sixth eighth-note of bar 7 (see middle voice F) but concludes together with the other components on bar 9d. Rhythmically, this counter-subject is almost entirely attuned to CS1. Its pitch pattern is also not very significant, and experiences several changes in the course of the fugue. Thus this second companion to the subject stages little contrast of its own. The overall impression in the piece remains that of a dialogue between the subject and one counter-subject (which comes with a homophonic accompaniment).


For a sketch showing the phrase structure and dynamic design created in the combination of the subject and its two counter-subjects, please see the example below.

(ex. 17)

 

I/2.2.4 The episodes

There are six subject-free passages in this fugue:

E1

bars 5-7

E4

bars 17-20

E2

bars 9 -12

E5

bars 22-26

E3

bars 13-15

E6

bars 28-29

The material of E1, E2, E4 and E5 is closely related to the subject; at least one voice constantly displays a variation of its head motive. In E2 and E5, this subject-derived motive is extended: what was originally the final eighth-note now sounds as a crochet, followed by an eighth-note rest and two chromatically ascending eighth-notes. This longer version of the head motive also complements the dynamic design: the slight tension rise in the subphrase is now rounded with a relaxation throughout the extension. (Note that in the stretto imitation used in these episodes, the [decreasing] chromatic ascent of this extension coincides with the [increasing] regular eighth-notes which open the head motive. This takes many performers unawares: they lose sight of which voice is leading and when.)

The first episode motive (M1) is introduced in E1. It consists of an ascending scale which comes to a halt on a syncopated Ab. These two features – the scale motion and the syncopation – disclose M1 as related both to the first counter-subject (which commences with a scale, though a descending one) and to the subject (which contains the syncopation group F-G-Ab). Interpretation of the character and dynamic design in this motive depends on which of these relationship one regards as more evident; M1 could be taken as a relaxed scale in diminuendo (see the beginning of CS1) or as an upbeat to a little climax (on F or on Ab, whichever the conclusion in the subject).

M2 is brought forth in the lower voice of E2. It is a figure of one-bar length made up of a descending one-octave scale which bends back two notes and is then followed by another descent down to the lower fifth. This motive obviously derives from the beginning of the first counter-subject and accordingly picks up its character and tension decrease. As E3 shows, this motive can appear not only in descending but also in ascending direction. The most consistent (though not often heard) interpretive conclusion would be to retain both the character and the diminuendo. (The implications of such an interpretation of E3 for the overall dynamic development are considerable and will be dealt with later.)

The double-note motive which appears in the two lower voices of E3, but which is never again taken up in the fugue, is least related to the primary material. It merely bears a slight resemblance to the first three notes of CS2 which, together with the same note-group in CS1, also forms descending parallels.

Finally, E6 is by far the shortest episode of this fugue; its harmonic progression and melodic features leave no doubt that it is a typical cadential close. The lower voice presents a cadential-bass pattern, the middle voice the characteristic closing formula with syncopation, and even the upper voice joins in by displaying one of the established closing features, the keynote anticipation.

The relationships between the episodes of this fugue are as follows:

-

the first half of E4 (bars 17-18) is a varied repetition of E1;

compare

L in E4

with

U in E1,

M in E4

with

M in E1;

U in E4

is new but in part parallel

to L

-

the second half of E4 is a varied repetition of the first half of E4
compare bars 17-18m with bars 18m-20d (M and L in inverted voices);

-

the first half of E5 (bars 22-24) is a varied repetition of E2

compare

U/M in E5

with

U/M in E2 (transposed),

L in E5

with

L in E2 (metrically varied transposition).

 
Both E1 and the two halves of E4 are composed in ascending sequences. They prepare the following entry by building up tension towards it (which only in the case of E1 is slightly abated at the very end of the episode).

By contrast, E2 and E5, both determined by falling sequences, create diminuendo. This seems only logical in the case of E2 which follows the last of the three initial statements in this three-part fugue. With its decreasing tension it thus sets the so far uninterrupted tension rise apart from what follows. The symmetrically beginning E5 seems intended also to give the impression that the main statements in this round have already been made, and lures the listener into expecting a redundant subject entry. But Bach seems to change his mind; he extends this episode by adding a definitely ascending, tension increasing second half (see bars 25-26) which leads to a statement in the lower voice, thus completing the round. A similar process recurs in the final episode: the cadential bars 28-29 seem to close this section in a mood of relaxation, but Bach adds a further entry – redundant this time – in homophonic texture above a tonic pedal.

This leaves E3 whose interpretation requires carefully pondering.

-

E3 is conceived as a crescendo (which can often be heard), it appears as a link between the preceding and the ensuing subject statements. The result would be that it strings together – by means of its dynamic direction – entries which clearly do not belong to the same group.

-

If this episode is conceived as a diminuendo, this tension design (together with the fact that E3 is the only episode not at all related to the subject and occurs close to the middle of the composition) suggests an interpretation of the fugue as being composed in two halves.

  

 

I/2.2.5 Character, tempo, articulation, ornament realization

The leaps in the pitch pattern and the prevalence of two rhythmic values – eighth-notes and sixteenth-notes – suggest a rather lively basic character for this composition. The ideal tempo is dictated by two essential details: the dance-like character, created above all by the unusually regular phrase structure within the subject, and the ornamental character of the initial figure C-B-C. The most appropriate pace would therefore be one in which the eighth-notes sound “gracefully bouncing” and the sixteenth-notes are not so slow as to be perceived as single notes.

Articulation in the fugue is a light quasi legato for all sixteenth-notes and an equally not too heavy non legato for all eighth-notes and longer notes, with the exception of syncopations. The Urtext of the fugue in C minor does not mention any ornaments

For the proportional tempo of the fugue to its prelude, it would not be a good idea to add yet another different tempo to the three already contained in the prelude. Thus picking up the prelude’s main beat provides a good solution:

one quarter-note

corresponds with

one quarter-note

in the prelude

in the fugue.

 

I/2.2.6 The design of the fugue

Indicators for the design are particularly eloquent in this fugue. The entering order of the voices shows an exact repetition: middle voice, upper voice, lower voice, upper voice in both bars 1-13 and 15-31.

Beyond this analogy there is a striking symmetry between the linking episodes in both halves of the fugue (see above: E4 is a variation of E1, E5/1st half is a transposition of E2).

This twofold symmetry overlaps artfully insofar as the corresponding episodes do not link corresponding voice entries. The result is the following design which, on one of the two levels, relates the unaccompanied first subject statement to the homophonically accompanied last one – a truly ingenious plan. 

subject

M

subject

U

– – – – – –

subject

M

E1

E4

subject

L

– – – – – –

subject

U

E2

E5

subject

U

– – – – – –

subject

L

E3

E6

subject

U

The harmonic progression within this fugue leads from C minor to the relative major key, Eb major (in the fourth subject entry), but returns to the home key very soon thereafter and never leaves it again.

The last two-and-a-half bars appear as a coda. There are several explanations for this:
 

-

the final cadence has already taken place (see the explicit cadential close in bars 28/29);

-

the bass is limited to an extended tonic pedal note;

-

the middle voice, for once, does not take up the counter-subject or sound any other polyphonically independent line, but accompanies the final subject statement in strict homophonic style;

-

these bars sound in voice splitting, i.e. they abandon the original three-part setting and split – into an octave (L pedal) and into chords or double notes (M see from bar 30 middle).


For a sketch showing the design of the fugue in C minor, see ex. 18.

 

 

I/2.2.7 The development of tension

The curve described by the dynamic tension within the first section shows a gradual increase through the first three entries, caused by the buildup of the ensemble and the increasing gesture of the first episode. This is followed by a slight decline, both during the second episode and in the fourth entry which is not only redundant but also sounds in the major mode, thus appearing more relaxed than the original version in minor. This fugue, however, does not represent a dramatic composition but rather a cheerful, dance-like one; thus the rising and falling dynamic developments in this first section are not particularly strong.

The second section repeats this dynamic pattern: the first three subject statements, including the episodes linking them, increase very smoothly. (The second of these episodes, E5, begins by decreasing tension – before it “realizes” that this is premature and that there is one more entry to come in the buildup.) It is the cadential close after this third entry in the second section which provides the tension release, so that the redundant entry, here coinciding with the coda, sounds like a softer afterthought.

The relationship between the two sections is one of enhanced repetition. The second section sets out in a more involved way since the first subject statement already comes accompanied by both its counter-subjects. The episodes are longer and may thus create heightened anticipation of the next subject entry. The cadential close is a stronger interruption than the decreasing second episode in the first section. Finally, the last entry, in its detachment from the polyphonic texture of the fugue, may depict more of a retreat than the last entry of the first section, which appeared lighter mainly because of its changed mode.