WTC I/4 in C# minor Prelude 

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

I/4.1.1 The prelude-type

The C# minor prelude is based on motivic development at different levels: from faithful imitation and sequencing to partial quotation and rather free adaptation. The texture in this composition is polyphonic, but without strict part writing. (The beginning and the end of the prelude are written in four voices, occasionally splitting to five; however, large portions in between contain three-part or even two-part texture, without clearly definable exits and re-entries of the voices.)


I/4.1.2 The overall design of the prelude

The first cadence is an interrupted one which finds its conclusion on the downbeat of bar 5: after the D7 harmony in bars 3/4, the melodic progression in all voices seems to announce the return to a tonic chord (which would consist of C#/E/G#/C#); however, the bass does not resolve but remains tied, and the alto ascends to A instead of remaining on G#. The resulting chord is thus a polytonal mixture of the tonic (C# E G# are all there) and the chord on step VI (A C# E. Note that this combination of pitches is exactly the same as that in the final interrupted cadence of the C# minor fugue – compare fugue bar 112 with prelude bar 5. More details later.)

The nature of this chord makes it very unlikely that this cadential close is intended as a structural caesura. The design of the left-hand part supports this by featuring descending sixths (see bars 5-7) which appear as an immediate extension of the sixth in which the two lower voices ended the cadence.

The ensuing harmonic progression modulates to the relative key (E major) and draws to a close on the downbeat of bar 8. Although the feeling of a structural close will be much stronger a few bars later, due to the pronounced cadential formula there, this perfect resolution into the related chord has to be regarded as structurally relevant, particularly since it coincides with the completion of a melodic idea.

The more obvious structural caesura after the middle beat of bar 14 marks the close of the following structural unit with a cadence in G# minor. A shorter fourth section which follows consists exclusively of three dominant-seventh chords and their resolutions: 

bars 15/16

bars 17/18

bars 19/20

F#7 / B major

G#7 / C# minor

C#7 / F# minor.

This leads to the longest section in this composition: a harmonic progression with several near-cadences intercepted by last-minute deviations. This section contains another interrupted cadence in bar 35, delaying the perfect cadence which materializes only in the final bar of the prelude.

The analogous harmonic structure of the above-mentioned two-bar subphrases (bars 15-20) apart, there are several structural correspondences in this prelude:


U: bars 5 -8d

recur in

U: bars 20m-23m

transposed a third lower, thus transforming the cadence in E major to one in C# minor. This return to the tonic, however, passes almost unnoticed because of Bach s decision to continue and develop the same melodic idea throughout the next bars


bars 86-10m

recur in

bars 236-25m

transposed, M + L varied; see also the remote resemblances in the following bars.


I/4.1.3 Practical considerations for performers

There can be no doubt that the character of the piece is calm, yet the time signature might present a pitfall in terms of tempo: the calm character in fact expresses itself by means of a half-bar pulse. (The harmonic tempo also seems to support this view by proceeding exclusively in half-bar steps.) While these half-bar pulses should convey a generously swinging motion, the actual pace of the quarter-notes is not really slow. The appropriate articulation is an overall legato which is not even interrupted for cadential-bass formulas since Bach writes all of them explicitly with tied notes (see e.g. bars 13, 34, 38).

There are a number of ornaments to be discussed. Already the first phrase contains arpeggiated chords, grace-note groups, single grace notes and a mordent.


The arpeggios and the paired grace-notes represent basically the same musical feature; both are played on the beat and fast. The notes are sustained whenever they are essential to fill the chord (as in bars 1, 3, 12); they sound equally fast but unsustained whenever they contain pitches also provided for by other voices (as in bars 2, 4, 8).


The single grace-notes (see bars 2, 4) are appoggiaturas (since they imply harmonies different from the main notes), and must be played with due weight. Appearing in the context of imitating voices, in which case the rules of polyphony require the retreating voice to give way to the imitating one, these appoggiaturas should be resolved as early as possible. Holding these appoggiaturas for the duration of one quarter-note each is a good idea.


The mordent, approached stepwise by the appoggiatura, begins on the main note and consists of a single three-note shake (see e.g. bar 2 beat 2: G#-A-G#).


Both the grace-note (appoggiatura) and the mordent on the main note (resolution) must be transferred to all recurrences of the same motive, wherever harmonic and structural progressions allow this. See e.g.:
- bar 3 left hand (add grace-note A on beat 1, mordent on G# beat 2),
- bar 4 right hand (add mordent on D#),
- bar 9 left hand (add grace-note C#, mordent on B#).

The second phrase contains somewhat more problematic grace-notes. Harmonically, they represent appoggiaturas and thus require time. Melodically, they interrupt (see bars 6d, 7d) the smooth scalar motion and create note repetition. Rhythmically (and this is perhaps most important with regard to the character in the entire piece) they would have to be played in sixteenth-notes – note values which do not otherwise appear in the prelude. Last but not least, as this splitting of an eighth-note would occur on the final note of a motive, an impression of congestion arises together with a blur of the phrasing. These reasons combined seem to suggest that it might be advisable to refrain from these ornaments.

The third phrase brings forth a number of new ornaments. In bar 11, the appoggiatura in the middle voice resolves on the second eighth-note; the inverted mordent uses A#-G#-A#. As the second half of the bar is a sequence of the first half, one might consider adding grace-note E before the D#. Whether Bach left it out purposefully to avoid the resulting pitch progression E-D#-E#, or whether it is one of the many corresponding segments in which ornamentation is optional, is hard to decide. In bar 13m, the grace-note is also one eighth-note long, and the turn should sound B-A#-G#-A# in regular sixteenth-notes.

Within the fourth phrase, the varied sequence mentioned above (bars 16m-18m) appears without any of the ornaments which decorated the model (bars 14m-16m). Performers should consider adding the three inverted mordents:

on C# (U: bar 166, corresponding with that on B in bar 14),
on G# (L: bar 17m, corresponding with that on F# in M: bar 15m),
on C# (L: bar 18d, corresponding with that on B in L: bar 16d).

In the fifth section, the eighth-note grace-notes (U: bars 21-23) should be dealt with along the same lines as those in bars 5-8. In bars 26-28, two of the three bass-line ascents end with an inverted mordent; the same ornament should certainly be added on F# in bar 28m. In bar 29, the symbol above the treble B# indicates a mordent preceded by an appoggiatura (see the written-out example of the vertical stroke + mordent which Bach gives in the Table of Ornaments, reprinted in all Urtexts). The appoggiatura C# should be sustained for one eighth-note, the ornamental notes B#-C#-B#-C# falling on the bass note E and the final B# on the-lower voice D#.


I/4.1.4 What is happening in this prelude?

The are two relevant motives (M1 and M2) which are introduced in the first and second phrases of the prelude respectively:

M1 is presented by the treble voice in bars 1/2. It begins and ends on the fifth degree of the C# minor scale. Its first half bar presents an ornamented broken chord (G#-E#-C#) in eighth-note motion. Hardly is the keynote reached that it is propelled – very suddenly and enhanced by an arpeggio – up to the octave. In the second half of the motive, a stepwise descent in a dotted-rhythm pattern leads to a long final note.

The character of this motive might be described as mild and graceful. There can hardly be any doubt what kind of dynamic design is expressed in this melodic progression: the sudden octave jump offers itself as the obvious climax towards which the tension in the first half bar rises and from which it then descends.

Within the first phrase of the prelude, M1 is imitated (bars 2/3) and sequenced on the dominant (bars 3/4). When this sequence is also imitated (bars 4/5), the slight abbreviation at the end is due to the phrasing in the right hand. (For the same reason, grace-note and mordent are not appropriate here).

The only other complete quotation of M1 occurs in bars 8/9. There are, however, quite a few developments, deriving mainly from the first half bar.


In bars 9/10, the right-hand line brings a rise in tension created by a threefold use of this partial motive. The middle voice answers in a single quotation which leaves out the octave leap (bar 10m-11d), and the lower voice continues with its own little build-up in a twofold motion which, during its final steps, points downwards (bar 11/12).


A similar development of M1 can be witnessed in bars 24-28: the threefold rise in the right-hand line corresponds with that in bars 9/10, and the lower voice also answers with a twofold quotation of the partial motive. This, however, takes up the original octave leap. It is then extended through two additional sequences with upturned endings, resulting in a powerful tension increase towards the peak note F# (bar 28m). All the while the right hand uses the half-bar figure for a gradual descent.


A third development of the same kind involves only the right hand: bars 30/31 show a fourfold rising motion which prepares a climax on the G# on the downbeat of bar 32.

Besides these obvious developments there are short quotations of thematic components which mainly serve to create overall unity. The partial motive frames the end of the third phrase by appearing in bar 12 (right hand, imitated by left hand) and in bar 14 (left hand); it wanders through the voices in phrase four (see the almost continuous motion from L: bar 15 to M: bar 18) and concludes this section (see M: bar 20). Two further quotations appear towards the end of the piece (see L: bar 34 and M: bar 37).

The rhythmic figure from the second half bar of M1 is also used independently; see above all bars 9-11, bars 15 and 17, bars 21-27, bars 30/31, bars 35, 36 and 38. Even the cadential formulas in bars 13/14 and 34/35 rely in their leading voices on this rhythmic figure.

M2 is exactly one bar long. It is introduced in bar 5 where it starts after the downbeat and ends on the first eighth-note of the following bar. It consists of an ascending broken chord which brings with it a natural though soft increase in tension, and a falling scale which resolves this tension. This motive only appears twice in the prelude: in bars 5-7 where two descending sequences follow the model, and in bars 20-23 where the same progression – model plus two descending sequences – is extended through a fourth sequence the end of which melts into the M1 development of bars 23-28.

The overall dynamic development in this prelude never ceases to be gentle. As the tension rises slightly through the first phrase and falls through the descending sequences of the second, there is an initial furtive climax in the middle of bar 5. The second overall climax occurs in the third phrase. While it is somewhat stronger than the first climax, it is weakened by the fact that the treble reaches it in the bar 10m, the bass only on the downbeat of bar 12.

The fourth phrase contains, in its three subphrases, three dynamic curves which rise gradually in level; however, none of them is important enough to serve as an overall climax. The more significant peak follows at the beginning of the long section where, corresponding with the two initial phrases of the piece, it falls on the first peak note of M2, at the end of bar 20.

The three most powerful climaxes in the prelude are thus:


right hand,

middle of bar 25;


left hand,

middle of bar 28;


both hands together,

downbeat of bar 32.

Thereafter, the tension declines (no accent on A in bar 33!). The very last passage, after the interrupted cadence in bars 34/35, shows an extremely soft, subdued build-up through bars 35/36 to the downbeat of bar 37.

The diagram in ex. 36 attempts to depict these relationships.




WTC I/4 in C# minor – Fugue


I/4.2.1 The subject

The subject commences with a whole-note on the downbeat of bar 1. It ends, only four notes later, with a return to the keynote. The quarter-note C# on the downbeat of bar 4 completes a full cadence, since the whole-note D# in the third bar represents both the subdominant and the following dominant harmony (for more details see below) and finds its expected resolution onto the tonic on this C#.

With its length of only five notes, this compact little unit is no doubt one of the most condensed subjects within Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. It is obvious that the five notes of the subject define a single, indivisible phrase.

The pitch range of this subject is extremely limited: the keynote is encompassed by only one note below and two notes above it. Three of the four intervals are seconds. The remaining interval, however, makes all the difference. This seemingly inconspicuous little curve features the rarest of the “high-tension intervals”, the diminished fourth between B# and E in bar 2.

With regard to the rhythmic pattern, it is necessary to distinguish the different components of the thematic material within this fugue. The subject itself contains three different note values: whole-note, half-note and quarter-note. Later in the piece, however, we find more rhythmic variety, including many eighth-notes and frequent syncopations (particularly half-notes tied to a quarter-note on the following downbeat).

The harmonic background of the subject comprises all the necessary steps for a full cadence. In the course of the fugue, we find essentially the following harmonizations:

(ex. 37)

In deciding what kind of dynamic design might be expressed by these five notes (with regard to their particular melodic make-up, rhythmic shape and implied harmonic progression), one finds that the subject of this fugue allows for two rather different interpretations. The choice between them strongly depends on how the individual performer values the facts mentioned above:


A performer who perceives the specific power which emanates from the diminished fourth in bar 2 will no doubt interpret this striking interval as the subject’s center of tension. This concept requires a tempo slow enough to allow for the melodic step to be fully savored.


A performer who prefers to interpret the whole fugue with greater focus on rhythm (encouraged by the alla breve time signature) may feel that the long note D# in bar 3 carries the climax. Harmonically, this also makes sense as the beginning of this note represents the subdominant field within the cadence. This concept, in order to sound consistent, implies a generally faster tempo for the whole piece. There should also then be less emotional emphasis on the climax than in the first interpretation.

The choice between these two approaches is so much a matter of personal inclination that any academic reasoning would seem out of place. However, one little warning for performers: avoid trying to serve two masters at one time. An adherence to the second concept will necessarily have to under-emphasize the interesting interval in favor of the rhythmic pulse. Equally, an adherence to the first concept cannot, at the same time, stress the rhythmic element. In either case the subject should convey immense calm together with a peculiarly intense, introverted excitement.


I/4.2.2 The statements of the subject

The subject appears twenty-nine times in this fugue. (As this is a five-part fugue and fruitless discussions about whether there are two altos, two tenors etc. should be avoided, v1, v2, v3, v4, v5 is here used to refer to “voice one”, “voice two” etc.)


bars 1-4



bars 54-57



bars 4-7



bars 59-62



bars 7-10



bars 66-69



bars 12-15



bars 73-76



bars 14-17



bars 76-80



bars 19-22



bars 81-84



bars 22-26



bars 89-92



bars 25-29



bars 94-96



bars 29-33



bars 95-97



bars 32-35



bars 96-98



bars 35-39



bars 97-100



bars 38-41



bars 100-102



bars 44-48



bars 107-109



bars 48-51



bars 112-115



bars 51-54


(ex. 38)

Modifications of the subject occur both rhythmically and melodically and both at the beginning and at the end of the subject.


At the subject’s beginning, the interval adjustment present in tonal answers occurs only once, in bars 12/13. More frequent are rhythmic alterations: the first note may be shortened – often to a half-note (see e.g. bar 7m), once even to an eighth-note (see at the end of bar 48).


At the subject’s end, the resolving note appears in many guises:


It may come early, thus falling on an unaccented beat and sounding harmonically “wrong” (see e.g. bars 14/15);


it may be delayed (as in bar 46) or be reached indirectly (as in bar 41);


it may fall on a beat so unlikely for a resolution that it is not felt as such (see bars 50/51);* it may appear integrated into another melodic unit (as in bars 57 and 62);


finally, it may even be completely missing (see bars 94-98).

A small but emotionally influential modification occurs in the middle of the phrase. The diminished fourth – which is an interval essentially belonging to the minor scale – may give way to a perfect fourth whenever the subject is stated in the major mode (see bars 29-35, bars 54-57). When this happens, the next interval, originally a semitone step, is adjusted correspondingly to a whole-tone descent. (The note group D# C# F# E (v1 bars 54-57), however, is not a subject entry. The combination of an initial major second with a perfect fourth is too unlikely, and assuming a stretto at this early stage in the fugue would mean ignoring Bach s design which seems so consciously contrived to reserve the stretto intensification for later.)

Summing up all these modifications we obtain an amazing result: the only feature in this subject which remains unaltered in the course of the fugue is the rhythmic pattern of two half-notes in the second bar of the subject.

While parallel statements of the subject are not used, there are a few strettos towards the end of the fugue (see entries 23 to 26 in bars 94-99).


I/4.2.3 The counter-subjects

The C# minor fugue is widely known to be a triple fugue. This term indicates that the most prominent ideas besides the subject do not behave as mere companions to it but lead a life of their own. However, the existence of a counter-subject is not necessarily excluded. Let us therefore deal with this component of the material first.

At the place where one expects the first counter-subject to make its appearance, there appears a line which is both characteristic and independent, and which recurs later (see in the fifth voice from bar 4 D# to bar 8 D#). The only detail of this counter-subject that is a bit confusing is its length: CS surpasses the length of the subject which it is supposedly accompanying. (Yet, as the following will show, a different concept of phrase length is impossible.)

CS is taken up, although without its first note, in the fourth voice (see A in bar 7 to G# in bar 11). Hereafter, the counter-subject never appears again in its full range. There are, however, several segments which qualify as separate building blocks in this fugue. These shall be investigated briefly.

The immediately obvious segment to recur separately derives from the end of CS. It consists of a syncopation (see bars 6/7: F#), introduced sometimes by an upbeat (a quarter-note or two eighth-notes), and followed by a stepwise descent which ends in a smooth “hook”. This CS segment will be called M1; its frequent appearances can be verified in the five-part sketch (see M1 in ex. 40). It is interesting to observe that M1 occurs with greatest density within in the first section. This section (see bars 1-22d) is constructed in such a way that it generates a powerful dynamic increase, brought about by both the rising order of statements and the increasing number of voices. Owing to its dynamic gesture of relaxation, the effect M1 exerts in this context is one of soothing or balancing.

The first segment of CS also revolves round a syncopation which is, this time, followed by an inverted mordent figure (see bars 4/5). This figure is dropped and forgotten for a long time, but resurfaces in bars 41/42 (v3) and in bars 45/46 (v1) before eventually turning out to have been a forerunner of the third subject (see below). Because of this final relationship with the third subject, it is here called M3.

A last figure which deserves attention is the ascending tetrachord first introduced in bars 17-19 (see v5: G# to C#, B to E). It accompanies the subject particularly between bar 23 and bar 35 where, quite in contrast to the effect of the above-mentioned M1, it reinforces the tension-increasing tendency. From bar 35 onward it turns into the upbeat of the fugue’s second subject (see below). Because of this later integration, it shall be referred to as M2.

After having identified the counter-subject as well as the smaller motives which, in part, derive from it, the stage is prepared for the other subjects in this triple fugue. Their appearance is connected – though not entirely corresponding – with the large-scale ternary design of the fugue. If one looked at the composition without knowing much about it, one would be able to distinguish three major parts:


A first part featuring only occasional eighth-notes (until bar 35),


a second part displaying a constant flow of eighth-notes (bars 36-93),


a third part where the eighth-notes are again abandoned (bars 94-115).

It is at the outset of the second part, in the voice which moves in eighth-notes, that the second subject (S2) is introduced. Just like the main subject, S2 also appears with various modifications. Trying to pinpoint its main features one finds an upbeat (which, in its first statement, is the stepwise ascent of M2), followed by an ornamental line which, behind a sequencing one-bar figure, hides a whole-bar descent (see bars 36-40: G#, F#, E, D#, C#). Both the exact length (i.e. the number of bars which expound the ornamental figure) and the exact metrical ending of the second subject remain open to constant changes.

The tension curve in this second subject, however, is quite unmistakable, with a short rise in the upbeat and an extended release in the descent. In comparison to the first subject, both the intensity and the urge seem reduced here. The character might be described as “introverted and relaxed”.

The beginning of the second large part of this fugue also marks the resurrection of M3. In terms of a pattern consisting of upbeat + syncopation + inverted mordent, it can be detected already in bars 36-38 (v5: G# C# B# C#) and, even closer to the original, in bars 39-41 (v4: B A# G# Fx E# Fx G#) and bars 45-46 (v1: D# C# B# A# B#).

As it finally discloses itself, the third subject (S3) takes up the more outgoing variants among the traits of M3 (the jumping-fourth upbeat and the inverted mordent in eighth-note motion) and adds, as a particular characteristic, the repeated-note splitting of the syncopation. The character of the third subject could be described as “extroverted and active”.

It is this very extroverted version which plays a major role in this fugue, from its initiation in bars 49-51 (v3) to the end of the composition. The dynamic development within S3 contains a rise towards the downbeat (i.e. to the last of the repeated notes), followed by a relaxation.

The following sketch shows the phrase structure and dynamic design resulting in the juxtaposition of the three subjects.

(ex. 39)


I/4.2.4 The episodes

Episodes are generally defined as “subject-free passages”. In a fugue with three subjects, only those bars which do not contain any subject at all would therefore truly qualify. These are very few. In the first part of the ternary design, before the entry of S2 and S3, there are only two short stretches; these are matched later in the fugue by another two:


bars 10m-12m


bar 88


bars 17m-19m


bars 109m-1121

The most prominent feature in E1 is M1; the soothing quality of this motive defines this first episode as a softening break which allows breathing space before the plunge into the next span of tension build-up.

E2 is determined by M2. The role of this episode in the overall development of tension is therefore that of a link which continues the tension increase.

In E3, the little M1 figure which seemed long forgotten is briefly recalled, thus giving this episode again a calming quality.

Finally, E4 is conceived as a cadential close. Sounding as it does at the end of a longer dominant pedal which had already provided the backdrop for a tension increase, this cadence promises relief which it then withholds: its final chord is an oddity and deserves more detailed discussion. Following the dominant-seventh chord in bar 111 there are, theoretically, three different resolutions which a listener could expect:


the tonic (C# minor),


the Picardy-third modification of the tonic (C# major),


or the interrupted-cadence chord on step vi (A major).

What Bach gives us is not one choice of these three but a combination – and the oddest possible combination, for that matter. Bar 112 contains in the left hand the A-C# third of the interrupted-cadence chord, simultaneously with, in the right hand, the E#-G#-C# of the Picardy-third tonic. This results not only in a polytonal effect but also in an implied clash between the (missing but implied) fifth E of the A major chord and the (sounding) E# of the C# major harmony.

What Bach expresses by using this artful though daring device seems to be this: the cadentially confirmed ending in the home key at this moment still leaves so much literally unresolved tension that it demands yet another pair of S1/S3 statements. However, these should not sound as a coda. Perhaps it is in order to achieve this effect of “belonging” that Bach created the incomplete harmonic resolution which binds the final cadence as a necessary completion to the one in bars 111/112.


I/4.2.5 Character, tempo, articulation, ornament realization

The complexity of both the rhythmic pattern and the structural design, together with the predominance of stepwise motion in all but the S3 upbeat, clearly favors the interpretation of this fugue as one of rather calm character.

Upon closer inspection of the emotional implications of this character it becomes obvious that there is a distinct hierarchy within the components of the material:


The main subject is defined by a strong but suppressed, introverted urge;


the second subject is generally lighter in its mood;


the third subject shows more of a jolly, extroverted vivacity.

The three subjects appear in all possible combinations. Determining what kind of mood or spirit results from each of these juxtapositions lays a good foundation for an understanding of the entire composition.


The coupling of S1 + S2 brings about a quality which is more serene, less urgent than that which the main subject possesses when reigning alone.
(S1 “introverted/intense” + S2 “introverted/relaxed”)


In the S2/S3 combination, all the darker drive has gone. What is left is a momentarily intense quality, soon giving way to one of relaxation.
(S2 “introverted/relaxed” + S3 “extroverted/active”)


When S1 is paired with S3, however, two strong forces join, expanding both inwardly and outwardly.
(S1 “introverted/intense” + S3 “extroverted/active”)

The range of tempo in this composition is confined on the one hand by the basic character which is rather calm, on the other hand by the time signature which requires an alla breve pulse. The ideal tempo results in an eighth-note motion which is unhurried but can nevertheless be clearly felt in half-bar groups.

The corresponding articulation requires legato for almost all melodic notes. An exception can be made within the third subject where the first interval, the ascending fourth, and the ensuing note repetitions may sound in a bouncing non legato in order to give credit to the special “outgoing” mood of this component of the material. The Urtext of this fugue does not indicate any ornaments.

The relative tempo of the prelude to the fugue which best does justice to both characters appears sets larger metric units in proportion. Owing to the strong half-bar feeling in both pieces, a very good effect is achieved like this:

half a bar

corresponds with

one bar

in the prelude

in the fugue

(Approximate metronome settings: prelude beat = 100, fugue beat = 66.)


I/4.2.6 The design of the fugue

As has been mentioned, the distribution of material in the C# minor fugue allows an immediate recognition of three parts. Within the first part, the full ensemble of five voices is attained only transitorily in bars 19/20; the fifth entry and most of the redundant subject statement sound in still reduced ensemble. After the ensuing distinct cadence (see bars 21/22) the number of voices drops to only three, a fact which suggests the beginning of a new “round”. This second section ends in full ensemble and with a pronounced cadence in bar 35, followed again by a reduction of the ensemble to only three voices.

The third section brings the introduction of the second subject sounding both against the main subject and independently, both in its original shape and in inversion (see bars 41-44). With the last eighth-note in bar 48, the third subject enters. Its immediate combination with both S1 and S2 marks the beginning of “something new”: the fourth section.

From here to the end of the large middle part, the fugue features two structurally analogous progressions:

bars 48-72

correspond with

bars 73-93

5 three-subject juxtapositions


4 three-subject juxtapositions

grouped 3 + 1 + 1


grouped 2 + 1 + 1

(bars 48-57 / 59-62 / 66-69


bars 73-79 / 81-84 / 89-92)

interspersed by two passages featuring only S2/S3

(bars 57/58, bars 62-64


bars 79/80, bars 84-88)

rounded off by a passage with distinct cadential-bass steps

(bars 69-71


bars 92-94)

After the end of these two sections – the fourth and fifth in this fugue – the second subject is dropped again. Instead of the three-subject juxtapositions, the sixth section commences with S1 and S3 in simultaneous stretto. All this together provides a picture of six sections, with the following statements of the main subject:



bars 1-22

v5, v4, v3, v2, v1, v4;


bars 22-35

v4, v3, v5, v3;


bars 35-48

v4, v3, v2;


bars 48-72

v1, v4, v2, v1-v1;


bars 73-93

v5, v1, v4, v1;


bars 94-115

v1v2, v1v5, v4, v1, v2.

As both the second and the third subject enter considerably later, it is to be expected that their own “rounds” do not entirely coincide with those of the main subject. For the fifteen statements of the second subject, four groups can be made out:



bars 35-48

v1, v4, v5, v1;


bars 49-65

v2, v3, v1, v2;


bars 66-71

v5, v1;


bars 72-94

v3, v5, v2, v1, v4.


The third subject enters last but seems the strongest amongst its rivals. It surpasses both the other subjects in the number of its statements; it catches up with the second subject by already finishing its fourth round in bar 92; and it equals the main subject insofar as it also builds a total of six rounds. The thirty-seven entries of the third subject are as follows:



bars 49-64

v3, v1, v5, v2, v4, v1;


bars 64-73

v3v5, v2, v3, v2;


bars 74-84

v4, v2, v5, v3;


bars 84-92

v4v2, v5, v5;


bars 92-101

v1v2, v4v3-v4v3, v2v4,v1, v5;


bars 102-115

v4v3, v2v4, v3+v2v4, v3.


The harmonic outline of the composition should be regarded with reference to the main subject. Its first six statements, all on the tonic and dominant respectively of C# minor, are concluded with a cadential close in G# minor in bar 21/22. The next four entries describe a modulation to the relative major key, through F# minor, C# minor, B major to E major with its cadential close in bar 34/35. The third section finds S1 returned to the C# minor field; it closes, interlocked with the beginning of the next round, in C# major (see the downbeat of bar 49).

The fourth section commences firmly anchored in the subdominant, with two entries in F# minor and one in the relative key A major. However, the last two S1 statements revert to C# minor, with the repeated entry in the first voice ending in a floating position on the dominant seventh chord. The fifth section confirms the return to the tonic by placing all its four S1 statements on C# itself and concluding this part with a cadential close in C# minor (bars 93/94).

The final section basically remains on the tonic; stretto entries occur in various pitch levels but all relating to an implied key of C# minor. From bar 105 onwards the G# pedal (giving way only momentarily to its leading-note Fx) prepares the end of the composition which is reached with a final subject statement over a tonic pedal. For a sketch of the design in the C# minor fugue, see following ex. 40.



I/4.2.7 The development of tension

Within the first section, a gradual rise in tension is brought about by the increasing number of voices, enhanced by their special order of entry from the lowest to the highest. As has been mentioned above, there are forces which serve to hold the tension back slightly and prevent a premature full-fledged climax: the relaxing tendency of M1 and the fact that this section (belying the obvious expectation for a fugue exposition) does not close in full ensemble.

The second section brings the modulation to the major mode and with it a six-bar-long stretch in five voices. In addition, the calming influence of M1 is replaced by the forward-pushing gesture of M2. Thus the second tension increase is considerably stronger than the first one. It creates the impression that it means to unite the first two sections under one common “target”. After this, the third section maintains a low tension profile as there is neither an increase in the number of voices nor any harmonic or structural device which might engender a rise.

The two analogous sections which follow also correspond in their dynamic curves. The climaxes fall at the respective beginnings, where the three-subject juxtapositions create a state of very high intensity which abates only very gradually, through the interspersed S2/S3 pair statements, the following entry group and the final cadential-bass steps. Towards the end of the fourth section, this tension decay is melodically supported by spans of chromatic descent (see bars 67-69 v1, 69-70 v2, 70-73 v1). An equivalent in the fifth section can be observed in the unexpected re-emergence of the soothing M1 (see bars 68/69).

At the beginning of the sixth section, the previously achieved intensity of three simultaneous subject statements is surpassed by the combination of the two stronger ones which, for several bars, now both sound in stretto. (Whether such unheard-of density can actually be grasped by the human ear and mind – most probably it cannot – is beside the point, last but not least because Bach’s music was certainly to a large extent written “For the Greater Glory of God”. But the effect of this immense density is undoubtedly stunning.)

The middle of this section then brings forth a sudden strong decline in tension, enhanced by the chromatic descent in the uppermost voice (see bars 101-105). As this descent touches ground, it is met by the commencement of the dominant pedal note which gives new impetus to the tension which rises again much faster than it had previously fallen. A parallel statement of S3 tries to surpass the earlier strettos in intensity and is supported by the harmonic sidestep to the diminished seventh chord (see bars 107-109). Even the following cadence does not yet bring about the deserved relief but instead a climax of yet different means: the momentarily bitonal cadence ending mentioned above.

The following diagram attempts a visualization of the overall dynamic development in the C# minor fugue (ex. 41).