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Week 5: Fugue Exposition

When I was sitting where most of you were, there was alot of interest in outer space. In my freshman year, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle with those famous words "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." During those years we thought alot about the great accomplishments of humankind...and landing on the moon was certainly one of them. At about this same time a little spacecraft called Voyager II was hurtling toward the outer planets to take a peek at what might be next. After completing its mission Voyager was flung out of the solar system carrying with it another of the great accomplishments of humankind--the music of J. S. Bach. Someday, somewhere, some galactic being may find itself being introduced to us to the strains of his C-Major fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier book II.

What is a fugue, and why did NASA feel those aliens out there really wouldn't understand us without hearing one? Our topic this week is the fugue's introduction. Speaking of which, did you know that people INTRODUCE themselves differently today? When Voyager II was launched the average person would say, "Hi, I'm John Doe," then DEVELOP this by describing where he lived, worked, or went to church. But today people identify themselves by personality type or hobby: "I'm Jane Doe and I'm a happy person who likes to read books."

A fugue INTRODUCES and DEVELOPS a musical idea by contrapuntal means. We call this idea the subject. The portion of the fugue that introduces the subject is called the exposition. Expositions are very much like saying, "Hi, I'm John Doe." Our topic for this week is the fugue's exposition. Next week we'll consider the fugue's development--that portion where you say "I'm a Capricorn and I hate coffee."

A fugue's subject might be likened to one of Monet's poplars (detail to right). The three large poplars to the foreground of Poplars in Spring are an exposition, while the many small poplars in the background, plus the lake and miscellaneous details, are a development.


  1. Stein pp. 131-138
  2. Definition and Character of Fugue
  3. Parts of Fugue: pay special attention to the various types of exposition and the difference between tonal and real answers.
In these readings you will discover that the subject often contains two parts--a head and a tail. Alternate statements of the subject are called answers. The relationship between subjects and answers can be either tonal or real. While one voice answers, the voice that had stated the subject immediately prior may have moved to a countersubject--counterpoint that repeatedly appears "counter" to the subject or answer (normally in the voice that has just completed a statement of the subject). Not all fugues have countersubjects.

The fugue's exposition consists of the first statement of the subject (or answer) in each voice. After each voice has stated the subject, a cadence brings the exposition to a close and commences the first developmental episode. Occasionally a fugue will contain second or third expositions. Subsequent expositions take various names depending upon the order in which voices enter or the form that the subject takes. For example, the subject might "morph" into its melodic inversion, or there may be a new subject altogether.

Listening: Pay special attention to the subject/answer relationship and expositions in the following fugues. | Stop CD |

  1. Check out the TAN Keith Jarrett CDs, insert disk 1 Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Buch I and study the fugues in: c minor and c# minor.
  2. Check out the NAVY BLUE Keith Jarrett CDs, insert disk 1 Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Buch II and study the fugue in E-Flat Major.
  3. Check out the E. Power Biggs disk (Essential Classis Sony), insert it into the ROM drive, and carefully study the exposition of Bach's Cm fugue (BWV 582). This fugue is noted for its TWO countersubjects.
Homework: Assignment No. 5

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