I am trying to compose a fuga for two voices. What I want to ask is, is it a requirement to be the same for the countersubjects that come after subject in exposition part? I mean, are the firstly introduced countersubjects in each voice, expected to be same or may I use another countersubject instead of transposing the first to dominant pitch? And do you have any little trick to put some Bach flavour into my fugue? It is said that Bach used neighbour tones in circle of fifths, such as that.

  • As far as I know Fugues are three parts each one answering the other. If you write fr two voices is not contrapuntal then?
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 15:58
  • Isn't counterpoint mean writing a melody against melody (cantus firmus)? I changed my mind about making it 3-part. But I think fugues have varying number of parts. May be someone will make our minds clear about that. Edit: yes, i was right. Bach wrote a 2part fugue which is fugue no.10 in E Minor from WTC1
    – user20273
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 16:01

4 Answers 4


If you are writing a fugue in the Baroque style (sidenote, the fugue was already out-dated by Bach's day), then the subject-answer relationship is almost invariably tonic-dominant (hence the terms 'subject' and 'answer') - even in Shostakovich's 48. Regarding the counter-subjects: they are frequently varied. Download a copy of the WTC from imslp and have a look. The fugue is one of the least severe contrapuntal forms/techniques (compare with the canon). No two fugues of Bach's are the same in structure. There is no model - we invented it. In my lectures, I teach the "form" through comparative analysis. If you want to imitate Bach, look at the melodic/rhythmic character; tonic-dominant (or cycle of 5ths) was not at all unique to Bach. Happy composing!

  • What I want to actually do is, not imitating him but reviving the Bach with the elements of modern music. Thank you for your time and answer, I will look for WTC fugues.
    – user20273
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 12:00
  • Fugue outdated on Bach’s day? What does this mean? Isn’t all classical music outdated by today then? If only recent trends determine what is hip or not.
    – Spring
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 16:33

If you are playing different ideas against each subject entry, they are not countersubjects, They are free voices. There is nothing wrong with doing it that way - it is, in fact, more common than using countersubjects (pre-Bach, it is the norm). Countersubjects, if used, can be varied between different groups of entries (or remain the same). There is considerable freedom available in this regard.

In two-part writing, however, you may find that a consistent countersubject is useful for lampshading the subject entries. The two voices in two-part writing can be a bit busy doing the work of four, so subject entries can be hard to highlight in the "chatter" at times.

Bach-like counterpoint? Watch your rhythm. You don't want the voices always in lockstep. Try to ensure that the two voices have different rhythmic patterns that fit together well. Passages where they use the same rhythm should serve as contrast, not the norm.

  • Thank you for your help with the terminology. I would like to add french style dotted motifs for example, to make the rythm more varying. I appreciate your help, thanks.
    – user20273
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 12:27
  • My pleasure. Do you read French? If so, you may find this useful for getting a start in writing fugues: burrito.whatbox.ca:15263/imglnks/usimg/5/59/…. Bear in mind that this is scholastic fugue (fugue d'école), which bears about the same relationship to Bach as species counterpoint bears to Josquin des Prez. Still, it gives a good framework for learning comment c'est fait.
    – user16935
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 12:56
  • I cant read French unfortunately. Is there any English translations?
    – user20273
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 13:01
  • Ow. Not that I know of (and I haven't got very far in my own translation yet).
    – user16935
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 13:05
  • Perhaps @ProfSteve can recommend a suitable English text. I settled on French texts (Gedalge and Koechlin) quite a long time ago as they are very structured, very suitable for people taking their first steps in fugue. The language isn't so much of an issue in my part of Canada.
    – user16935
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 13:52

Bachian "tricks"; (1) Ensure that the rhythm of the piece matches the shortest note value. That is, if a quaver is your shortest not, make sure that on every 8th part of every bar that a new note plays. Do not, for example, have all voices play whole notes for a bar, but fill all the "gaps". If one voice is resting on a longer note, fill in the "gap" by making another voice active. Think of a metronome ticking to the time of your shortest note value, and make sure that one new note starts on every metronome tick. (2) When one voice takes a rest on a note, have another voice imitate the voice of the voice that is resting - like a conversation: when one person stops talking, another starts talking.

  • It would be good to have a friend like you! Thank you for your answers, I will pay attention to your points obviously. If you have any other tips, I would like to hear too.
    – user20273
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 8:27
  • 1
    No. Horror vacui is a helluva thing to raise to the level of principle - counterpoint by Singer sewing machine. Bach does not do this all the time. Look at WTC II no.3: quaver as unit of beat frequently filled in by semiquavers, but what is instructive is where he doesn't fill in the semiquavers, not just at subject entries in the first page, but during the upbeats of certain dotted quaver suspensions. The filling in is progressive, leading to demisemiquavers about 5 bars from the end, which drop out again 3 bars from the end. (more)
    – user16935
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 16:07
  • Filling in the chinks and cracks creates non-stop motion, but it isn't very good at at articulating the rhythmic distinctions you need to give form to a musical idea. Read a lot of Bach, and take special note of where he doesn't fill in the gaps - that's where he defines the fugue's rhythmic character.
    – user16935
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 16:07
  • @MikeFin, nothera user named "Mike" has suggested an edit to your answer. The edit is an attempt to reply to one of the comments. If you proposed this edit from a second account, you can approve the edit yourself or you make the edit from the same "MikeFin" account you used to post the original reply.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 15:57

No, it isn't necessary to retain the same counterpoint throughout the fugue. There are many more fuges varying the accompanying voices than reusing them strictly.

On the other hand, if you do keep it around, that would be a very Bach thing to do. Many of his larger fugues, particularly in vocal works, are permutation fugues, where essentially all voices from the exposition are kept around and rearranged.

(On the third hand, two-piece writing is very much unlike Bach in the first place, so emulating a double fugue probably isn't the most natural way to pay homage!)

  • Then I will try to reshape the fugue by adding another voice in :) Thank you very much
    – user20273
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 11:56
  • so much easier with 3 voices!
    – user21280
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 11:59
  • It will be a counterpoint excerpt for me :) Great chance to improve my poor abilities
    – user20273
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 12:04
  • There are many instances of Bach 2-voiced fugues. For example, WTC 1 e-minor, of the last section of the Sinfonia of Partite c minor BWV 826 (youtu.be/VNG8Jmz5zqI?t=182)
    – Nolmendil
    Commented Oct 17, 2022 at 23:27

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