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So I decided to start over my fugue writing. I had a good subject but it was overwhelming to compose it and I forgot so much about the fugue that I am restarting it.

I have been doing all these things to make writing a fugue easier:

  • Studying counterpoint(crucial)
  • Listening to Bach's fugues
  • Listening to analyses of Bach's fugues
  • Trying to analyze at least 1 fugue myself(figured that fugue in C minor WTC I would be a good start, simplest fugue of the bunch)
  • Composing
  • Looking at other people's analyses of Bach's fugues

So it seems I am very well prepared for composing a fugue, not just in the general sense but in the baroque style as well(which is a style I otherwise tend to avoid, most of my pieces are classical or romantic style). But here is what happened with my fugue in C minor which I don't plan on coming back to:

Fugue in C minor history

I was improvising on the keyboard when all of a sudden, I hit what I thought was a good subject. So I did every possible development to just the subject starting with stretto. It worked with every development. But I thought "That is just 2 measures, I should probably expand this melody at least to 4 measures"

The countersubject also came to me very fast. But once I got to the free counterpoint, it was like I entered a vast musical fog. Thousands if not millions of viable fugues. Some triple fugues, some short fugues, etc. But once I got past the question of "How am I going to get past this musical fog", a lot of other questions came to me like "Do I want to change dynamics" and "What ornaments to add" and "Do I want a Picardy third?" and lots more. It was just overwhelming. So I took a break and focused more on sonatas for a while.

I forgot I was working on the fugue but I had an idea of what to do. I composed for a while and reached another point of composer's block. It wasn't until I looked at it carefully that I realised I broke a rule of counterpoint, to not have parallel octaves when there are just 2 voices. This rule I find the easiest to break and my thoughts on the subject and countersubject often lead me to not just octaves but parallel octaves.

I took another break, months this time. I then looked at my fugue and thought:

I wish Bach were here. He could tell me exactly what was wrong and how to fix it. He would practically be analyzing every time he looks at my works because he is such a calculative composer and wrote a lot of fugues. But all I have is his music. And it isn't like I can get into Bach's shoes and look at my fugue the way Bach would unlike how I can easily be in Mozart's or Beethoven's shoes.

I then said "Rest in peace" to my fugue in C minor and decided to start over my fugue writing.

So, is there anything besides what I'm doing that will make writing a fugue easier? It is like I have 2 things going on at the same time. Bach, in my head is like "Listen to my fugues, keep going with yours, you won't know until you finish it whether or not it is a good fugue". Beethoven, in my head, though is like "Fugues are mostly irrelevant as a genre these days, it isn't like sonatas which while few are composed these days, they are still relevant. You would be better off writing a sonata. Still involves melody in both hands but not nearly as complex as a fugue in terms of counterpoint."

And it is like they are in a tug of war and while Bach wins for a while(which corresponds to me composing my fugue), eventually Beethoven wins(which brings me away from my fugue for a long time).

Is there anything I can do besides what I am already doing to make writing a fugue easier?

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    I would suggest that if you're prone to writing parallel octaves then a fugue is ambitious. First you would have to comfortable with writing chorales and two part inventions. – PeterJ Oct 25 '18 at 10:06
  • Have you watched this? I feel it's one of those gems youtube is great for. Glenn Gould giving you an analysis on fugues. For free. – Tommy Nov 2 '18 at 5:54
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My composition teacher suggested using bits of the subject for use during the episodes. This will reduce the overwhelming number of choices.

As far as whether fugues are useful to write: the short answer is yes. Even if you don't write another fugue, the discipline in counterpoint will be very useful. Beethoven struggled with counterpoint, according to the author of Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, so it seems he would have a bias against fugues. Another aspect of doing fugues (especially if you discipline yourself to write several) is that the counterpoint becomes more intuitive and faster to do. Counterpoint is like math. You might understand the concept, but you won't be able to solve the problems quickly without practice.

I assume you have already written simpler contrapuntal forms, like minuets and inventions? If not, maybe start with those.

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The more fugues you play, the more often Bach will visit you while improvising. Also, try the retrograde inversion.

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