I am composing a Theme and Variations based on the first theme of Beethoven's fifth. And one of the variations that I plan on doing is a fugal variation. I decided to write the fugal variation first, even though it won't be the first variation, just to get the burden of the fugue off of me before I write the other variations.

But I have a bit of a problem. That one being, how to turn the theme into a fugue without losing the Beethoven's fifth identity or being extremely dissonant. I have found it extremely hard to do. It is so obvious which part of the theme would become the fugue subject. But the countersubject is not so obvious. I tried using 2 countersubjects based off of the theme, and I found it too dissonant to even be worth doing. But even with 1 countersubject, I still run into problems.

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As you can see, parallel fourths are my main issue. But it doesn't become an issue until I introduce the proposed countersubject. To make it even more clear, here is the notation that results:

T:The Beethoven Variations
C:Cheyanna Marie Ward
Q:"Allegro con brio" 1/4=160
K:C minor
V:Vio1 name="Violin I" clef=treble
V:Vio2 name="Violin II" clef=treble
V:Via name="Viola" clef=alto
V:Cel name="Cello" clef=bass
[V:Vio1] z1/2 G1/2G1/2G1/2 | !fermata!E2 | z1/2 F1/2F1/2F1/2 | D2-|!fermata!D2 | z1/2 G1/2G1/2G1/2 | z1/2 A1/2A1/2A1/2 | z1/2 e1/2e1/2e1/2 | c2-|c1 z1 | z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2| z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2| z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2|
[V:Vio2] z2| z2| z2| z2| z2| z1/2 C1/2C1/2C1/2 | !fermata!A,2 | z1/2 B,1/2B,1/2B,1/2 | G,2-|!fermata!G,2 | z1/2 C1/2C1/2C1/2 | z1/2 D1/2D1/2D1/2 | z1/2 B1/2B1/2B1/2 | F2-|F z | z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2| z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2|
[V:Via] z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2| z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2| z1/2 G,1/2G,1/2G,1/2 | !fermata!E,2 | z1/2 F,1/2F,1/2F,1/2| D,2-|!fermata!D,2 | z1/2 G,1/2G,1/2G,1/2 |z1/2 A,1/2A,1/2A,1/2 | z1/2 E1/2E1/2E1/2| C2-|C z | z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2|
[V:Cel] z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2| z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2| z2 | z2 | z2| z2| z2| z1/2 C,1/2C,1/2C,1/2 | !fermata!A,,2 | z1/2 B,,1/2B,,1/2B,,1/2 | G,,2-|!fermata!G,,2 | z1/2 C,1/2C,1/2C,1/2 | z1/2 D,1/2D,1/2D,1/2 | z1/2 B,1/2B,1/2B,1/2 | F,2-|F, z |

As you can see pretty clearly from the notation, I have problems with the countersubject and parallel fourths. At least I'm not dealing with parallel sevenths, that would be way worse. And like I said at the beginning, I am wanting to have a fugue as one of my variations on Beethoven's fifth.

So how can I turn the first theme of Beethoven's fifth into a fugue, without loosing the Beethoven's fifth identity or getting contrapuntal issues such as dissonance or parallel fourths?

  • To quote one of my favorite 20th century composers, "You can't always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you might find, you'll get what you need" . Some things just aren't fugue-able. Alternatively, go dissonant and wear it proudly. Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 12:27
  • @CarlWitthoft That doesn't necessarily mean that turning the first theme of Beethoven's fifth into a fugue is impossible, just because I haven't found it to work out yet.
    – Caters
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 14:54
  • 3
    Your problem is that you are determined to use another part of the main them as a countersubject. That is not at all necessary (the main theme is so iconic that it is quite capable of carrying the "Beethoven" standard all on its own), and in fact unwise in this occasion. Try a contrasting phrase instead. Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 16:33
  • For a subject ^5 ^3 ^4 ^2 should the tonal answer be ^1 ^7 ^1 ^6? Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 15:56
  • I don't understand, doesn't my real answer of ^1 ^6 ^7 ^5 work well enough? ^1 ^7 ^1 ^6 would be a second followed by a third, which diminishes the Beethoven's fifth identity
    – Caters
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 19:47

1 Answer 1


You could try following the model of a fugue with a similar melodic pattern.

After looking around I found this one from Pachelbel's Fugues on the Magnificant...

enter image description here

...the ending to make clear the key...

enter image description here

The important thing is that the subject matches the same melodic series of ^5 ^3 ^4...

The answer is ^1 ^7 ^1...

I couldn't quickly find an example with a subject of ^5 ^3 ^4 ^2. Nevertheless, ^2 probably should be answered by ^6. (That's what happens in Pachelbel.)

It's interesting the ^7 doesn't take a sharp and so harmony of the answer is roughly Am Dm Emaj Am.

Rhythmically you could try having the counter-subject play on the first beat. That way you would get nice rhythmic independence between the voices.

  • All I did was transpose the subject down a fifth for a real answer, so G, Eb, F, D, becomes C, Ab, Bb, G, same descending thirds, same Beethoven's fifth vibe as in the subject.
    – Caters
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 19:50
  • I understand what you did. But my point is you now have something that doesn't look like a typical fugue answer. This just recreates the same situation in your other questions about composition. Are you studying the norm? Then follow an existing model is my suggestion. Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 20:41

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