Some keyboard pieces (the couple of five-part fugues from Bach's WTC, for example) require cramming five polyphonic voices onto just two staves. Usually this means three voices to either the upper or the lower staff. What could be some good typographical guidelines for engraving such music without things becoming extremely messy?

Two voices to a staff is relatively easy; you just flip the note stems for each voice consistently up or down. (Though this might messy too, if there's a lot of voice crossing.) But for three voices this doesn't seem really sufficient. I've seen a few scores where the note stems for the three voices aren't exactly lined up, but separated by a tiny amount of horizontal space. What are the typographical procedures for that? I'd be interested in hearing any other methods as well.

1 Answer 1


I think you've answered your own question by referring to a published copy of the WTC. You'll find lots of challenges, and lots of solutions.

Notation programs generally make a good job of arranging TWO voices on one stave. For three you'll doubtless have to do some manual offsetting of noteheads.

Yes, it can get messy! But hopefully the composer has followed the principle of not having too many rhythmically active voices all at once - when one voice has a dense rhythm others will have longer notes. So it shouldn't be TOO bad!

Here's two solutions to the final bar of Fugue XIV, from Breitkopf and from Peters. I wouldn't like to derive any particular rules or procedures from them - just note some of the options available.

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