I'm writing a fugue, and I've managed an almost perfect two-voiced stretto. Except that I get parallel octaves between two notes in the figuration. See image, last beat of m. 15.

Which would be considered a greater blemish on my fugue? Keeping the parallel octaves, or breaking the exactness of the stretto? The intended tempo is Moderato, at quarter note = 90, by the way.

enter image description here


Thanks to everyone's kind suggestions I've decided to tinker a bit with the fragment, which now stands thus:

enter image description here

  • Shouldn’t the stretto part enter a 5th or 4th differing from the dux? Commented May 14, 2020 at 17:22
  • @AlbrechtHügli: Yes, an ordinary stretto enters at the dominant. But I call any imitation of the subject a stretto, and I wanted the reserve the "normal" stretto for the latter part of the fugue. Commented May 14, 2020 at 17:35

4 Answers 4


Your passage is entirely musically valid.

You have parallel octaves when you have two notes that are a perfect octave, in the same voice that repeats. This is also true for the unison.

What you have here is one chord that is held for the whole measure and a little floral pattern that moves a bit in the Soprano voice, this is not parallel octaves.

I'm not entirely convinced you can have one chord in a bar and have parallel octaves, you do seem to need two chords. The E - E in the second bar is not in the same voices as the E - E in bar one, so that disqualifies it from being parallel.

What I see here that bothers me is not parallel octaves, I'm seeing that D# in the soprano being lower as the alto note (E) in the second bar. You may want to work on your voice leading as the D# is still going to be fresh in the audience's ears and it can clash.

  • Thank you for your reply. I was a bit confused whether (in a quasi-baroque style) the rule against consecutive octaves also applies to diminutions, or only to the harmonic "skeleton". You're absolutely right about the voice-overlap; I will correct it by making the E a B. Commented May 14, 2020 at 7:41
  • 1
    I agree this is musically valid. For me the test is whether it sounds right rather than whether it is theoretically correct,
    – Peter
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 12:39

The "rule" applies everywhere in that having parallel octaves causes the music to sound like an instrument or voice dropped out. The texture suddenly becomes thin. Similarly for parallel fifths or covered fifths or covered octaves. The effect is strongest between outer voices. Even in pop or country, one tries to avoid parallels between the bass and melody.

In non-polyphonic music, doubling of a line at an octave (or even a fifth) id only a voice thickening or coloring, not a parallel. The rule only applies between independent voices.


I think this is an nice theme and I wonder how you have been “harmonizing” the previous entries.

I can hear the chord progression I vi IV (ii) V.

In this case you could give the bass line to the 2nd part: e c# a b e (bar 15) avoiding the dim. 5th parallel (c#-d# and g#-a).

To avoid the octave parallels you could slightly change the theme (soggetto) in the dux notating the two 16th notes a 3rd up (b c# b). No one will hear the deviation.


What happens with the 4. part?

  • Hi Albrecht, thanks for your contribution. I wanted to keep the harmony relatively simple, so I harmonized the previous entries according to the Rule of the Octave as I - vii6 - I - ii6, if that means anything to you. This is already the second round of entries (in the dominant), by the way. In this section I stick to a three-part texture, with the 4th part reserved for when I bring in the inverted subject. Commented May 14, 2020 at 17:28
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    So if this bar has only 3 parts “ breaking the exactness of the stretto” might be the better solution. Commented May 14, 2020 at 17:40

Not commenting on anything else in the music, my first reaction is: the harmonizing voice moves in parallel with the subject, that's a counterpoint/voice leading problem with the harmonizing voice. Change the harmonizing voice(s.)

Being passing tones mitigates the problem somewhat, but the fact they are in the outer voices is a problem.

Sometimes the way out of parallel/direct motions looking for the minimum voice leading change to get another relative motion. In other words, if the harmony is good, keep it and change one of the parts to get contrary or oblique motion. Probably best to keep strong beat harmonies as it and try to make the change on a weak beat (or whatever seems a subordinate harmony.)

wouldn't making the neighboring motion contrary and then delaying the move from G#5 up to B5 work?

enter image description here

...everything seems mostly the same, but the parallel movement is removed.

I suppose this is even the simplest...

enter image description here

...sort of an escape tone from G#5 then up to B5.

I'm not sure I agree with the comment in the accepted answer that the parallel octaves are OK because it's the surface, melodic detail of the harmonic skeleton. I've always had the impression the attitude was the other way around. Skeletal harmony in parallel motion can be glossed over with disguising melodic motion. Here is an example I like from L. Mozart's Nannerl Notenbuch...

enter image description here

...Red highlights the parallel fifths in the harmonic skeleton, blue highlights the "disguising" melodic to intervening thirds. I've seen that kind of thing rather than parallel melodic motion in outer voices.

And of course we aren't talking about instrumental doubling at the octave.

  • Thank you for your suggestion Michael! In the end I ended up incorporating your suggestion and then I decomposed the dotted D# in the alto into three eighth notes as seen in my addendum. Commented May 14, 2020 at 21:22
  • Ah, that's funny! I too played around with the alto D#/F# but for the sake of the revision exercise I thought it better to keep to a minimal change. Commented May 14, 2020 at 21:27
  • Just wanted to mention the detail that escape tones very rarely leap up. The vast majority of the time, they leap down by 3rd, occasionally by 4th. Upward escape tone leaps are rare enough to say "avoid" if you want to write in strict counterpoint in classical style. (Not that composers never did this; it's just pretty rare.) All of that said, assuming this fugue is for one instrument (like keyboard), the potentially rare leap from a dissonance is mitigated by the fact that the F# sounds like it might connect to the E in the middle voice on the next beat (and is thus a quasi passing tone).
    – Athanasius
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 0:22

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