Update #3: A Finished Fugue!

I set out at the beginning of this project to do an in-depth score analysis of the Bach organ fugues and then use what I have learned to compose my own organ fugue using a popular melody in the style of Bach. I am very pleased to be able to say that I achieved what I set out to do. Studying Bach’s music made me a better and more experienced student of music theory, and the many challenges I faced in composing this complex fugue have made me forever a better and more technically sound composer.

I should mention before I get into the fugue itself, I am not a student of classical counterpoint. I know most of the rules, but I was never formally trained in the art, so on the off chance there are any counterpoint experts out there, I am aware that my composition is not technically perfect. I also think that sometimes it sounds a lot like Bach, and other times…well, not so much. I think both of those things are to be expected given that I used a contemporary theme and that I had never written a full-scale fugue before. That said, let’s dive in.

The following is analysis of my own fugue using the guidelines I set up to analyze Bach’s fugues in my background research stage (for further explanation of what any of these things mean, you can find it in my post #1). Without further ado, “Fugue on a Theme from Sherlock”, in C Minor.


Sequence of Fugue Subject: TASB / A / BT / AS / AT/SBB

Sequence of Tonalities: i-v-i-v {v-i} i {iv-VI-III} III-VI {VI-iv} iv-vii {vii-iv-i} i-v-i(I)

Brief Description of Theme: The Sherlock theme consists of four small phrases, the first two of which are dominated by an ascending perfect fifth on the downbeat, the third of which responds with a descending perfect fifth on the downbeat, and the last of which is a series of “16th-16th-8th note” groupings, where the two sixteenths are on the upbeat and the eighth lands on the downbeat. Harmonically, the sustained notes following the first and third mini-phrases are undergirded by the major chord of the subdominant, creating an occasional Dorian feel. For the purposes of this fugue, I added a three-8th note anacrusis between the second and third phrases of the theme that is not present in the original.

Treatments Applied to Theme: Modal mixture on the mediant (m. 60); modal mixture on the submediant (m. 68); inversion (mm. 79, 87); stretto at the octave (mm. 108, 118)

Repeated Rhythmic/Melodic Motives: The “16th-16th-8th note” pattern found in the fourth mini-phrase of the subject is used as the rhythmic cornerstone throughout the piece.

General Notes: There are several appearances of the lamento bass, a common trope in music of various eras, particularly in the episode which begins at m. 94. When I sent the finished piece to my advisor, the inimitable Prof. Tom Payne, he immediately signaled his approval of its inclusion.


The one thing I didn’t get the chance to do over the summer is actually learn to play this piece. I am a decent organist, but certainly not great, and I will admit that I made the piece more difficult than I originally intended. I will try to do that during the coming semester, and hopefully I can premiere this piece live sometime in the next year. For now, though, I (and you) will have to be content with an electronically generated recording, and full disclosure, I do not love the way this organ sounds. Still, I am very pleased with what I have accomplished. Attached are that recording and the score, for those of you for whom sheet music means something. It’s been great reading about everyone’s projects, and I’ll see y’all back in campus in a week!



  1. msasman64 says:

    Hi Owen!

    Your project blew me away. I’m so impressed that you were not only able to identify the patterns found in Bach’s music but also apply those patterns to an original composition!

    It strikes me that your analysis of your own fugue greatly resembles poetic or linguistic analysis. When you were composing, did you focus on making the form of your music reflect the meaning/feeling of the music, or was this not a primary consideration? Either way, I’ve loved following your research through the blog posts. A next step might be analyzing movie or musical scores, because those have the added element of an explicit, built-in storyline. If you have any interest in the movie Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, check out this Youtube video that picks apart the soundtrack at different points in the movie – https://youtu.be/ozbKHKntpCc It might give you some ideas!