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.

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Update #2: Choosing a Theme for My Composition

A major part of my project was choosing the pre-existing melody I would use as the subject for my fugue. Of all the parts of the project, this was the one that presented by far the most unexpected difficulties, because I had not taken into account the significant aesthetic differences in how we view music, and specifically the concept of melody, between Bach’s time and today. In this post, I will discuss two distinct aesthetic differences between Baroque and contemporary popular music that complicated my search for a theme, and how I eventually made a decision.

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Update #1: Collecting, Organizing, and Understanding Data from a Musical Score

My research is very clearly divided between time spent analyzing and collecting data on the Bach organ fugues, and later the time spent on composition for my own fugue based upon what I learned from Bach and his craft. Since I have finished the background analytical phase, I am now writing two update posts on the two most important things I have learned from my project so far. This post will focus on my process for studying the seventeen fugues that I ended up using as my data set from which to glean compositional techniques. Analyzing each fugue took somewhere between one and four hours, depending upon its length and complexity. I am hopeful that the considerable time and effort I invested into this phase of the project will transmit itself well as I attempt to compose using Bach’s musical idiom.

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The Organ Fugues of J.S. Bach: A Historical and Contemporary Study

My research will consist of an intensive study of the sheet music to the organ fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach, culminating in a composition of my own intended to replicate Bach’s compositional style. A fugue is a contrapuntal piece wherein a fragment of melodic material (a theme) is repeatedly introduced in the different voices of the piece. Bach is generally considered the master of this art form, which is why I am seeking to study his methods in order to learn about the technical and structural elements that make fugal writing possible. Topics considered will include, but are not limited to, chord progressions, rhythmic motives, key relationships, inversions and augmentations of the theme, and playability as it relates to the mechanics of an organ. I myself am an organist, so through this project I hope not only to hone my music theory and composition skills, but also my performance skills. I will take approximately a week and a half to analyze and take detailed notes on the structural elements of the organ fugues in my New Bach Edition manuscript. I will then begin the composition process by selecting a theme to use for the fugue, which will an already existing and recognizable tune. Through the choice of theme, I will tie Baroque methods to more modern melodic writing, thus forging a connection between eras. The rest of my research will consist of using the techniques I have documented and learned to write a fugue on the selected theme. If I have time, I will learn to play the fugue on organ and record it.