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Anatomy of a Canon

The musical examples in this portion of the study are designed to be played from
compact disks specified at the top of each web page. This method for obtaining sound
was intended for my students who have access to these disks, but you may listen in if you
wish. If you have obtained the F!! helper application from "oyager #and configured
your computer to receive these files$, you should be able to insert the specified disk in the
C% drive of your computer and hear the examples.
&rigin and %efinition of the word 'Canon'
'Canon' comes from the (reek word for rule or law. )usically, it designates the strictest
form of counterpoint in which one voice is bound to imitate the rhythm, and interval
content of another voice.
e*uirements of a Canon
To *ualify as a canon three conditions must be met+
,. The -nd voice must be an exact repetition or a contrapuntal derivation of the ,st.
-. The -nd voice must enter later than the ,st #cancrizans and proportional canon
.. The -nd voice may not deviate from the ,st voice or its contrapuntal variations.
Thus, the -nd voice is thought to be strictly generated by the ,st. The two voices
of a canon have been called dux/comes, antecedens/consequens, or proposta/
risposta; but this study uses the terms 'leader' and 'follower.'
If all of the above conditions are met, the canon is said to be 'strict.' If liberties
are taken with one or more of the above conditions, the canon is said to be 'free.'
Canons of the ,/th and -0th centuries tend to be strict, while canons of the ,1th
century may be free.
Canons are based, in theory, upon the principle of contrapuntal inversion...two melodic
lines that can be performed simultaneously with either line functioning as the bass.
Categories of Canonic Imitation
The second voice of a canon may imitate the first voice exactly, at a different pitch level,
in contrary motion, with change of rhythmic proportions, backward, or any combination
Canon at the 2nison or &ctave
In a unison canon the follower performs precisely the same melody as the leader. As
the name implies, canon at the octave involves repetition of the leader an octave
higher or lower. "ar. . and "ar. -3 of the Goldberg Variations are at the unison and
octave respectively. If the end of the canon returns smoothly to the beginning it might
be called a round, circular canon, or perpetual canon like Canon 4 of the Musical
Offering and 5ach6s Canon a 2 Perpetuus #57" ,048$ .
Canon at Intervals &ther than the &ctave or 2nison
)any canons are contrived so that the follower begins on a pitch other than the
starting pitch of the leader. The canons of the Goldberg Variations, for example, are
ordered systematically so that each successive canon employs a larger interval
between leader and follower. The follower may be a tonal imitation of the leader, that
is, it may alter the interval *ualities somewhat so as to stay in the same key as the
leader, or it may be an exact transposition to a new key. "ar. ,/ of the Goldberg
Variations is a canon at the sixth, but the interval may be a ma9or or minor sixth
depending upon the scale degrees that are involved. 5y contrast, the follower of the
uga Canonica in !pidiapente from the Musical Offering is a strict transposition of
the leader up a perfect fifth #each note of the follower reposing a perfect fifth above
its counterpart in the leader$. A third type of interval canon is exemplified in the
second of the Canonic "ariations on Vom "immel #oc# , where 5ach inflects the
pitches of the follower *uite freely in order that the canon might conform to the
tonality of the cantus firmus which it accompanies.
etrograde Canon #Cancrizans, or 'crab' canon$
&ne of the more exotic forms, retrograde canon involves the playing of a melody
forward and backward at the same time. It is the custom, with canons of this sort, for
each player to read the music once from left to right #forward$ and then to return from
right to left #backward$. Thus, retrograde canons are sometimes called 'crab' or
cancrizans #after the sideways manner of that creature$. 5ecause both parts begin
simultaneously, the terms 'leader' and 'follower' hardly apply to crab canons,
examples of which include+ the Cancrizans from the Musical Offering, and the First
and second canons from the Fourteen on the (oldberg (round.
Canon in Contrary )otion
7hen the canon leader and follower progress by the same melodic intervals, but
move in the opposite direction, the canon is said to be in contrary motion. In the
context of canons, the term 'inverted canon' is synonymous with 'canon in contrary
motion.' Canons in contrary motion exemplify the techni*ue of 'melodic inversion,'
and should not be confused with contrapuntal inversion #also known as 'double
counterpoint'$ in which two contrapuntal lines exchange registers...the low becoming
the high and visa versa. The fourth canon of $ie %unst employs both techni*ues+ its
follower is in contrary motion to its leader, and its second half involves an exchange
of registers #double counterpoint$ between leader and follower. &f the 5ach6s canons
extant, many involve contrary motion, including the following+ the &rias "armonica,
Canon Concordia $iscors, most of the Fourteen Canons on the (oldberg (round,
(oldberg :,-, (oldberg :,8, Vom "immel #oc# :. , and Musical Offering 'o( ).
;otice that canons in contrary motion are normally constructed so that if the leader
begins on the tonic pitch the follower will begin on the dominant, and visa versa.
)irror Canon
&rdinarily, canons in contrary motion freely inflect interval *ualities in order to stay
within the key. Composers with exceptional skill have constructed a rigorous sub<
category, called 'mirror' canon, in which followers mimic the precise *uality of
intervals stated by leaders #albeit in the opposite direction$. As the techni*ue is
difficult, mirror canons are *uite rare. The rule of *ualitative correspondence between
intervals implies that mirror canons invoke more than the usual number of chromatic
pitches as ;o. =, ;o. /, and ;o. ,, from the Fourteen on the (oldberg (round,
Canon perpetuus and Canon a 2 *uaerendo in+enietis from the Musical Offering
>roportional Canon
)ore commonly termed 'canon in augmentation or diminution,' proportional canons
re<articulate the rhythm of the leader at a ratio other than one to one. Thus, the
follower might progress at half, twice, or three times, the speed of the leader. "oices
in proportional canon may start at the same time or at different times. 5ach6s
proportional canons include+ the fourth canon of the Musical Offering the final canon
of the "ariations on Vom "immel #oc# , the fourth canon from the ,rt of ugue, and,
5ach6s tour de forcein this genre, the final canon of the ,3 on the (oldberg (round.
?piral Canon
7hereas most canons are repeatable, when a spiral canon repeats it does so at some
other pitch. If the new pitch is the same scale degree #in a new key$, the canon is a
modulating spiral, like 5ach6s canon a 2 per tonus of the Musical Offering . If the new
pitch is a different scale degree #in the same key$, the canon is a modal spiral. This
study contains no examples of modal spiral, but the four<voice canon 5ach composed
for 7alther puts each of the voices into a different mode with an overall effect of
Accompanied Canon
)usic that contains canonic voices to which have been added one or more voices in
free counterpoint is said to be 'accompanied.' In most of 5ach6s accompanied canons
this added voice is the bass. &bviously, when a bass part is added the re*uirement
that the upper canonic voices be able to function as bass no longer applies. This
liberates the composer to involve the canonic voices in counterpoint that might not
otherwise have been possible. 7ith the exception of the last #"ar. -4$, all of the
canons of the Goldberg Variations are accompanied. The added voice may represent
a pre<existing melody, such as the 'royal theme' in the second canon of the Musical
Offering, or the canonic voices themselves may be cantus firmi( All of the canonic
preludes of the Orgelbuc#lein, Cla+ier-.bung ///, most of the Canonic "ariations on
Vom "immel #oc#, and five of the canons from the Fourteen on the (oldberg (round
fall into this latter category.
%ouble and Triple Canon
A canon that has two leaders and two followers is a double canon...see the fifth canon
of the Fourteen on the (oldberg (round. %ouble canons are sometimes referred to as
'canon four in two.' In the thirteenth canon of that cycle 5ach managed even to
construct a triplex canon, or 'canon six in three.'
Combining )ore than &ne Techni*ue
After listening to the canons of this study the casual listener might come to the
conclusion that they are not difficult to compose. ;othing could be further from the
truth@ !ven the simplest types present challenges beyond the abilities of most
musicians. Aet 5ach imposed upon himself not only the strictures of contrary motion,
augmentation, and retrograde motion, but in many instances the simultaneous
adherence to more than one canonic rule@ Thus, the third canon of the Musical
Offering is an accompanied canon in contrary motion as are the sixth, seventh, and
eighth canons from the Fourteen on the (oldberg (round. The eighth canon of the
Musical Offering is an accompanied mirror, while the eleventh canon of the Fourteen
on the (oldberg ground is an accompanied double mirror. >erhaps the most difficult
combinations of 5ach6s repertory are his three canons in augmentation and contrary
motion+ ;o. ,3 from the cycle on the (oldberg ground, ;o. 3 from the ,rt of ugue,
and ;o. 3 from the Musical Offering.
Cryptic ;otation
5efore ,=00 polyphonic music was normally written in parts, not score. This
meant that a musician could see but one line of music and not the accompanying
voices. As a conse*uence it was customary in the writing of canons from this era
to notate only the canon leader, with some rule whereby the follower would be
generated from it+ a second starting point, another interval or a time proportion.
)any of Bos*uin6s chansons, for example, contain a vocal line intended to be sung
as two<<in canon. Today we call this type of notation 'cryptic,' meaning that it is
concise not that the composer was wanting to be secretive.
There does exist, however, a genre of canons where the composer engages in
deliberate obfuscation. )any of 5ach6s canons are of this type. This study, for
example, contains instances where he hints at the canon by means of a monogram,
symbol, or other cryptic device. 7hen the solution is not obvious the work is said
to be a 'riddle' or 'enigmatic' canon. B. ?. 5ach encrypted the cancrizans from
the Musical Offering for example, by placing a backward clef at its conclusion.
Ce used the same techni*ue in the ,st and -nd canons on the (oldberg (round.
5ach encrypted canons in contrary motion by inverting clefs #see canons four, and
nine of the Musical Offering$. 5ecause inverting a C<clef effects no apparent
change, contrary motion is signified by the inversion of key signatures or by the
placement of accidentals on 'wrong' lines and spaces. The third and fourth
canons from the Fourteen on the (oldberg (round, for example, contain C<clefs
with sharps in the key signature that appear 'incorrectly' on the pitch (. &nly
after the clefs have been inverted do the sharps appear correctly on F@
Canons in which the follower begins at a pitch other than that of the leader #e.g.
numbers five and six from the Musical Offering$ are indicated by the imposition
of two or more clefs upon the staff. 5ach6s canon for 7alther contains four such
clefs, while his canon for Cudemann contains no fewer than eight #four inverted
with different key signatures$.
Finally, if the musical symbolism is not enough, the composer might write clues
in prose. The fourth and fifth canons of the Musical Offering are accompanied by
Datin riddles indicating the nature of the canonic techni*ue, while the Canon a
Mi et Mi a contains a dedicatory acrostic spelling the composer6s name.
Canons of the Goldberg Variations
The musical examples on this page are designed to be played from the Trevor >innock
recording of the Goldberg Variations #Archiv 3,8<,.0<-$. This method for obtaining
sound was intended for my students who have access to this particular disk, but you may
listen in if you wish. If you have obtained the F!! helper application from "oyager
#and configured your computer to receive these files$, you should be able to insert the
Archiv disc in the C% drive of your computer and hear the examples.
Cow the "ariations Came to 5e
The eminent harpsichordist, alph Eirkpatrick, writes+ 'Cowever much it is an act of
impudence thus to discuss something which is far too profound and complex to be
grasped in words, it seems necessary in order to explain all that has been said before, to
confess some of the feelings which inevitably come with the playing of this music.' The
music about which Eirkpatrick writes is the set of variations commissioned of Bohann
?ebastian 5ach by %resden6s Count "on Eeyserlingk for his court harpsichordist, Bohann
(ottlieb (oldberg.
It seems that the Count, an insomniac, had asked 5ach to compose something that might
occupy his restless nights. For his trouble, 5ach was rewarded with a golden goblet filled
with ,00 louis-d0or( Eeyserlingk was so pleased that he thereafter referred to 5ach6s
music as 'my variations,' but history has remembered 'Eeyserlingk6s "ariations' by the
name of his harpsichordist+ (oldberg.
The Goldberg Variations begin with an ,ria 5ach had composed in ,4-8, possibly for
his wife This ,ria appears in Anna )agdalena6s ;otebook, where it is written in her own
hand. The ?arabande<like ,ria becomes theme for a set of .0 variations to follow.
Analysis of !ach Canon
Canon ,+ canone all0 .nisuono
?tructurally, the Goldberg Variations demonstrate the 5aro*ue ideal of balance and
internal coherence. !very third variation is a canon, of which this is the first. Canone
all0 .nisuono means 'canon at the unison,' implying that the canon leader and
follower begin on the same pitch. This title suggests that subse*uent canons might use
other intervals as indeed they do.
Canon -+ canone all0 1econda
In the second canon, the follower chases the leader but seems never to catch up. This
is because the follower commences each phrase a step higher than the leader<<canone
all0 1econda( Eirkpatrick describes this canon as having 'an almost nostalgic
Canon .+ canone alla &erza
Canone alla &erza means 'canon at the third.' Cere the leader begins on the pitch '5'
while the follower begins a third lower, on '(.' !ach variation divisible by three
#except ;o. .0$ is a canon. The *uotient becomes the interval between leader and
follower. ?uch a mathematical conception makes the Goldberg Variations uni*ue in
music literature.
Canon 3+ canone alla *uarta
It is difficult to recogniFe the canone alla *uarta as a canon at all. ;ot only does the
follower begin a perfect 3th lower than the leader, but it moves each of its intervals in
the opposite direction+ a moto contrario( In the '5' section, the leader and follower
exchange positionsG instead of the high voice leading #with the follower down a 3th$,
the middle voice leads #with the follower 2> a 3th$. This balancing of opposing
registers and melodic contours represents a 5achian fondness for what I call 'back 6n
forth.' The fundamental bass is clearly heard in the triple articulations of the lowest
Canon 8+ canone alla *uinta
Dike the canon at the fourth, this Canone alla *uinta is in contrary motion. This time,
however, the interval separating leader and follower is a fifth. That 5ach could have
used a compositional procedure so abstruse to produce something so musical is an
evidence of his genius. )inor mode, for the first time in the Goldberg Variations,
lends a dark and tragic aura. !ach of the variations is centered in (, but three of them
are in minor rather than ma9or. &f the two other minor mode variations, ;o. -, is a
canon, and ;o. -8 is not. The constant ( ma9orHminor tonality does not tire the ear
because each variation also modulates to related keys #typically %<ma9or and e<
minor$, providing a variety of tonal centers.
Canon =+ alla marcia

"ariation ,/, 'in a marching style,' has the distinction of being the canon in
which the follower comes closest to 'catching' the leader. The time interval
separating the two is one beat+ the pitch interval, a sixth.
In theme and variation one expects the soprano to become the ob9ect of variation.
This does not happen in the Goldbergs( Instead, 5ach follows an Italian model
known as ruggiero which varies the bass instead. 5ach6s ruggiero consists of
eight phrases with every other phrase ended by the same ground bass but in
different keys. Thus 5ach6s ruggiero is very nearly a c#aconne #ostinato form in
which the repeated element is a chord progression rather than a melody$. The bass
does not repeat verbatim, but its implied harmonies are always intact. If the bass
had repeated exactly, the cycle might have been called a passacaglia<<the favorite
5aro*ue cousin of theme and variation. This similarity to the ground bass forms
of c#aconne and passacaglia led Albert ?chweitFer to call the Goldberg
Variations 'a passacaglia worked out in c#iaroscuro(2 There is nothing *uite like
it in all of music literature.
Canon 4+ canone alla 1ettima
Filling in the ruggiero by five descending semitones #lamento bass$, the seventh
canon weaves its tapestry of counterpoint in what may be the most evocative melody
of the Goldberg Variations( This Canone alla 1ettima is the second of three variations
to be set in minor mode #another Trinitarian symbol...perhaps$. The follower imitates
the leader at the interval of a seventh.
Canon /+ canone alla Otta+a
After the rollicking exuberance of the variation that precedes it #;o. -.$, the canon at
the octave rocks the listener in a gentle three beats per measure, each beat divided
into three parts.
Canon 1+ canone alla 'ona
The cycle closes with a sprightly variation in which leader and follower imitate each
other at the ninth. The figure 'spun out' in this canon is characteriFed by running
sixteenth notes punctuated by expressive leaps of a sixth #an interval of which 5ach
seems to have been especially fond$. For the first time the canon is abandoned by its
ruggiero #having heard the bass theme many times before, our minds eagerly fill it
in$. 7hereas the leader in part 'A' is the low voice, the leader in part '5' is the high.
;otice how the leader in part '5' is nearly the melodic inversion of part 'A' #another
example of 'back 6n forth'$.
Fourteen Canons on the First !ight ;otes
of the (oldberg (round #57" ,0/4$
The musical examples on this page are designed to be played from %on %orsey6s
'5achbusters' #Telarc C%</0,-.$ recording of the '%iverse Eanons' 57" ,0/4. This
method for obtaining sound was intended for my students who have access to this
particular disk, but you may listen in if you wish. If you have obtained the F!! helper
application from "oyager #and configured your computer to receive these files$, you
should be able to insert the Telarc disc in the C% drive of your computer and hear the
?uggested eading+ Christoph 7olff. 'The Candexemplar of the Goldberg
Variations' 5ach+ !ssays on Cis Dife and )usic #Cambridge+ Carvard
2niversity >ress, ,11,$ pp. ,=-<,44.
Cistorical 5ackground and ?ignificance
%iscovery of 57" ,0/4
In ,143 a published copy of the Goldberg Variations, first owned by 5ach
himself, was discovered in private possession in France. Accompanying the
manuscript, in 5ach6s hand, there was attached a single page with fourteen
canons on the first eight notes of the (oldberg ground. The discovery of the
hitherto unknown manuscript was immediately hailed as the most important
addition of a 5ach source in recent decades. &f the fourteen canons, only
numbers ,, and ,. had been known before ,143.
?ignificance of the Cycle
The fourteen canons are important for four reasons. ;ot only are they delightful
to hear, but they represent a germinal stage of the mature variations that is
highly instructive as to compositional processes that 5ach may have used.
Thirdly, the canon cycle bridges the gap between the canons of the (oldberg
and the more esoteric canons of the Musical Offering of ,434. Finally, the
enigmatic notations of the fourteen canons represent 5ach6s affinity for musical
riddles and cryptographic symbols.
?ignature ;umberI
It is a coincidence, perhaps, that there are fourteen canons in the (oldberg
addendum. 5ut to those who are cogniFant of 5ach6s fascination with the
number ,3 as the sum of the ordinal values of the letters of his name
#5JAJCJC$, the number of canons in this cycle is more than coincidental.
5ach6s last ma9or work, ,rt of t#e ugue contains fourteen Contrapuncti, the
last of which is the unfinished *uadruple fugue in which the third sub9ect is the
5ACC motive. If the number of canons can be understood to represent the
composer6s signature number, we might infer that 5ach wished for the cycle of
canons to represent, 9ust as the ,rt of t#e ugue represents, the last word on the
Analysis of !ach Canon
The first four canons of the cycle use the (oldberg ground as leader. 7hile not
the most interesting things to hear, from a theoretical perspective these canons
are necessary inasmuch as 5ach demonstrates in them the inherent contrapuntal
possibilities of his soggetto, or 'sub9ect,' by combining it with itself in four
Canon , < soggetto with its retrograde
>lay 1oggetto ?top Animate Canon ,

Canon - < inverted soggetto with its retrograde

>lay Inverted 1oggetto ?top Animate Canon -

Canon . < soggetto with its inversion

>lay 1oggetto ?top Animate Canon .

Canon 3 < inverted soggetto with its inversion

>lay Inverted 1oggetto ?top Animate Canon 3

Canon 8 < Canon $uplex a 3

From the fifth canon onward, the (oldberg ground is employed either by
itself or canonically as ostinato beneath other canonic voices. ;ow that
the composer has established the contrapuntal viability of his soggetto,
he is ready to add more complex counterpoint above it. In canon 8 5ach
repeats the soggetto as it was stated canonically in ., above which he
adds a second canon in contrary motion.

Canon = < Canon simplex uber besagtes undament a )

In this 'mirror canon,' the intervals of the follower are exactly the same
as those of the leader, but moving in the opposite direction.

Canon 4 < /dem a )

Dike the sixth canon, ;o. 4 is in contrary motion above a ground bass.

Canon / < Canon simplex a ) il soggetto in ,lto

In the eighth canon, the ground is put into the middle voice #il soggetto
in ,lto4( 5ach applies accidentals to make the follower the mirror image
of its leader. This makes the canon sounds more like it is in d<minor than
the (<ma9or to which we have become accustomed.

Canon 1 < Canon in unisono post semifusam a )

5ach titled this one 'Canon in unison followed at the sixteenth,' drawing
attention to the unusually short time interval between leader and

Canon ,0 < ,lio modo per s5ncopationes et per ligaturas a 2

5ach stipulates that this counterpoint above the ground is to be a piece
for two voices. Thus it was not intended to be a canon #else the follower
would have added an unspecified third voice$. Instead 5ach inverts both
parts and has them played as a second counterpoint which he call the
!+olutio. This techni*ue is the precursor to two of the fugues in $ie
%unst which are likewise contrived so that they can be played with
intervals moving in the opposite direction.
>lay Counterpoint ?top Animate !+olutio

Canon ,, < Canon duplex ubers undament a 6

?uggested eading+ That Crown of Thorns by Tim ?mith
7hen the (oldberg canon
cycle was discovered in
,143, only two of its
fourteen canons had been
known before that dateG
number eleven was one of
them. &n &ctober ,8,
,434, 5ach scribbled this
canon #right$ on the flyleaf
of a notebook owned by
Bohann (ottlieb Fulda
#,4,/<,41=$, theology
student and some<time player in DeipFig6s orchestras. In Fulda6s
notebook the canon is accompanied by two cryptic inscriptions+
15mbolum C#ristus Coronabit Crucigeros '?ymbol+ Christ will crown
the Cross<bearers' and $omino Possessori #isce notulis commendare se
+olebat 7( 1( 8ac# 'B. ?. 5ach wanted to commend himself to the lord
possessor by means of these notes.' , The meaning of the first
inscription is found in the five descending semitones of the top voice
representing the five wounds of Christ #stigmata $. ;o. ,, is the third
mirror canon in this series of fourteen. The ,434 #Fulda$ version is
somewhat different from that which is found in the (oldberg cycle.

Canon ,- < Canon duplex uber undamental - 'oten a 6

Canon ,. < &riplex canon

This is the second canon from 57" ,0/4 that was known before the
discovery of the cycle in ,143. In ,43= !lias Caussmann painted what
we now know as the most authentic portrait of 5ach #right$. In his right
hand the composer holds the triplex canon #before ,14- known as 57"
,04=$ which he would present the following year, with his variations on
Vom "immel #oc# #57" 4=1$ for membership in )iFler6s ?ociety of
)usical ?ciences. 5ecause the canon6s soggetto is similar to the cantus
firmus of the Vom "immel #oc# variations it was thought that the canon
was composed in or about ,43=. 7ith the discovery of the fourteen
canons of the (oldberg cycle it was learned that the erstwhile Vom
#immel #oc# canon was actually written in con9unction with the
Goldberg Variations(

Canon ,3 < Canon a 3 per ,ugmentationem et $iminutionem

The last canon is for four voices in rhythmic proportions #mensuration
canon$. 5ach labeled it 'canon for 3 voices in augmentation and
diminution,' but for the (oldberg ground to appear the canon must also
move in contrary motion.

,. It is likely that the 'lord possessor' of the inscription has a double
meaning. It obviously refers to the owner of the book #Fulda$, but may
also refer to the Dord (od as well.
Canons from the Art of Fugue
The musical examples on this page are designed to be played from the Archiv #3., 403<
-$ recording of $ie %unst der uge+ )usica Anti*ua Eoln, einhard (oebel conducting.
This method for obtaining sound was intended for my students who have access to this
particular disk, but you may listen in if you wish. If you have obtained the F!! helper
application from "oyager #and configured your computer to receive these files$, you
should be able to insert the Archiv disc in the C% drive of your computer and hear the
$ie %unst der uge contains four canons which are among 5ach6s longest and
formally complex. True to the cyclical conception of which they are part, each
of the four develops aspects of fugal writing that are difficult to maintain in
7hile from head to tail a strict canon at the octave, the Canon alla Otta+a, for
example, contains fugal expositions of the sub9ect at the dominant, again at the
dominant in contrary motion, and at the tonic in contrary motion. Invertible
counterpoint at the ,0th and ,-th characteriFe the canons alla $ecima and
$uodecima, respectively, while the former contains a meandering diminution
of the sub9ect in its coda. The Canon per ,ugmentationem in contrario Motu
continues its invertible counterpoint #at the /va$ while developing the sub9ect,
as its title implies, by means of augmentation and contrary motion.
It is possible that the inspiration for these four canons came from 5ach6s own
uga Canonica in !pidiapente which he had earlier composed for the Musical
Offering, and to which they bear a marked resemblance.
Canon 1: The Canon alla Otta+a explores fugal techni*ue in its
reiteration of the head motive at the level of the dominant and in
contrary motion. This canonic 'sub9ect' is the melodic inversion of the
main theme of the ,rt of ugue.
Show Complete Score

Formally, the Canon alla Otta+a is the least complicated in that its high
voice consistently represents the leader, and its low voice, the follower.
The colored sections in the following picture represent analogous units.
If you click a section, the C% will begin playing there+

Canon 2: The sub9ect of this Canon alla $ecima consists of the

unadorned $ie %unst theme in contrary motion.
Show Complete Score

The second, third, and fourth canons of the ,rt of ugue each divide
neatly into two sections. In section one of this canon #mm. ,<..$, the
lower voice leads while the upper voice follows a ,0th higher #canon at
the ,0th$. After a short bridge passage #mm. .3<30$, there is an exchange
of registers in which the follower, this time in the lower voice, imitates
not a ,0th lower, but at the octave. Thus sections one and two exemplify
double counterpoint at the ,0th. The colored sections in the following
picture link analogous units. If you click a section, the C% will begin
playing there+

Canon 3: The sub9ect of this Canon alla $uodecima consists of $ie

%unst0s main theme with complete upper and lower neighbor
diminutions of each factor in an ascending triad outlining the rising >8 of
the theme6s head motive.
Show Complete Score

The formal organiFation of this canon is identical to that of its

predecessor. &ther than the substantial change of affect in head motives,
the primary innovation of Canon ;o. . is that its follower imitates at the
interval of the ,-th #/vaJ8th higher$ rather than the ,0th. The low voice
takes the lead in section one whereafter the high voice follows a ,-th
higher, exemplifying the fugal principle of 'real' answer. )idway
through the canon these registers are exchanged but with the follower
echoing the leader, not a ,-th lower, but at the octave #double
counterpoint at the ,-th$. The colored sections in the following picture
link analogous units. If you click a section, the C% will play it+

Canon 4: The sub9ect of this Canon per ,ugmentationem in contrario

Motu is a dis9unct variation of the $ie %unst theme.
Show Complete Score

This canon ranks among the most complicated in 5ach6s oeuvre. 7hile
simple in terms of form<<two sections in double counterpoint<<the
canon6s follower is in contrary motion A;% rhythmic augmentation to
its leader@ 5ach manages to sustain this display of contrapuntal fireworks
for fifty<two measures whereafter he causes the voices to exchange
registers and do it again in double counterpoint at the /va #mm. 8.<,01$@
This procedure is *uickly recogniFed, aurally, in the two places where
the leader executes ascending chromatics in eighths #which are
answered, of course, by descending chromatics in *uarters$. The colored
sections in the following picture represent analogous units. If you click a
section, the C% will begin playing there+
Anatomy of a Fugue
The musical examples on this page are designed to be played from the )usica Anti*ua
Eoln #Archiv 3., 403<-$ recording of the 'Art of Fugue' 57" ,0/0. This method for
obtaining sound was intended for my students who have access to this particular disk, but
you may listen in if you wish. If you have obtained the F!! helper application from
"oyager #and configured your computer to receive these files$, you should be able to
insert the Archiv disc in the C% drive of your computer and hear the examples.
I. %efinition of a Fugue
>olyphonic procedure involving a specified number of voices in which a
motive #sub9ect$ is exposed, in each voice, in an initial tonicHdominant
relationship, then developed by contrapuntal means.
II. Character of a Fugue
A fugue generally consists of a series of expositions and developments with no
fixed number of either. At its simplest, a fugue might consist of one exposition
followed by optional development. A more complex fugue might follow the
exposition with a series of developments, or another exposition followed by
one or more developments. Fugues that are tonally centered will expose the
sub9ect without venturing out of an initial tonicHdominant constellation.
III. >arts of a Fugue
A. )ain Idea of the Fugue and Cow It Is ?tated
,. Subject: )elody that comprises the primary melodicHrhythmic material
of the fugue. ?ub9ects typically have two parts+ the 'head' is calculated to
attract attention either by unusual rhythmic or intervallic emphasis, while the
'tail' is typically more con9unct, rhythmically uniform, and sometimes
modulatory. The head andHor tail itself may employ variation of one or two
smaller motives or figures...each comprised of a characteristic rhythm andHor
-. Answer: ?ub9ect imitation which immediately follows the first statement
of the sub9ect+ in a different voice and usually fifth higher. Answers are a
subclass of sub9ects which bear certain interval characteristics in relationship to
the sub9ect as it was originally stated.
o Tonal Answer: An answer that typically #though not always$
stays in the same key as the sub9ect. To do this it is necessary for the intervals
of the sub9ect to change somewhat. In a tonal answer 'do' and 'sol' switch
places+ The position occupied by 'do,' in the sub9ect, becomes 'sol' in the
answer and vice versa. ,nal5tical tec#nique9 1ub:ects #a+ing man5 s;ips
<dis:unct4 t#at focus upon t#e tonic and dominant scale degrees lend
t#emsel+es to a tonal ans=er(
o eal Answer: An answer that is a transposition of the sub9ect to
another key, usually the dominant. ,nal5tical tec#nique9 1ub:ects #a+ing
mostl5 steps <con:unct4 t#at don0t focus upon 2do2 and 2sol2 lend t#emsel+es to
a real ans=er(
.. Countersub9ect+ ?ubstantive figure that sometimes recurs immediately
following the sub9ect or answer #in the same voice$. Countersub9ects serve as
counterpoint to sub9ects #or answers$ sounding simultaneously in a different
voice. ;ot every fugue will have a countersub9ect. ?ome fugues may have more
than one countersub9ect.
3. False ?ub9ect+ ?ome people use the term 'false sub9ect' to describe an
entry of the sub9ect #or answer$ that begins but never finishes. This term should
be reserved for instances where the sub9ect appears to enter, breaks off, then
follows immediately with a complete statement. )ost other instances of
incomplete sub9ects are developmental and should be termed 'imitation.'
5. )ain ?ections of the Fugue
,. !"pos#t#on: >ortion#s$ of the fugue consisting of sub9ect#s$ with at least
one answer, and possibly countersub9ect#s$. To *ualify as an exposition, the
sub9ect #or answer$ must appear in all voices and answers must be in the proper
relationship #tonal or real$ to sub9ects. The exposition normally concludes
immediately after the sub9ect #or answer$ appears in the last voice. !xpositions
may defer the cadence until after a codetta. %ifferentiation between exposition
subtypes is based upon the order in which voices enter #as compared to the first
exposition$ and whether or not the sub9ect has changed.
o e<!xposition: An exposition, following the initial exposition, in
which the voices enter in the same order as the first exposition.
o Counterexposition+ An exposition following the initial exposition
in which the voices enter in a different order than they did in the first
exposition, or the sub9ect of the new exposition is a contrapuntal variation of
the original.
o %ouble !xposition: !xposition utiliFing a brand new sub9ect #i.e.
not contrapuntally derived from the first$. If the new sub9ect is uni*ue, then the
fugue is a double fugue #or, in the case of three sub9ects, triple fugue$.
-. %evelopmental !pisode+ ?ection in which motives from the
exposition are treated in se*uence, modulation, contrary motion,
double counterpoint, stretto, augmentationHdiminution, pedal, etc.
!pisodes are generally terminated by a cadence and may follow
one after the other. %evelopmental episodes characteristically
begin by departing from the sub9ect, to fragment or vary it in
some way, but gradually building up to a restatement of the
sub9ect in at least one voice. These statements of the sub9ect are
typically not in the tonicHdominant relationship of the exposition
and are called 'middle entries' #or in (erman $urc#f>#rung$.
!pisodes typically do not enunciate the sub9ect in all voices.
.. Coda or Codetta: Concluding segment of a section #codetta$ or of
the entire fugue #coda$. Codas and codettas often sound as if they
are something added after the structural end of the section or
work. The function of codettas is often modulatory #to return the
tonality to the key of the sub9ect after an answer at the dominant$.
;ot all fugues have these.
I". Compositional Techni*ues of the Fugue
A. Tonal "ariation
,. )odulation: epetition of a motive in another key. 5ach typically
arranges his fugues around closely related keys #ma9or and minor
keys immediately ad9acent to each other on the circle of fifths$.
-. )utation #also called 'change of mode'$+ ?tatement of the sub9ect
or answer #or any other primary material$ in the opposing mode.
A sub9ect first stated in minor and later stated in ma9or is said to
have 'mutated.'
5. Contrapuntal "ariation
,. Stretto: !ntry of a motive in a second voice before the first voice has
finished its statement. )otive can mean sub9ect, answer, countersub9ect, or any
other substantive melodicHrhythmic entity in imitation.
-. Augmentat#on$%#m#nut#on: ?tatement of a motive in rhythmic
durations that are proportionately doubled or halved.
.. &edal &o#nt: ?uspension of one pitch, often the bass, in such a manner
that it is alternately consonant then dissonant with the chord progression.
Fugues often conclude with episodes of pedal point.
3. etrograde: #rare$ ?tatement of the motive6s pitches in reverse order.
8. 'elod#c (n)ers#on: #Contrary )otion$ ?tatement of a motive where
interval directions have been made to move in the opposite direction of the
original motive. If the *uality of the intervals is preserved the motion is said to
be the 'mirror inversion.'
=. Se*uence: epetition of a motive at another pitch level, usually up or
down a step. !ach repetition is called a 'leg.' ?e*uences in which each leg
itself contains a se*uential pattern are said to be nested. 5ach6s se*uences tend
to be of this latter variety, with the overall se*uence comprised of two or three
legs, each leg comprised of two subsidiary units. For example+ study the
se*uences in the mirror fugues of ,rt of ugue . ?e*uential episodes seldom
appear in fugal expositions but are fre*uent accouterments to developments.
4. Contrapuntal (n)ers#on: #%oubleHTriple Counterpoint$ eappearance
of a pair of voices #double ctpt.$ or trio of voices #triple ctpt.$ in which registers
have been reassigned in such a way that the voices have crossed and the
interval relationship between voices is fundamentally altered.
a+ T,pes of Contrapuntal (n)ers#ons:
o At the -cta)e: Fourths become fifths, unisons become octaves,
etc. 7hile parallel 3ths sound fine, they do not invert contrapuntally, and
double ctpt. at the octave avoids them. ?ee the Canon per ,ugmentationem in
contrario Motu from the ,rt of ugue for an example of double counterpoint at
the octave.
o At the Tenth ./)a03rd1: >arallel motion tends to be avoided
altogether. This is because intervals that parallel acceptably in one texture #e.g.
.rds K =ths$ become unacceptable when inverted #/vas K 8ths$. ?tudy the
Canon alla $ecima of the ,rt of ugue.
o At the Twelfth ./)a02th1: 7ith the exception of .rds #which
remain .rds$, acceptable parallels become unacceptable when inverted at the
,-th. Thus, in the Canon alla $uodecima of the ,rt of ugue #which features
this type of double ctpt.$ the composer uses many parallel thirds.
b. Cow to Calculate Type of Contrapuntal Inversion+
1. %etermine interval that the lower voice has been moved 2>
2. %etermine interval that the higher voice has been moved %&7;. ;ote+
if the voices have not exchanged registers, the higher voice becoming the lower
and vice versa, then contrapuntal inversion has not occurred.
3. If steps , and - are each octaves, then the double counterpoint is at the
octave. &therwise, add the results of steps , and -, then subtract ,.
c. Cow to Calculate 7hat Intervals 5ecome After Inversion+
4. %ouble counterpoint L/va+ ?ubtract the interval #before inversion$ from 1 to
get the interval after inversion. For example+ a 3th before inversion will
become a 8th after inversion.
5. %ouble counterpoint L,0th+ ?ubtract the interval #before inversion$ from ,, to
get the interval after inversion. For example+ a 3th before inversion will
become a 4th after inversion.
6. %ouble counterpoint L,-th+ ?ubtract the interval #before inversion$ from ,. to
get the interval after inversion. For example+ a 3th before inversion will
become a 1th after inversion.
For >ractice+ ecogniFing Contrapuntal Inversions
The following examples of contrapuntal inversion are designed to be played
from the )usica Anti*ua Eoln #Archiv 3., 403<-$ recording of the 'Art of
Fugue' 57" ,0/0. The first system, in each example, is paired with the
analogous measures, in double counterpoint, several bars later. Answer the
following *uestions+
,. In what direction and how far is each part moved in analogous sectionsI
-. 7hat happens to vertical intervals between analogous sectionsI
.. 7hat is the basic interval of contrapuntal inversionI
3. 7hat types of motion #parallel, contrary, obli*ue$ characteriFe each
!"change of eg#sters .contrapuntal #n)ers#on1 #n
Canon per Augmentat#onem #n contrar#o 'otu
&la, mm+ 23/ &la, %ouble Ctpt+ 4 /)a .mm+ 253671
!"change of eg#sters .contrapuntal #n)ers#on1 #n
Canon alla %ec#ma
&la, mm+ 235 &la, %ouble Ctpt+ 4 17th .mm+ 443461
!"change of eg#sters .contrapuntal #n)ers#on1 #n
Canon alla %uodec#ma
&la, mm+ 8312 &la, %ouble Ctpt+ 4 12th .mm+ 423421
9ow to Anal,:e a ;ugue
5efore creating a time<line you will need to anal,:e your fugue. The following
*uestions and techni*ues are intended to facilitate such an analysis. A thorough
and accurate analysis will save time and effort when you come to the time<line
phase of the C% Counterpoint Companion. This document contains many links
to the Anatomy of a Fugue that you might find helpful to have read first.
9ow man, sect#ons are there and #n wh#ch measures do these
sect#ons beg#n and end< ,nal5tical &ec#nique9 loo; for cadences(
,. ;ot every cadence represents the end of a section, but every
section ends in a cadence.
-. ?ections typically cadence in keys that are closely related to the
home key. Closely<related keys differ by no more than one sharp
or flat.
.. In the context of the ,/th century fugue, authentic cadences #"<I$
predominate, half #I<"$ and deceptive #"<vi$ cadences appear less
often, and plagal cadences #I"<I$ appear seldom.
3. Fugal cadences are difficult to recogniFe because the composer
does not pause on the cadence chordG contrapuntal and harmonic
motion normally continues directly into the next section.
Cadences are often elided #the cadence chord serves dual function
of concluding one section and beginning the next$.
=hat #s the funct#on of each sect#on< ,nal5tical &ec#nique9 determine
if t#e section exposes, de+elops, or concludes material(
,. !"pos#t#on + ,nal5tical &ec#nique9 mar; all instances =#ere t#e
main idea is stated or ans=ered(
5ecause the exposition 'exposes' new material, all fugues begin with
an exposition. In the sense that it consists of the sub9ect stated and answered in
all voices, the exposition is the most predictable and form<defining section of
the fugue. The sub9ect #or answer$ may appear in any order, but in 5ach6s
fugues the bass voice will often take the last entry.
7hen the sub9ect is answered in a second voice, the first voice may
continue with a countersub9ect. ;ote all instances of countersub9ect.
Fugues may have more than one exposition. To *ualify as an
exposition the sub9ect must appear in all voices and in the prescribed
sub9ectHanswer relationship #tonal or real$. In a re<exposition, the prior sub9ect
is voiced in the same orderG in a counterexposition, the prior sub9ect is voiced
in a different order. A 'double exposition' consists of the exposition of a
second sub9ect #triple<exposition M third sub9ect, etc.$
-. %e)elopmental !p#sode + ,nal5tical &ec#nique9 note all instances of
contrapuntal elaboration(
?ections that elaborate upon the sub9ect by contrapuntal means are
called 'developmental episodes.' 7hile the primary function of a development
is to elaborate upon the sub9ect, developments often contain statements of the
fugue6s sub9ect outright, and these sub9ects are often answered.
>ossible contrapuntal elaborations include+ augmentationHdiminution,
melodic inversion #contrary motion$, contrapuntal inversion #double
counterpoint$, pedal point, modulation, se*uence, stretto, canon, simple
imitation, rhythmic and melodic permutation, fragmentation #separation of the
sub9ect6s head from its tail, etc$, truncation of the sub9ect, anticipatory
statements of the sub9ect6s head #false sub9ect$.
.. Conclud#ng Sect#ons + ,nal5tical &ec#nique9 listen for sections t#at
sound as if t#e5 are bringing t#ings to a close(
A section that concludes an interior exposition or development is
called a 'codetta.' Codettas sound as if they are appended after the structural
close of a main section. Codettas seldom last more than two or three bars.
)ore common is the 'coda,' which designates the conclusion of the
entire fugue. Codas often modulate to the key of the subdominant. Codas often
contain stretti, often visit the sub9ect one last time #usually in the bass voice$,
and often employ pedal point.