What is a Fugue? So You Want to Write a Fugue

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

So You Want to Write a Fugue?

Here's a fugue by the famous pianist Glenn Gould.

Gould's composition: 《So You Want to Write a Fugue?》
So you want to write a fugue?
You've got the urge to write a fugue,
You've got the nerve to write a fugue,
So go ahead and write a fugue that we can sing.

Pay no heed to what we've told you,
Give no mind to what we've told you.
Just forget all that we've told you,
And the theory that you've read.
For the only way to write one,
Is just to plunge right in and write one.
So just forget the rules and write one,
Have a try, yes, try to write a fugue.

So just ignore the rules and try,
And the fun of it will get you,
And the joy of it will fetch you,
It's a pleasure that is bound to satisfy.
So why not have a try?
You'll decide that John Sebastian,
Must have been a very personable guy.

But never be clever for the sake of being clever,
For a canon in inversion is a dangerous diversion
And a bit of augmentation is a serious temptation
While a stretto diminution is an obvious solution
Never be clever for the sake of being clever
For the sake of showing off.

It's rather awesome, isn't it?
And when you've finished writing it,
I think you'll find a great joy in it (hope so)…
Well, nothing ventured nothing gained they say…
But still it is rather hard to start.
Let us try.

Right now?
We're going to write a fugue right now!

What is Fugue?

Canon, is song such that, given a melody, you compose a song using just the melody and variations.

The variations you can use are:

and any combinations of the above.

Canon, in a sense, is math. A melody, with combinatorial rules. The trick lies in that the result must still be pleasant.

Canon is difficult to write. And there are not that many canons around.

The most famous canon, is Pachelbel's Canon.

Pachelbel's Canon

With some relaxed rules,it's called a Fugue. This allows much more songs to be written that still pleasant.

Fugue, is thus cheating, relaxing the rules so more good song can be written. But a good fugue is still difficult to write. Especially ones that has more than 2 “voices” going on simultaneously. (a “voice”, means a melody.)

The most famous Fugue writer is Bach.

Here's a simple fugue by Bach.

Bach, “Little” Fugue.

Note how, a melody, is repeated all over the song, in different forms.

Fugue is acquired taste.

Here's one of Bach's famous fugue.

Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, organ

Here's some of Bach's more austere fugues. Augustness, Austerity, Pain and Suffering: 4 Piano Pieces to Die For