Book 1 - No. 12 - F minor - Fugue
music || notes || words || images prelude


The subject of this fugue is very chromatic: initially, it feels remote, unstable, blurring the distinction between minor and major to create a sort of unclassified mode or tonality. It falls into three articulations, the first two comprising four notes a piece that emphasize a downward motion from the fifth degree of the scale (dominant). The third articulation is also essentially four pulses, but it hangs for two beats, suspended, pregnant, preparing for a dramatic and final descent to the tonic (first degree of the scale). This half-note suspension is prominent throughout the fugue (naturally), creating a series of strong cadences that provide milestones of resolution all along the way. With its quartet-note pace, the subject resolutely walks from the dominant down to the tonic.

The primary countersubject forms a perfect foil to the subject. Dominated by sixteenth notes, it runs at four times the speed of the subject. While the subject stoutly sinks down, the countersubject seems to bubble ever upward. As the half note suspension in subject resolves downward, so, simultaneously, the countersubject trills upward, likewise resolving to its own tonic note. The countersubject also influences most of the episodic material, further saturating the fugue with its covert, counter personality. The episodes continue the focus on the contrast of contrary motion. With the subject, countersubject and the episodes combined, this fugue is all about moving up and down simultaneously.

With its chromatic subject and a slightly ambiguous modal nature, this fugue also features strong contrasts between minor and major. This is not unusual; the harmonic motion between major and minor keys is a chief source of narrative in nearly all of Bach's fugues. The contrast is most vivid in this fugue when the subject enters in a clear, major tonality, followed by second entry in the major, and a subsequent episode that reinforces the new, warm, sunny tone before turning again to the darker, original mode. This journey through the major and back to the minor again serves at least two powerful purposes. First, the entry in the major lends the subject a new identity: familiar yet recast in a more friendly form. Now, the subject is perhaps more appealing, certainly more ingratiating. With its reappearance in the minor, the subject appears yet again, even stronger. It brings an even deeper satisfaction, an even sharper recognition. Miraculously, the initially remote and tentative subject transforms into a solid song, a melody.