Book 2 - No. 15 - G major - Fugue
music || notes || words || images prelude


Perhaps of all the fugues in the Well-Tempered Clavier, this feels to be the "weakest" in terms of an overall listening experience. Its character is light, its mood somewhat lackluster if not wan. As a musical narrative it lacks dramatic tension. As a meditation, it is not overly compelling. Its chief pitfall, however, is that its contrapuntal texture is unclear.

I agree with a number of observations from Bruhn, some of which are included here, though she does not necessarily conclude with a negative judgement about the composition. Perhaps I am missing something. Despite the objective nature of these observations, the ultimate musical experience is subjective. This is only my opinion. Nonetheless, it is useful to try to understand its weaknesses as they highlight the better qualities of Bach's outstanding fugues. I am sure Bach himself would appreciate this exercise.

First, the subject itself is lacks character. It is rather unmelodious. Its "rhythm" is but a long series of unbroken 16th notes and its "melody" is series of leaps outlining chords in the manner of mere figuration or accompaniment. Further more, its ending is unclear. Without a prominent conclusion, the subject blends directly into a brief episode a few bars before the next subject entry in a new voice. In these respects, the subject is more about simply motive, giving the fugue the feel of an invention.

The countersubjects closely match the subject in general pitch outline and feel much line ornamental variants of each other: it is not clear which voice is singing the subject. It is here that the contrapuntal texture becomes blurry. Bruhn points out that, unusual for counterpoint, the countersubjects and the subject itself essentially reduce to a simple series of descending notes. Despite what might be regarded as a bit of ornamental flourish, nearly all the musical lines move in the same direction with little melodic or rhythmic juxtaposition.

Finally, the fugue as a whole spends a large portion of its time in episodes. There are only 6 subject entries, each one padded by episode before the next subject entry. Two large episodes complete the body of the work and their contents are chiefly drawn from the subject and counter material. Where the vertical texture is unclear on one hand, the horizontal movement is somewhat unclear on the other: exposition and episode seem only weakly differentiated.

If feels disappointing and perhaps erroneous to have these reactions to music from the hand of one otherwise so consistent and magnificent as Bach. What where his objectives here? A lesson in subtlety? A lapse, which surely he of all is entitled to on occasion? Maybe you will find something utterly different in this fugue.