Prelude and Fugue in F Major, BWV 856 from WTC I

Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene


This prelude is dance-like instrumental type of piece. Although it is written in 12/8 meter, it is not a gigue because its character is different from the gigue. It is a little bit similar to Sicilian because of its meter, and graceful character. However, it does not have an iambic feeling. This piece is written in F major, which was often used for a pastoral scene. This idyllic pastoral image corresponds well with this piece.

Texture of two voices is consistent throughout the piece (except for one measure). It consists of three elements: arpeggiated sixteenths, arpeggiated eights and long trills. Usually, while one voice has arpeggios in sixteenths, the other voice has arpeggios in eighths or trills. This piece is 18 measures long and according to tonal areas can be divided into two parts: mm. 1-8 and mm. 9-18. Proportionally, m. 9 is a halfway of the Prelude.

The first part of the Prelude can be divided into a few sections. First, mm. 1-2 establishes the Tonic key. Mm. 3-4 have sequences where tension goes up and down because of the secondary dominant chords and resolutions. In mm. 5-6 sequences are used to modulate to D minor key (parallel minor). In mm. 7-8 there is an attempt to make a cadence in D minor. Establishment of D minor key in m. 8 marks the end of the first half of the Prelude.

In m. 9, which is the halfway of the piece, the climax starts to build up. There are prominent dissonances created by the diminished seventh chords. The upper voice reaches the g#” and a”. The long trills on the high notes also help to create tension. Sequences in mm. 11-12 help to modulate to G minor key which is closely related key to both F major and D minor. In m. 12, the long trill starts in the right hand. In m.13, the third voice is added to help to build up tension. Two tritons are formed in the two upper voices e’-b’ flat and e’ flat-a’.

In m. 14 the pedal point starts with a long trill on the b flat (V4/2). This is a sign of returning to a Tonic (F major) key. In m. 15, the upper voice reaches the highest point c”’ which can be considered as the climactic point. Although m. 16 is still intense because of the seventh chords and the secondary dominant, tension is starting to resolve. After the Subdominant in m. 17, the final cadence is formed in the last measure of the Prelude. It is interesting that Bach forms only one complete cadence in the entire Prelude. This Prelude shows his ability to write in the perpetual motion. The music never stops.

Relationship Between Prelude and Fugue

There is an evident relationship between this Prelude and Fugue. First of all, there is an immediate transition between Prelude and Fugue. Prelude ends with no long chord, no fermata. Fugue begins right after the Prelude. The other connection between Prelude and Fugue is the meter. The Prelude is written in 12/8 and the Fugue in 3/8. The Fugue is also dance-like. Also all the pitches of the fugue subject (although not in the same order) can be found in the first two measures of the Prelude.


As it was mentioned before, this Fugue is instrumental dance-like piece. It resembles Passepied which usually is a faster version of the minuet. This fugue, as the Passepied starts with the upbeat, and its subject is roughly four measures long (also typical for Passepied). Passepied in the dance suites usually appeared in pairs (da capo). In this case, Bach paired this Prelude with the Fugue (they both exhibit dance features), but without da capo.

The Fugue is written in three parts and has 72 measures. The subject of this Fugue consists of eighth and sixteenth notes, which with an exception of the leap of the minor sixth move stepwise up and down. The subject introduces all pitches of the F major scale. Countersubject is some sort of extension of this subject. It consists from sixteenth notes which also (except one minor third leap) move stepwise. There are a total number of 14 entries (for list of a detailed analysis of subject and countersubject entries refer to Appendix 1).

The Fugue starts with an exposition mm. 1-13. The first subject comes in the Alto voice, the tonal answer follows in the m. 5 in the Soprano in the Dominant key. The Alto has the first countersubject at the same time. In m. 10, the subject enters in the Bass in the Tonic key, while countersubject is in the Soprano. The exposition is followed by the first episode in mm. 13-17. An interesting feature of this episode is that it has the countersubject in the Bass. The episode is in the Dominant key.

The next section can be treated as a contra exposition in mm. 18-31. The subject appears again in m. 18, in the Soprano, in the Tonic key. The countersubject here is divided between the Alto and the Bass. The next subject entry is in the Alto voice in the Dominant, while the countersubject is featured in the Soprano. The next subject entry is significant because it introduces the first Stretto. Overall, the Fugue has three Strettos (for details of the Strettos refer to the Appendix 2). The first Stretto starts in mm. 26 between the Bass and the Alto. The pitch interval is an octave, time interval three quarters, beginning pitch is C. This Stretto is followed by the second Episode, which modulates in to D minor (parallel minor). In m. 35 in the Bass there is an attempt to make the subject.

M. 36, is the halfway of the piece. The pedal point starts in the Bass on the Dominant of the D minor. From this point onwards, the music starts to go into the climax. For building up the climax Bach uses the Strettos, dissonant chords on the strong beats (diminished). The intervals of the tritone are very prominent (this is another connection with the Prelude). The second Stretto is a three voice Stretto with two-voice overlap. The Soprano overlaps with the Alto, and Alto with the Bass. Both times the pitch is A, pitch interval an octave and time interval three quarters. This section is written in D minor which is concluded with the first cadence in mm. 45-46.

Immediately, after this cadence, begins the third Stretto. This Stretto is written in three voices, with two-voice overlap. The Bass overlaps with the Alto, and the Alto with the Soprano. Both times the starting pitch is D, pitch interval is an octave and time interval is three quarters. This section is written in G minor and it is concluded with a cadence in mm. 55-56. This section is followed by the third Episode which brings back the Tonic key. Although the harmony is less dense, the tension is still growing.

In m. 54, in the Bass voice, the scale starting from G is going up. This scale goes up without a break for three octaves (it is doubled by thirds in mm. 60-63) and in m. 63 it reaches g” which is the climactic point. In m. 65, the last subject appears in the Soprano key. It has some added notes. The closing episode starts in m. 68. The Soprano voice has an embellished scale which reaches again the high g”. The tension is finally resolved in the last two measures by the final cadence in F major.

The Fugue shows Bach mastery of the contrapuntal writing. It also exhibits his sense of proportions. This Fugue is architectural. The total number of the subjects is 14. He uses seven in the first half and seven in the second half of the piece. The first half of the Fugue has strong sense of the Tonic and Dominant keys and after that it modulates into D minor. The Second half goes into a climax.

Strettos, strong dissonances, minor keys, upward scales help to create the climax. Bach masterfully resolves tension in the closing measures. The subject appears five times in all voices except the Bass (although the Bass has an attempt to make the subject in m. 35). In the Strettos, Bach uses all possible voice combinations except Bass/Soprano (although again the same attempt of the subject in the Bass gives a feeling of the Bass/Soprano Stretto).

This Fugue also shows Bach’s talent to combine the instrumental dance style with the contrapuntal writing. Moreover, this Prelude and Fugue complements each other very well. While the Prelude shows more harmonic vertical thinking, the Fugue exhibits more linear thinking. At the same time both the Prelude and the Fugue are dance-like and have similar characters. Therefore this set of two pieces is very united. The overall effect is graceful and esthetically pleasing.

Appendix 1: Subject and Countersubject Entries

 No. Measure No. Voice Beginning Pitch
1S 1 (with a pick- up) Alto C (in the Tonic)
2S 5 (with a pick-up) Soprano F (tonal answer, in the Dominant key; the first interval is changed)
1C 5 Alto Countersubject
3S 10 (with a pick-up) Bass C (Tonic) The end of the exposition
2C 10 Soprano Countersubject The end of the exposition
3C 13 Bass Countersubject (without a subject)
4S 18 (with a pick-up) Soprano C (Tonic) beginning of the contra exposition
4C 18 divided between Alto and Bass F
5S 22 (with a pick-up) Alto F (Dominant)
5C 21 Soprano G
6S 26 (with a pick-up) Bass C (Tonic)
7S 28 (with a pick-up Alto C (Tonic)
35 (with a pick-up)- Bass C# (attempt to do the subject)
8S 37 (with a pick-up) Soprano A (d minor parallel key) The halfway of the fugue.
9S 39 (with a pick-up) Alto A (d minor)
10S 41 (with a pick-up) Bass A (d minor)
11S 47 (with a pick-up) Bass D (g minor) one sixteenth note added to the subject
12S 49 (with a pick-up) Alto D (g minor)
13S 51 (with a pick-up) Soprano D (g-minor)
14S 65 (with a pick-up) Soprano C (Tonic) This subject is altered (embellished)

Appendix 2: Stretto

No Measure No Voices Pitch interval Time interval (in quarter notes) Beginning pitch of the subject (beginning pitch of the following entry)
1 26 (with a pick-up) B A (2v) 8↑ 3 C (C)
2 36 (with a pick-up) S A (3v, 2 v overlap) 8↓ 3 A (A)
  39 (with a pick-up) A B 8↓ 3 A (A)
3 47 (with a pick-up) B A (3v, 2 v overlap) 8↑ 3 D (D)
49 (with a pick-up) A S 8↑ 3 D (D)



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