Weekend Repertoire: Teaching Fugues

For this week's Weekend Repertoire feature I'd like to discuss teaching (and learning!) fugues! Fugues can be some of the most beautiful and rewarding pieces to learn as a pianist, but are also some of the most challenging to learn and to perform well. A pianist who is able to learn a fugue well is a pianist who is a careful and efficient practicer and a musician who has trained their ears well to listen to the sounds and dynamics coming out of the piano. One must possess good independence of hands and fingers to play a fugue well. All of these more advanced skills are difficult to learn, but are so important to the development of a fine pianist. I'd like to share a few tips on how to teach (and to learn!) fugues; hopefully some of them will come in handy, and hopefully others will have tips of their own to share!

First of all, what are some good, easier fugues to start out with? Although not necessarily fugues, the Bach Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Inventions are excellent to start with! Because many fugues have four or five parts, it is great to begin with only two parts to keep track of. I started learning inventions in junior high - I'd say they are probably late-intermediate (depending on the invention!). Some collections of Bach's Inventions:

J.S. Bach - Two-Part Inventions (Hal Leonard Piano Library)Bach 2 & 3 Part InventionsBach: Two- and Three-Part Inventions for the Piano, Vol. 16 (Schirmer's Library of Musical Classics)Two-Part Inventions (Alfred Masterwork Edition)J.S.Bach - Inventions and Sinfonias: Two- and Three-Part Inventions (Alfred Masterwork Edition)

Listen: Bach's Two-Part Invention No. 1, performed by Glenn Gould

Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is an excellent collection of preludes and fugues that every pianist should be familiar with. I would say that a good one to begin with would be either Fugue No. 2 in C minor (Book 1) or Fugue No. 21 in B-flat Major (Book 1). Of course there are many other fugues out there by Bach and other composers.

The Well-Tempered Clavier: Books I and II, CompleteThe Well-Tempered Clavier, Complete: Schirmer Library of Musical Classics, Volume 2057 (Schirmer's Library of Musical Classics)J. S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1THE Well-tempered Clavier - Revised Edition Part I, BWV 846-869 (Henle Music Folios)

Tips for Learning a Fugue

Analyzing a Fugue

So, for the purpose of this post, I made a copy of Bach's Fugue No. 2 in C minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1) and pretended like I was about to learn it (I actually learned it years ago...). Here is what I might do if I were to start learning this today. Here are the first two pages for your enjoyment :) Oh and my analysis is, of course, very technical (not!) - but I basically just wanted to give you some ideas.

First, I have highlighted the themeevery time it occurs in its full form, in yellow. I want to bring that out so you can hear it in each voice.

Next, I bracketed or highlighted other thematic material in blue. Sorry it's a little hard to see - there is some on the last line of page 1, some on line 2 of page 2, and other random bits of it scattered throughout. These are sections that are very close to the theme, but that vary a bit.

Then I discovered this little secondary theme made up of eighth notes in a pattern of three notes slurred and one note staccato (know that this articulation will vary a LOT depending on your edition or on the pianist who made the recording you listen to!), and marked it with a purple star whenever that occurred. Although secondary to the main theme, this stuff is also important and should come out a bit, especially if there is no theme going on as well.

And lastly, there is a bunch of other stuff going on, such as long sections of sixteenth note material, which I marked with a brown bracket. At a lot of these sections, I would probably bring these sixteenth note phrases out with some graded dynamics and nice phrasing of some sort.

Anyway, you get the general idea! I would listen to several recordings of this to hear different interpretations, because they will vary so much depending on the pianist.

What fugue-learning-tips-o-awesomeness do you have to add to the list? :)

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