Critical & Historical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 248 pages of information about Critical & Historical Essays.
was a poor set of dance forms, with the one exception of the fugue, the involved utterance of which precluded spontaneity and confined emotional design to very restricted limits.  It is exactly as if Wagner had been obliged to put his thoughts in quadrille form with the possible alternative of some mathematical device of musical double bookkeeping.  As it is, Bach’s innovations were very considerable.  In the first place, owing to the lack of the system of equal temperament, composers had been limited to the use of only two or three sharps and flats; in all the harpsichord music of the pre-Bach period we rarely find compositions in sharp keys beyond G, or flat keys beyond A[flat].  To be sure, Rameau, in France, began at the same time to see the necessity for equal temperament, but it was Bach who, by his forty-eight “Preludes and Fugues,” written in all the keys, first settled the matter definitely.

In the fugue form itself, he made many innovations consisting mainly of the casting aside of formalism.  With Bach a fugue consists of what is called the “exposition,” that is to say, the enunciation of the theme (subject), its answer by another voice or part, recurrence of the subject in another part which, in turn, is again answered, and so on according to the number of voices or parts.  After the exposition the fugue consists of a kind of free contrapuntal fantasy on the subject and its answer.  By throwing aside the restraint of form Bach often gave his fugues an emotional significance in spite of the complexity of the material he worked with.

[13] Pier Luigi, born in Palestrina, near Rome.



In the previous chapter it was stated that the various dances, such as the minuet, sarabande, allemande, etc., led up to our modern sonata form, or, perhaps, to put it more clearly, they led up to what we call sonata form.  As a matter of fact, already in the seventeenth century, we find the word sonata applied to musical compositions; generally to pieces for the violin, but rarely for the harpsichord.  The word sonata was derived originally from the Italian word suonare, “to sound,” and the term was used to distinguish instrumental from vocal music.  The latter was sung (cantata), the former was sounded (suonata) by instruments.  Thus many pieces were called suonatas; the distinguishing point being that they were played and not sung.  Organ sonatas existed as far back as 1600 and even earlier, but the earliest application of the word seems to have been made in connection with pieces for the violin.

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Critical & Historical Essays from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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