On-line Book ReviewYO TOMITA
It may appear at first that the author is setting himself an enormous, if not impossible, task; fugue is a genre in which each part is based on the same melodic idea; thus there is no clear distinction between the melody and the bass that Schenkerian analysis needs to distinguish, and so it is not an ideal model to apply the Schenkerian method of analysis. (In fact, Schenker himself attempted only a few analyses on such easy fugues as the fugue in C minor from Book I).
Once start reading it, however, it becomes clear that the author has a host of fascinating ideas about analysing Bach’s fugues in this way. By zooming into various structural levels of fugue and by breaking them down into a harmonic skeleton, he often succeeds in demonstrating how Bach’s contrapuntal techniques functions tonally, and how the composer may have conceived these harmonically in the first place. Although there are also other places where he encounters analytical problems, his observations generally give fresh insight into the matters that are either not seriously challenged or taken for granted by the traditional approaches, e.g. discussion of the precise ending point of the subject, and the relationship of tonic and dominant notes in subject and answer to be viewed within a single harmony, and so on.
Renwick’s discussion is thorough and systematic. He starts with the
historical background of fugal analysis, and quickly moves on to the exhaustive
discussion on subject and answer, where he deals with nearly 300 works
and classifies them as subject categories and paradigms. This is most impressive;
the detailed discussion of each category means that he does away with the
narrative drive that the monograph of this kind is usually expected to
have. He then expounds the tonal principles in fugal expositions by using
this method of analysis, and explores the relationship between imitative
counterpoint and voice-leading in fugue.
1. Approaches to Fugal Analysis
My criticisms are all minor, some of which are perhaps inherent in this
type of analytical discussion where ambiguities must remain. The premise
in Schenkerian analysis that the fundamental melodic line has to be a conjunctive
motion (normally descending) automatically restricts the way the discussions
can be unfolded naturally. The fugue subject of BWV 892/2 is a case in
point: how can we see that the first note of the line ‘must be inferred
from the context of the initial arpeggiation’ (p.49)? Surely we cannot
take into account a note that Bach did not write. Many fugue subjects start
with an ascending motion, but somehow Renwick often excludes this element
from the Urlinie; instead he calls it as ‘initial arpeggiation’
or ‘initial ascent’ (i.e. it is part of the area where tonic is established).
It is unclear how he arrived at the shape of the fugue subjects of BWV
875/2 (as 5-4-3) and 538/2 (as 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1), for instance. There are
an unusually large number of typographical errors, too. I have no idea
where the variant readings of BWV 858/2, bars 32-33 (p. 213) originate.
Despite such minor reservations, Renwick’s discussion is full of insightful
ideas and observations, and certainly it is a welcome addition to the Bach
literature on analysis.
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