Module WXM-3302:

Module Facts

Run by School of Music and Media

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr John Cunningham

Overall aims and purpose

  1. to advance the students’ knowledge and understanding of fugue as a compositional procedure;
  2. to advance the students’ understanding of compositional practices of the 18th century;
  3. to provide the students with a detailed understanding of writing and analysing music composed according to fugal principles;
  4. to introduce students to a range of musical and theoretical sources in developing their understanding of the topic and their ability to critically engage with the wider aesthetic discourse surrounding composition of the 18th century;
  5. to provide students with the skill to judge the effectiveness and accuracy of their work.

Course content

Fugue, in one form or another, has been a prominent aspect of Western art music since the late Middle Ages. It can perhaps best be described as a contrapuntal compositional procedure, in two or more voices, in which a short theme (the subject) is introduced in imitation (based on tonal principles); this subject then recurs throughout the rest of the composition. Fugues typically have three sections, using terminology shared with sonata-form: exposition, development, recapitulation. Fugue is not a fixed form, however: it is best understood as a compositional procedure. By the end of the 17th century, fugue was widely regarded as the fullest expression of imitative polyphony. The fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) represent the apex of the style, particularly his Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue). The status of the fugue waned in the late 18th century, though we still find it cultivated in the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. This module will examine theories about fugue and its characteristics; the primary musical focus will be on the fugal style of JS Bach. Students will learn how to analyse and assess fugal compositions, and learn how to compose a fugal exposition.

Assessment Criteria


Please see the Explicit Marking Criteria for Harmony and Counterpoint (module handbook) for specific criteria.

Work which displays basic, restricted knowledge of the subject, with simple ability at conceptual thought, and a limited awareness of issues, but has some evidence of a generally intellectual approach, with fair expression


Please see the Explicit Marking Criteria for Harmony and Counterpoint (module handbook) for specific criteria.

The work should display a sound grasp of the subject, a good level of conceptual thought, awareness of the main issues, with evidence of intellectual acumen and good expression.


Please see the Explicit Marking Criteria for Harmony and Counterpoint (module handbook) for specific criteria.

Work which displays a thorough grasp of the subject, with evidence of further study, deeper thought, originality of approach and excellent written skills.

Learning outcomes

  1. developed a detailed understanding of fugue as a compositional procedure, primarily as used by J. S. Bach and his contemporaries;

  2. developed a detailed understanding of theoretical discourse relating to fugue in the high baroque and classical periods;

  3. gained a critical awareness of analytical techniques applicable to the music of JS Bach, Haydn, Mozart and their contemporaries;

  4. gained a secure understanding of a range of theoretical sources and their application to practical music-making and composition.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Coursework 1

Assessment details: Each week you will be given unassessed coursework to be completed for the seminars, which serves to build up the skills required in the assessed components. The assessed components all involve two elements, jointly or severally: (1) analysis of the repertoire using the formal analytical approaches taught in the module, and (2) analysis in practice – i.e. demonstrating an ability to write in a pastiche style based on the analytical methods taught. We will develop techniques of reduction and expansion taught in years 1 and 2. You will not be graded on your compositional creativity but on your ability to show your understanding of the analytical principles through practice. Prose descriptions are often required to supplement your score analysis; in such instances, no word limit is set: they are intended to be used in conjunction with your score analysis and should discuss elements of the work that are not easily accessible from the score analysis, such as unusual formal procedures or deviations from normative examples discussed.

Coursework 1: this typically comprises two elements: (1) an analysis of a fugal exposition, with slurs and figured roman numerals and a short prose description; (2) analysis in practice: writing a fugal exposition in invertible counterpoint.

COURSEWORK Coursework 2

Coursework 2: this typically comprises two elements: (1) writing a countersubject against a given subject, in invertible counterpoint; (2) analysis in practice: writing middle entries and episodes based on the subject and countersubject in the first question.

COURSEWORK Main assignment

Main assignment: this typically comprises two elements: (1) an analysis of a completed fugue, with slurs and figured roman numerals and a short prose description; (2) analysis in practice: writing a fugal exposition in invertible counterpoint.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


11 lectures (1 hour each)

Private study

Including preparation for lectures and seminars; and completing un-assessed coursework. Students are welcome to have individual tutorials about any aspect of this module and the assignments.


11 seminars (1 hour each)


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Musicianship skills – recognition, classification, contextualisation, reconstruction, exploration
  • Creative skills – conception, elaboration, adaptation, presentation, collaboration, preservation
  • Intellectual skills specific to Music – contextual knowledge, cultural awareness, critical understanding, repertoire knowledge, curiosity, analytical demonstration
  • Intellectual skills shared with other disciplines – research and exploration, reasoning and logic, understanding, critical judgement, assimilation and application
  • Skills of communication and interaction – oral and written communication, public presentation, team-working and collaboration, awareness of professional protocols, sensitivity, ICT skills, etc.
  • Skills of personal management – self-motivation, self-critical awareness, independence, entrepreneurship and employment skills, time management and reliability, organisation, etc.


Resource implications for students

Module materials: No text book is required for this module: as with WXC/WXM 1004, 1008 and 2207, you will be provided with detailed notes for each week of this module. The notes will be posted on Blackboard (complete with audio files, where applicable). You should also familiarise yourself with relevant repertoires, aurally and by consulting the broad collection of scores in the Library (you will be directed to specific examples, as necessary). Please note that you may be given additional materials in class (lectures and seminars) which will not be posted on Blackboard. If you miss a class it is your responsibility to ensure that you have acquired any such materials. You may collect materials from me directly: they will not generally be left in the module pigeon hole.

Talis Reading list

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: