Reflection and compositional plan on ” Fugue for three”

Similar to the third assignments, I had difficulties getting started. After having made the decision of writing a fugue with the structure of a tango I started thinking about the main theme I would be using for the piece. Throughout the process of writing this short motive I realized, that after having worked  this theme for roughly half a week, I myself actually was not too pleased with what I could hear, so I decided to start from the beginning again with a new theme.

As already mentioned in my research point “Structure of a tango (Assignment 4)” , most tangos have an “A-B-A’-C-A” form. Throughout the process of writing this piece it ended up being more or less a “A-B-C-D-A” – form, although the sections A and C do have the connection of being written in a minor key, whereas sections B and D are written in a major key. I have given the last section the letter “A” due to the whole section begin a reversed version of the first “A”-section. Ever bar of the last section is played as a retrograde, except for the ones that involve the main theme, the rhythm (explained in the 5th paragraph below) and a slight variation in the very last two bars of the piece.

The tango structure also gave me a good basic construct to start from. In the already mentioned research point I also explain why the A-B-A-C-A form is written in 80 bars, having exactly 16 bars for each section.

In terms of the key signatures I started on D-minor, working my way over the next ones always using the same structure : Minor – Dominant 5th in Major – Minor of the same note . Starting on D-minor I therefore had the order : D-minor, A – major, A-minor, E -major, E-minor.

For the rhythm I first had a look at typical tango rhythms, which are usually either :

Tango rhythm 1


Tango rhythm 2

I decided to use both of them, the first one in the minor sections and the second one in the major sections. I used them by always (with a few exceptions)  giving at least one voice one of the rhythms, suitable to the section and always with different pitches.

According to this part of the course, this piece should be about focusing on the counterpoint mainly. For this fugue I therefore always used a different counterpoint, to keep the variety high. (Usually a fugue has either different counterpoints throughout, or always the same.) Whilst writing the counterpoint I tried to mostly keep the intervals to the voice playing the main theme (or towards the rhythm) either perfect ( 4th, 5th or 8ve) or at least non-dissonant ones (3rd and 6th). Here I had to make some exceptions as well, mainly to be able to construct dominant sept-chords, but on a few occasions also to keep the sound of the piece interesting. Furthermore, I purposely  did not include a climax in the middle parts of the piece, first of all, to keep it “flowing”, but also to keep it similar to Bach’s – Fugue in d-minor BWV 851, which was my very first introduction to fugues. Similar to Bach’s piece, I built up tension, by using a basso continuo* for the last for bars, and then finished with an E-major chord,

As already mentioned in my research point about the Fugue , the structure of it involves sections of the theme being played in different ways, and “episodes”, which are parts not involving the theme. The episodes of my piece usually have a length of four bars and often involve the according rhythm played by one voice of the marimba in an 5th interval.

I worked the theme in different ways 27 times throughout the fugue, in the following chart one can see, where, in which form I used it and what the starting note is.

Bar Oboe Marimba I Marimba II
1 Normal,  D
3 Normal, A
5 Normal, D
11 Retrograde, D
13 Normal,  G
15 Normal, D
21 Normal, A
23 Retrograde-Inversion, E
24 Inversion, E
26 Retrograde-inversion, E
28 Diminished variation, A
33 Inversion, E
34 Augmented variation,C
45 Retrograde, A
47 Retrograde-inversion,A
53 Normal, E
55 Retrograde, D
56 Variation, E
58 Inversion, E
59 Normal variation, E
65 Normal, E
67 Normal, A
69 Retrograde, E
75 Normal, E
77 Normal variation, B
79 Normal variation, E

Initially, I wanted the marimba to be played with medium yarn-mallets, unfortunately the software Sibelius, which I use to write my pieces, only has the ability to make the marimba sound as if it were played with hard ones. I would have made a note saying, that the piece sounds different than initiated, but throughout writing it I realized, that had yarn mallets might be more suitable .

The choice of instruments was not too difficult. Due to me really liking the biting, strong sound of the oboe, especially the low notes,  I chose the french version (oboe d’amore), which has a lower pitched range than the normal one. The marimba I chose due to the warm sound it can produce when being played on lower sounds. It also gave me the possibility to give the fugue three different voices, and create chords, when being played with two mallets in each hand.


Overall I felt really challenged writing this piece, even though I had with the structural mixture of a fugue and a tango a strong basic construct to start on. Like for my third assignment, the hardest part for me was to find an appropriate start, in this case a theme, which I’d be able to use in different ways. I nevertheless, really enjoyed working on the piece once I got started.