Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


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Joel Lester

Committee Members

Carl Schacter

Henry Burnett

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Although Heinrich Schenker's theory of tonal music goes very far towards uniting the traditionally independent domains of counterpoint and harmony, it does not deal directly or deeply with the connective role which imitative texture often plays in this synthesis. The obligations inherent in a canonic or fugal texture may limit compositional choices, but they also provide an underpinning of control and direction to voice leading. This dissertation demonstrates the structural role of imitation in tonal music by comparative analysis of a selected body of imitative music: the fugues of J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

A consistent and close interrelationship exists between voice leading and imitation in the fugues of the WTC–a relationship in which the type of imitative material adopted for a subject, the underlying linear motion, affects the basic format and the voice-leading details of fugal exposition in specific ways. Principles of voice-leading fundamental to tonality control the types of subjects used by Bach and the ways in which they are employed. The 43 non-modulating subjects in the WTC represent six structural types, and 36 of the subjects fall into three primary structural paradigms.

By systematically exploring the various subject types in the WTC and comparing the various exposition patterns which recur through consistent use of similar subject types, common structural features are shown to be related directly to imitative constraints, while unusual features are shown to arise through unique ornamental characteristics of the subjects themselves.

After discussing and comparing the voice-leading patterns of the fugue expositions in the WTC, I provide a broader perspective by reviewing previous analytical work on structural levels and tonal coherence in fugue, by analyzing and comparing three entire fugues, and by discussing the role of voice-leading patterns in Bach's non-fugal music. Finally, I provide a historical context for this analytical work by showing the close relationship between this voice-leading approach to imitative music and contemporaneous thoroughbass theory and practice.


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