Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





William Rothstein

Committee Members

Poundie Burstein

Norman Carey

Robert Cuckson

Subject Categories

Music | Music Theory


Fugue, Analysis, Schenkerian Analysis, J. S. Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, Heinrich Schenker


This dissertation examines voice leading in the fugues of J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier from a Schenkerian perspective. In Bach’s fugues, thematic material usually permeates all the parts, making the surface diminutions unusually complex. Given the predominance of the subject, there is a tendency in the Schenkerian tradition to base the voice-leading analysis of a fugue on an a priori analysis of the subject by itself. Based on the subject’s outline, one might expect to find the fugal thematic layout reflected in the underlying voice leading, conceiving the fugal surface as an elaboration of a simpler quasi-fugal substructure. I argue that such a conception is untenable. Since Bach continually sets thematic entries in different contexts, one cannot assume that a surface repetition of a theme implies an underlying repetition of a melodic and/or harmonic pattern. An acontextual analysis of the subject (or any other thematic unit) cannot be systematically applied to actual entries in the piece. Therefore, imitation and other fugal features are not systematically reflected in the voice-leading structure.

In chapter 1, I outline the main issues that arise in the Schenkerian literature on fugue and identify the abovementioned subject-centric tendency. In this subject-centric approach, theorists (notably, William Renwick) often attempt to incorporate the fugal thematic layout into voice-leading models, thereby giving more weight to thematic material than it is normally given in other genres.

In chapter 2, I explore the interplay between thematic material and voice-leading structure, using the imaginary continuo as a pivotal construct. Unlike theme-oriented models, the imaginary continuo is mostly theme-neutral, thus the thematic layout at the surface is not necessarily reflected underneath the surface. Following Schenker’s separation of fugal technique from the study of counterpoint in the abstract, I distinguish between thematic counterpoint––the layout, combination, and manipulation of thematic materials in several parts––and voice-leading counterpoint––the polyphonic organization of voices in the underlying tonal structure, as represented by the imaginary continuo. I demonstrate that features of the thematic counterpoint (imitation, invertible counterpoint, inversion, augmentation, etc.) are not consistently mirrored in the voice-leading counterpoint. Therefore, the subject, being part of the fugue's thematic material, does not determine the underlying voice leading at any level; rather, thematic entries overlay the voice-leading structure in varied and complex ways. The dissertation concludes (chapter 3) with analyses of two complete fugues, the F major and G minor from WTC 1, which further demonstrate the ideas discussed in earlier chapters.

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