Master of Arts
De Souza, Jonathan
Stretto—the technique of using a fugue subject in counterpoint with itself, beginning at different time points—occurs prevalently in fugues by J. S. Bach and other baroque composers. This study investigates the formal function of stretto using a corpus analysis of Bach’s use of stretto in the forty-eight fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier. It documents details regarding each instance of stretto within the corpus and explores connections between these data using graphs and statistical tests, generally as well as in investigation of three specific hypotheses. The conclusion, density, and quantity hypotheses predict that there will be more stretto passages, time-intervals between onsets of adjacent entries in stretto passages will become smaller, and there will be more entries per stretto passage towards the end of the composition. The results do not provide strong evidence supporting any of these hypotheses, and they directly contradict the expectations of the density hypothesis.
Summary for Lay Audience
Stretto is a compositional technique of using a fugue subject in counterpoint with itself, beginning at different time points, similar to how two voices in a musical round or a canon enter with the same melody at different times. This technique occurs prevalently in fugues by Baroque composers, including those of J.S. Bach. The Well-Tempered Clavier is made up of two volumes of preludes and fugues, with one prelude and fugue set in each major and minor key in each book. The complete set of forty-eight preludes and fugues is an important collection of works within J.S. Bach’s output, within the study of Baroque counterpoint, and within the repertoire of pianists. This study investigates how elements of stretto relate to location within the fugue across all forty-eight fugues in the Well-Tempered Clavier. It documents details regarding each instance of stretto within the corpus and explores connections between these data using graphs and statistical tests. In addition to a general inquiry, three specific hypotheses are explored: the conclusion, density, and quantity hypotheses. All three of these hypotheses are based on the idea, prevalent in the scholarship, that stretto will occur primarily near the end of fugues, entries in stretto will get closer together (smaller gaps between entries produce more overlap of entries) and function as a technique to build toward a climactic conclusion. The results do not provide strong evidence supporting any of these hypotheses, and they directly contradict the expectations of the density hypothesis, showing that our understanding of stretto is not as simple as the literature implies.
McDonald, Kathryn, "Exploring Stretto: An Investigation into the Use of Stretto in J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier" (2019). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6759.