Polyphony (2)

I interrupted my discussion of polyphony, sometimes called counterpoint, to meditate on my birthday. I now return to the subject of multiple-melody music.

About the fugue, the most complex and sophisticated polyphonic musical form ever devised by man: Composers have varied the form of the fugue. Bach himself showed how much variety could be introduced into the form in his The Well-Tempered Clavier (Das wohltemperierte Klavier in German), two sets of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys for keyboard (a total of 48 different pieces). In Bach’s day, clavier meant “keyboard” and referred to a variety of instruments including the harpsichord, clavichord, and organ. So the collection’s title clearly indicates that the pieces were intended to be for keyboard soloists.

By the time Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart arrived on the scene in 1756, the Baroque period had come to an end, and the Classical period had begun. The tastes of listeners had changed. They wanted a clear melody with accompaniment rather than polyphony but demanded greater complexity in the total musical form. The sonata form resulted. Far more complex than any musical form before the Classical period, the sonata consists of three parts, the exposition, development, and recapitulation. Composers of the Classical period (Mozart, Hayden, and Beethoven) typically used the form this way: the exposition laid out two themes, one in the tonic (the key of the piece) and one in the dominant (five tones higher than the tonic). The development offered variations on the tonic theme and sometimes on the dominant theme as well. And the recapitulation restated both themes, this time entirely in the tonic key. Often, the composer offered a coda at the very end.

More next time.

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