Concerning Ricercar Qualities in the Fugue in C major from J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book I

Boris D. Napreyev


The genre of the instrumental ricercar became the mode of expression for many innovative tendencies of
professional music in the 17th century. This genre made it especially possible to combine many discoveries of the
contrapuntal technique into a certain logical entity. According to the author of the article, such a unifying force was
presented by the stylistic features of the ricercar, which spanned a complex of technical means and characteristics
of the instrumental imitational ricercar. The latter absorbed into itself the force of the simple and complex types
of counterpoint: the entire scope of the technique of inversion and technique of additional voices, the possibilities
of augmenting and diminishing the musical material, the diversity of canonic and simple imitative forms, varying
countersubjects, etc. The stylistic features of the ricercar present not merely a certain assortment of technical means,
but a system, which provides for their complex interaction. When they are present, the polyphonic formations which
carry out the functions of initial connection are capable of providing the necessary quantity of connected resultants.
A convincing example of J.S. Bach’s use of the benefits of this system is his Fugue in C major from Book I of
his Well-Tempered Clavier. The author of the article examines the technical means by which Bach achieves the
remarkable variety of strettos in this fugue.

Keywords: ricercar, stylistic features of the ricercar, contrapuntal technique, complex counterpoint, fugue, stretto,

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