One of the best known pieces in a fascinating collection of 8 Short Preludes and Fugues, Prelude and Fugue in F major, BWV 556 is an outstanding example of how a composition of superb artistic quality can be created using fairly simple musical language.
The prelude is written in a ternary ABA form in 3/8 meter. The character is joyful, even playful and because of that many performers choose a rather quick tempo.
Part A consists of the musical idea which establishes the F major key in opening 4 measures and ends on a half cadence. Then we can see series of ascending sequences with triplet figures which end on a perfect cadence in the tonic key of F major.
Part B is much longer the Part A. Here we find the same kind of sequences with triplets and haf cadences in F major, G minor and perfect cadences in D minor, C major, and A minor.
The Prelude ends with exact repetition of Part A giving us a complete rounded ABA form.
The Fugue (4/4 meter) starts with a subject in the tenor voice the first part of which moves in eighth notes and the second part in sixteenth notes. These sixteenth note figures give the fugue a joyful character which requires a quick tempo.
As you listen to the recording of this fugue, it is best to count the number of subjects and notice in which voice it appears. There are total of 6 full subject entrances in this fugue. In other instances, the theme appears either in part or in modification.
Below you can see the general plan of this fugue.
1. Subject in the tenor (F major)
2. Answer in the alto (C major)
3. Subject in the soprano (F major)
4. Answer in the bass (C major)
(This completes the exposition)
6. Answer in the soprano (C major)
8. Subject in the bass (F major)
10. Partial subjects
11. Closing cadence in F major.
Episodes are written using melodic and rhythmical material from the subject. They are meant to connect various subject entrances and/or key areas. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is through sequences which we also encounter here and there.
From the above plan we can see that this is a rather simple fugue without subject entrances in other keys or without the canonic fugal entrances, called Stretto. Nevertheless, this entire Prelude and Fugue is so elegantly crafted that we never hear this simplicity and its artistic quality is very high.
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