Charles Gounod on Fugue (ca. 1858)

An academic fugue is a fugue written by a student or apprentice as part of their training. The term also refers to the form and style of such fugues. From 1857 to 1858, Charles Gounod gave lessons in counterpoint and fugue to René Franchomme in Paris. This was the same period during which Gounod composed his most famous opera, Faust. As an introduction to Franchomme’s more advanced assignments, Gounod wrote the following summary of fugue, its characteristics, and its required elements. [All of Franchomme's lessons can found on this site under "Counterpoint."]


Fugue is a musical composition in which we employ all the species of counterpoint, and in which, therefore, we can say that florid counterpoint does all the work. Only in fugue, we use certain new elements which we will first discuss, in particular:

1. The foundation of fugue is a musical idea, a motif, that one names the Subject.

2. The subject goes from the [key of the] tonic to the [key of the] tonic, or from the tonic to the dominant, becoming what we term the Answer. If the subject goes from the tonic to the tonic, the answer moves from the dominant to the dominant. If the subject goes from the tonic to the dominant, the answer goes from the dominant to the tonic.

3. In addition, the subject receives one or more accompaniments that we name Countersubjects.

4. Using the subject and countersubject or countersubjects we set up, in the course of the fugue, developments and episodes.

5. Finally, we end a fugue by means of what we call Strettos.


We speak now of the order and manner in which one sets forth the elements.

1. One presents the subject and accompanies it with the countersubject. Or if one prefers, one lets the subject be heard solo and contents oneself with making the countersubject enter with the answer.

2. If the fugue consists of two voices, then the first appearance of the subject and the answer constitute what we call the Exposition. If the fugue has three voices, the first is called the Subject, the second the Answer, and the third the Subject. If it has four voices they are called Subject, Answer, Subject, and Answer in turn. This the the Exposition of the fugue.

3. After the exposition we make an episode or development with a fragment of the subject or the countersubject. Then we return with first the answer and then the subject. This return of the answer and subject is called the Counterexposition.

4. Then we enter an extended period of development that consists of taking the subject and its accompaniment through different keys.

5. After having modulated several times we arrive at the dominant of the key and the fugue, named the Pedal Point. While we hold the bass on the dominant during this pedal point, we make, in the other voices, a development with Imitations drawn from the subject or the countersubject. And then we arrive at the Stettos.

6. A stretto is an entry of the answer with the subject before the subject itself is completed. On the same subject we can make several strettos. That is, the answer can enter on this or that note, more or less close to the head of the subject. Sometimes one can find five or six strettos, depending on the nature of the subject.

7. Finally, in the course of the fugue, we can employ other artificial techniques like setting the subject in Inversion, or in Augmentation and Diminution (that is, in doubling or halving the note values, or by some other quantity depending on the meter and the occasion).

8. If we present a subject in the major mode, it will naturally find itself in minor when we modulation to key of the relative minor. The same is true for a subject in the minor mode, which we can treat as major when we use it in the key of the relative major.