Contrapunctus II

The lights of Bach’s homeland blaze at night beneath Earth’s thin atmosphere…and in the physical sense, it really is thin. If Earth were the size of a soccer ball, its atmosphere would be about a millimeter thick. Our air is, however, a million times more dense than the plasma comprising the photosphere (the visible “surface”) of the Sun. Image credit: Rendering by me; image of Earth at night by NASA.

In Contrapunctus II, Bach introduces the first of numerous variations on the main AOF subject. This is a simple change from the main subject that introduces a dotted rhythm in the final two beats:

The dotted rhythm pervades the accompanying and episodic material, and it gives this fugue a slightly more animated character than Contrapunctus I, though it is hardly exuberant; stately is perhaps a better adjective.

An interesting moment occurs at 0:43, just before the second exposition. Bach thins the texture to a meandering line in the soprano before beginning the exposition in the alto with an incomplete entry of the subject; the alto line rises quickly through the expected E before the half notes of the subject pick up on the A.

In this fugue, there are fourteen entries of the subject above. In the first two fugues of this cycle, therefore, Bach has presented the subject 11 (see Contrapunctus I) and 14 times, respectively. The two weightiest parts of the whole cycle are the triple fugue of Contrapunctus XI and the concluding Contrapunctus XIV. Perhaps even here, in the early going, Bach is pointing the way to the massive essays that will come later.

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