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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 6 (2000) No. 2

Johann Klemm. Partitura seu Tabulatura italica. Edited by John O. Robison. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 92. Madison: A-R Editions, 1998. [xv, 104 pp. ISBN 0-89579-420-9. $19.95.]

Reviewed by Stephen Miller*

1. Klemm’s Position in the History of Fugue

2. Characteristics of Klemm’s Fugues

3. Subgenres and Tonal Relationships

4. A Gradus ad Parnassum


1. Klemm’s Position in the History of Fugue

1.1 As a composer Johann Klemm hardly stands out on the seventeenth-century musical landscape. There are few extant works in manuscript, and there is but a single extant Einzeldruck—this Partitura from 1631, a collection of 36 fugues in open score, arranged in the standard twelve modes (or tones, as Klemm calls them), one each for two, three, and four voices.1The pieces in the print seem of uneven quality, suggesting the hand of a well-meaning craftsman rather than that of a gifted composer. It is the broader musical context that shows Klemm’s importance more distinctly. He served for many years as organist to the Saxon electors at Dresden, and he was active as a publisher, producing some of Schütz’s works, such as the Sacrae symphoniae (part II) and the Geistliche Chormusik. He is most remembered, however, for the fact that the Partitura shows how (in John Robison’s words) “the fugue was perceived at the court of Dresden during the time of Schütz.” This publication establishes Klemm as an important early contributor of imitative pieces that are explicitly termed “fugae.” (Is it possible that this print is the earliest to comprise exclusively “fugae”? Scheidt, Bernhard Schmid, and others devoted sections of their publications to sets of “fugae,” but Klemm’s volume raises the prestige of the genre by excluding all other types of pieces—canzonas, ricercars, etc.) This in itself justifies an edition of Klemm’s “36,” particularly as Bach’s “48” has just recently received important new consideration in Laurence Dreyfus’s award-winning study.2

1.2 Dreyfus emphasizes the importance of genre in Bach’s oeuvre generally, showing how Bach frequently plays with and against listeners’ generic expectations. He devotes an entire chapter to the question of genre in Bach’s fugues (“Matters of Kind”), seeking first to disentangle fugue as genre from its perennial confusion with form and then revealing how this affects our interpretation of Bach’s project in Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier. In particular Dreyfus argues that we should understand these fugues as reflecting Bach’s exertions within particular fugal subgenres. All of these subgenres—simple fugues, double fugues with one, two, or three themes, counterfugues, and mixed fugues—presuppose specific contrapuntal characteristics that, for Dreyfus, loom much larger than the features of fugues that have traditionally garnered more attention, features like the style of the subject, the relationship between subject-answer, and the formal layout.

2. Characteristics of Klemm’s Fugues

2.1 This way of thinking about the genre of fugue and its constituent species stimulates new lines of inquiry as we consider the fugal work of the seventeenth century. How many of these subgenres capture the attention of the early fugue composers? To what extent were the subgenres regarded as distinct? There is no reason that Robison, publishing this edition of Klemm’s fugues just two years after Dreyfus’s book came out, would have considered such questions closely. After all, the “main event” is the music, and this is very clean, admitting only the most insignificant errors (an occasional dropped tie). Prof. Robison’s introduction provides a solid account of Klemm’s approach to traditional fugal characteristics and makes several interesting observations. When analyzing Klemm’s tendencies in constructing his subjects, Robison finds a couple of melodic “borrowings” from contemporary keyboard composers, including one from Frescobaldi: Klemm’s Fuga IV uses the same subject as the Recercar Terzo from Frescobaldi’s Primo libro di capricci, canzon francese e recercari (1626). Robison advisedly observes that the subject in question is a “commonplace idea.” He may have been thinking about theorists, like Zarlino, who suggest that there is hardly any subject that “has not been used a thousand million times by other composers.”3 Despite such prudent caution, it is worth observing that Klemm does specially distinguish his treatment of this theme. The answer immediately presents the subject in melodic inversion, and he works out the rest of the piece as a counterfugue. None of Klemm’s other thirty-five does this so quickly, explicitly, or thoroughly. Klemm may well have been thinking in terms of homage or competition.

2.2 Another case in the Partitura does reinforce the impression that Klemm’s fugues suffer from poverty of melodic invention. The subjects of Fugae I and XV are very similar, the only difference being that the latter is longer, incorporating both an upper and lower neighbor to the initial pitch where Fuga I has just the upper neighbor.

2.3 Formal procedures in Klemm’s fugues occupy much of Robison’s attention, and as we might expect from close attention to real music—as opposed to a textbook pattern—Robison finds considerable variety in the way Klemm works out his materials. Expositions comprise one or two statements of the subject per voice, generally with “real” answers, and there is no fixed pattern of whether the subject will be introduced on the first or fifth scale degree. Contrapuntal passages that intervene between subsequent subject entries tend to be brief and non-thematic. Robison rightly emphasizes Klemm’s interest in stretto at the end of his fugues. He notes, for instance, that Fuga XXIV concludes with ten statements of the subject in stretto (this in mm. 68–81). It is also true, however, that Klemm typically begins his exploration of stretto possibilities by the midpoint of a fugue, and Fuga XXIV is no exception (modified stretto combinations occur there in mm. 39–42, 44–47, etc.). Klemm also seems fond of a “final entry” at the very end of the piece.

3. Subgenres and Tonal Relationships

3.1 Robison’s introduction makes some headway towards a consideration of fugal subgenres. He mentions that some ten of the fugues use two subjects and in this context germanely draws attention to Reincken’s description of double fugue in which “two subjects may be treated together, separately, and simultaneously against one another” (p. ix). Klemm’s double fugues do not invariably conform to this, because in some cases the “two subjects” are in fact quite closely related—they seem in effect to be just the first and second halves of the subject and are usually heard contiguously with the other (cf. Fuga XVI). On the other hand, there are cases where, though the “countersubject” seems like a continuation of the subject, Klemm goes on to treat them independently (cf. Fuga XXX). Willi Apel notes this “unusual procedure” in Klemm’s fugues but does not associate it with the issue of double fugue.4 Such questions about the nature of Klemm’s subgenre of double fugue may in themselves seem insignificant, but they begin to flesh out the seventeenth-century context that served as a foundation for later composers, including J.S. Bach. It is precisely this ambiguity in how a subject is to be analyzed that leads Dreyfus, for instance, to note how “the idea of a double fugue with one subject, while unfamiliar today, has an intuitive appeal in making sense of Bach’s fugues”.5 The Klemm fugues may well provide additional ways for thinking about the subgenres of the fugue during the Baroque.

3.2 Although Robison does not draw attention to it, one of the most important contributions he makes to our understanding of the Klemm fugues concerns a misapprehension about them that Apel introduced. This confusion involves the tonal relationship between subject entries in the exposition. Apel tried to distinguish Klemm’s harmonic approach from the “classic” type of treatment according to which tonic and dominant entries establish the tonality. Klemm was made the proponent of the “subdominant” answer, as suggested by Apel’s analysis of a number of these fugues. He identified I–IV–I as the usual tonal sequence for the expositions of the three-voice fugues and mentioned the following possibilities for those in four voices: I–IV–IV–I, I–IV–IV–IV, and I–IV–I–I. From such patterns one understandably infers that Klemm favors the subdominant answer. But such conclusions sharply misrepresent Klemm’s procedures(see example1, the fugue in the first tone for four voices). Apel identifies this as the I–IV–IV–I type, and it is indeed true that the first answer is at the fourth (i.e., the fifth below). But it is still clearer that there is no I–IV progression here. Rather, the crucial fact is the modal identification—the first tone (C1-natural system-D)—which allows us to see that the first voice (tenor) opens on the fifth modal degree and is then answered by a statement on the first degree. In the introduction Robison avoids Apel’s problem; he identifies the relationship between subject entries simply by stating the scale degree on which they begin (e.g., for the example above, ^5-^1-^1-^5). This method of relating entries proves far more helpful to an understanding of Klemm’s pieces and reflects the important constructive role that mode plays.

3.3 It is however possible to go further than Robison recognizes in accounting for the particular scale degrees on which the subject entries occur. In the vast majority of initial subject entries Klemm maintains an inseparable relationship between a particular voice range and the scale degree on which the subject enters in that voice. Klemm’s use of open score means that he can indicate different ranges simply by means of cleffing. Like Frescobaldi in his Primo libro di . . . recercari, Klemm sticks with the combinations of clefs familiar from choral music, using in the four-voice fugues either the normal clefs (C1 C3 C4 F4) or chiavette (G2 C2 C3 F3). Robison indicates these original clefs at the beginning of each fugue.6 Working with the standard four-part cleffing Klemm predictably adopts some “classical” aspects of voice disposition. To see how this works out, we can consider again the preceding example from Fuga XXV. Having fashioned the subject, Klemm had already predetermined where that subject would fall within each voice range. In this case the subject rises from the fifth degree to final in the tenor, filling out the upper tetrachord of its authentic (mode one) ambitus, d-d'. For the bass in mode one, then, Klemm takes its ambitus (plagal by tradition), A-a, and finds the same relative position, now rising from the final to fourth degree. This interlocking pattern of the tenor-bass ranges is then duplicated an octave above by soprano and alto. It is thus the disposition of the voice entries themselves which give rise to the ^5-^1-^1-^5 pattern of subject entries in the exposition, not abstract matters of harmonic direction. It is a matter of dispositio in the rhetoricians’ terminology, not large-scale harmonic planning.

4. A Gradus ad Parnassum

4.1 Looking beyond the constructive aspects of the individual fugues and their modal organization, we can identify other goals Klemm has for the design of the Partitura. Though it may seem trivial, it is worth noting that the fugues are arranged most generally by the number of voices, and secondarily by their modal identification. This suggests a graded approach, and Robison finds support for this notion in the open-score format—a sign that “Klemm’s collection is partly pedagogical in nature by clearly delineating the individual polyphonic lines in relation to one another” (p. viii). Friedrich Riedel made similar comments about Klemm’s print, situating it near the inception of a long tradition of “Lehrbücher der Fugenkomposition.”7 Features within individual fugues also support this pedagogical interpretation. If we look over the twelve fugues for two voices, for instance, we find that the subjects generally increase in length (e.g., Fuga I has a subject of just over two breves whereas XII occupies five breves), and other complications are also gradually introduced, like diminutions, sequential melodic treatment, and syncopation. For Klemm, apparently, part of what defines a fugue is its pedagogical function, and he himself may have used these fugues in a similar way. As he states in a preface to the volume (which Robison translates in an appendix to his introduction), he played some of these works in the context of public juries (p. xiii).

4.2 Fux’s conviction that fugue offers one of the chief ways to develop skill in equal-part writing provides a kind of apotheosis for this pedagogical aspect of the genre. It serves as an important rung on his “gradus” to a musical Mount Parnassus. Klemm may have had similar ideas for his collection. The final fugue in his collection takes up the hexachord motif—a stepwise ascent from the final up through the sixth above. Surely Klemm imagines his subject with its traditional associations of the “scala caeli,” the divine ladder which, if not quite allowing one to ascend bodily to heaven, at least allows one to witness the angels descending from the celestial realm. If so, Klemm has left us his own version of a Gradus ad Parnassum.


Stephen Miller (smiller@sewanee.edu) teaches music at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. He completed his dissertation, “Music for the Mass in Seventeenth-Century Rome: Messe piene, the Palestrina Tradition, and the Stile antico,” at the University of Chicago in 1998. Return to beginning


1. Robison’s edition includes the latest biographical information that we have on Klemm (p.vii), showing that the organist lived until at least 1659 (eight years longer than previously thought). Alexander Silbiger’s New Grove article remains useful, identifying several of Klemm’s vocal works, one a print (now apparently lost) and the other a manuscript work extant at Zwickau (New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians [London: Macmillan, 1980], 10:104–5). Return to text

2. Laurence Dreyfus, Bach and the Patterns of Invention (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996). Return to text

3. Quoted in Alfred Mann, The Study of Fugue, 2d ed. (New York: Norton, 1965), 22. Return to text

4. Willi Apel, The History of Keyboard Music to 1700, trans. and rev. Hans Tischler (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1972), 386. Return to text

5. Dreyfus, 144. Return to text

6. This touches on the only drawback of the edition’s musical text—the way these old clefs were modernized. Where alto-clef parts were transcribed into bass clef there are lengthy passages of notes placed on stratospheric ledger lines, and there is little consistency in such transcription—alto clef is transcribed by turns into treble, tenorized treble, and bass clefs; cf. Fugae II, XVI, and XXIX. Return to text

7. Friedrich Riedel, “Johann Sebastian Bachs Kunst der Fuge und die Fugenbücher der italienischen und österreichischen Organisten des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts,” in Frank Heidlberger (ed.), et al., Von Isaac bis Bach: Studien zur alteren deutschen Musikgeschichte: Festschrift Martin Just zum 60. Geburtstag (Kassel: Börenreiter, 1991), 327–33. Return to text

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