Rhetoric in the Vocal Fugue: A Perspective from Abbé Vogler’s System für den Fugenbau (1817)


Many treatises on fugal writing focus on specific portions of the fugue, such as technical aspects of the exposition, and offer only sparse considerations for the overall design. Modern texts provide necessary information on fugal devices such as canon, stretto and pedal point, but they do not offer authoritative theories on the design of entire fugues. Instead, they suggest model composition, and in some cases offer basic analyses of exemplary fugues. One analytical method for describing entire fugues that is successful—that goes beyond providing basic guidelines and prescribing model composition exercises —is the rhetorical approach.

Fugues have on occasion been associated with rhetoric, the oratorical art of persuasion. In particular, rhetorical analyses of fugue have tended to focus on the identification of musical figures (topoi) from Figurenlehre manuals, and in some instances by comparing the layout of a piece to the general principles of rhetorical argument as dictated by the structural implications of a particular subject, almost always for instrumental music. However, the study of rhetoric in vocal fugues has received considerably less attention. In contrast to utilizing rhetorical principles in instrumental fugues, we can infer additional relationships to the rhetorical design of choral fugues by analyzing their text. By translating and interpreting excerpts from Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler’s early 19th century treatise System für den Fugenbau als Einleitung zur harmonischen Gesang-Verbindungs-Lehre (System for Constructing the Fugue as an Introduction to the Harmonic Combination of Melodies) (1811), this paper suggests relationships between rhetoric and compositional design in choral fugues. After interpreting Vogler’s rhetorical framework as it pertains to the design of his choral fugue, I offer an analysis of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus from the oratorio Messiah.

Suggested Citation (Chicago 17th ed.)

Posen, Thomas. 2015. “Rhetoric in the Vocal Fugue: A Perspective from Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler’s System Für Den Fugenbau (1817).” Presented at the New York State Society of Music Theory in Binghamton, NY. April 11, 2015