The Improvised Fugue in Germany and Italy between 1670 and 1760

From anecdotal evidence it is well known that skilled organists, such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Dietrich Buxtehude, Georg Friedrich Handel, and quite a few others, were able to play fugues ex tempore on the organ during the Baroque period. Such anecdotal evidence is often found in applications of organist jobs at city churches, or in references to various kinds of contests. A skilled organist, Johann Jacob Hamischer tells us in a letter to the St. Jacobs Parish in Stockholm as early as the 29th of July 1673, should be able to play a four-part fugue ex tempore with only a theme at hand (1).                           

This project will investigate how organists were trained to acquire such skills. Various kinds of short-hand notation in Italian and German sources from between 1670 and 1760 will be systematically investigated. In addition to this, a great number of theoretical sources will be systematically investigated. The training methods of church musicians in Italy and in Germany, today largely forgotten, may provide the modern musician with valuable skills, such as the improvisational learning of counterpoint at the keyboard and which may greatly benefit the understanding of composition during the Baroque era. The project is hosted by the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.

Project coordinator: Dr. Peter van Tour
Funded by: The Swedish Research Council
Starting: 2016