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In music, a fugue (pronounced /ˈfjuːɡ/ fewg) is a contrapuntal composition in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition.

In addition to this broad general contrapuntal design, certain formal characteristics are well established. A fugue usually has three sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation containing the return of the subject in the fugue's tonic key, though not all fugues have a recapitulation.[1] In the Middle Ages, the term was widely used to denote any works in canonic style; by the Renaissance, it had come to denote specifically imitative works.[2] Since the 17th century,[3] the term fugue has described what is commonly regarded as the most fully developed procedure of imitative counterpoint.[4]

A fugue opens with one main theme, the subject,[5] which then sounds successively in each voice in imitation; when each voice has entered, the exposition is complete; this is often followed by a connecting passage, or episode, developed from previously heard material; further "entries" of the subject then are heard in related keys. Episodes (if applicable) and entries are usually alternated until the "final entry" of the subject, by which point the music has returned to the opening key, or tonic, which is often followed by closing material, the coda.[6][7] In this sense, fugue is a style of composition, rather than fixed structure. Though there are certain established practices, in writing the exposition for example,[8][9] composers approach the style with varying degrees of freedom and individuality.

The form evolved during the 18th century from several earlier types of contrapuntal compositions, such as imitative ricercars, capriccios, canzonas, and fantasias.[10] Johann Sebastian Bach reached the pinnacle of Baroque fugue having shaped his own works after those of Froberger, Pachelbel, Frescobaldi, Buxtehude, and others.[10] With the decline of sophisticated contrapuntal styles at the end of the baroque period, the fugue's popularity as a compositional style waned, eventually giving way to sonata form.[11] Nevertheless, composers from the 1750s to the present day continue to write and study fugue for various purposes; they appear in the works of Mozart (e.g., Kyrie Eleison of the Requiem in D minor)[11] and Beethoven (e.g. end of the Credo of the Missa Solemnis),[11] and many composers such as Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), Anton Reicha (1770–1836) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) wrote cycles of fugues.[12]

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