Handel’s Fugue in A Minor, HWV 609: Haunting Chromaticism

For a brief moment, Handel’s Fugue in A Minor, HWV 609 could almost be mistaken for a twentieth century tone row.

The first haunting pitches of the fugue’s subject are disorienting because they leap wildly beyond an octave. The chromaticism which underlies the subject clouds the tonal center. In the second half of the subject, a descending chromatic line suggests a sense of deep mystery and melancholy. The fugue unfolds as an unpredictable harmonic maze.

There are striking similarities between the subject of this fugue, composed around 1716, and the principal theme of The Musical Offering. That monumental work was composed in 1747 for Frederick the Great, who supplied Bach with the theme. Humphrey F. Sassoon writes that “Handel’s theme is much shorter than the King’s, but its musical ‘architecture’ is uncannily similar: jumps followed by a descending chromatic scale.”

Handel’s A minor Fugue, published as part of the Six Fugues or Voluntarys for the organ or harpsichord, is filled with quietly lamenting voices. Here is Alan Feinberg’s performance:

Here is Leo Van Doeselaar’s 1984 organ recording:


  • Handel: Fugue in A minor, HWV 609, Alan Feinberg Amazon
  • Handel: Fugue in A minor, HWV 609, Leo Van Doeselaar prestomusic.com

Featured Image: portrait of Handel 

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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