Throughout the history of Western music, musicians have almost invariably discussed the keyboard fugue and other extreme forms of polyphony as signs of something that transcends human subjectivity. Despite the persistence of this critical topos, musicians shifted their approach to it around the beginning of the nineteenth century. The shift involved both a change in the technique of counterpoint and a change in the way counterpoint was interpreted. Composers sought to invest the fugue with a new dramatic and teleological thrust suitable to modern times, and critically minded musicians changed their interpretive method so as to emphasize the passage of time. Whereas musicians of the early eighteenth century read counterpoint and the fugue allegorically and annulled time through the conceptual precision of the allegorical image, musicians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries read the fugue symbolically and worked time into their interpretive process. In both eras, the practice of interpretation coincided with and affected the reading of the genre's temporality.

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