The term stretto (plural: stretti) comes from the Italian past participle of stringere, and means "narrow", "tight", or "close". It applies in a close succession of statements of the subject in a fugue, especially in the final section. In stretto, the subject is presented in one voice and then imitated in one or more other voices, with the imitation starting before the subject has finished. The subject is therefore superimposed upon itself contrapuntally.
In music the Italian term stretto has two distinct meanings: (1) In a fugue, stretto (German: Engführung) is the imitation of the subject in close succession, so that the answer enters before the subject is completed.
J. S. Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier
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Stretto is typically employed near the end of a fugue, where, by increasing the textural intensity of what otherwise is already a texturally intense style of writing (i.e., fugue), the 'piling-up' of two or more temporally off-set statements of the subject (i.e., stretto) signals the arrival of the fugue's conclusion in climactic fashion, as may be seen in the Fugue No. 1 in C major, BWV 846, of Johann Sebastian Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier.
In other instances, stretto serves to display contrapuntal prowess, as in the Fugue No. 9 in E major, BWV 878, where Bach follows a traditional exposition (subject accompanied by countersubject) with a counterexposition in which the subject accompanies itself, in stretto, followed by the countersubject accompanying itself.
(2) In non-fugal compositions, a stretto (also sometimes spelled stretta) is a passage, often at the end of an aria or movement, in faster tempo. Examples include: the end of the last movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; measure 227 of Chopin's Ballade No. 3; measures 16 and 17, of his Prelude No. 4 in E minor; and measure 25 of his Etude Op. 10, No. 12, "The Revolutionary."
See also 
- Benward & Saker (2009). Music in Theory and Practice: Volume II, p.54. Eighth Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0.
- WordReference.com Dizionario Italiano-Inglese. Accessed 23 November 2009.
- Apel, Willi, ed. (1969). Harvard Dictionary of Music, Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 0-674-37501-7.
- Stuart Berg Flexner, Eugene Ehrlich, Joyce M. Hawkins, Gorton Carruth. Oxford American Dictionary. ISBN 0-606-20843-7.
- The dictionary definition of Stretto at Wiktionary