The restatement, in close succession, of a melody
(theme, motif) in different parts of a contrapuntal
texture. This device is most consistently employed in the
in which a whole voice-part is imitated in another. Imitation of
themes (subjects) is an essential feature of the fugue
as well as the 16th-century motet
and pre-fugal forms, the ricercar,
While in a fugue the imitation is normally restricted to one theme, the
earlier forms usually have a number of themes.
In the 14th century, imitation found its first systematic realization
in the Italian caccia
and French chace,
which are extended two- and three-part canons. Of greater importance
to the development imitation are imitative passages found in a number of
madrigals and ballate
of the 14th century.
The works of Obrecht, Isaac,
and Josquin show more and more
deliberate use of imitation, which around 1500 became
an essential element of musical style.