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Thread: Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue), BWV 1080

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    Default Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue), BWV 1080

    Wikipedia has a good article on this work, and there have been several previous threads here dedicated to it - in fact, I'm creating this thread largely just to bring them all together.

    How do you feel about this work? What are your favorite aspects of it?

    And of course, what are your favorite recordings of it? Are there any that you'd strongly recommend?

    Some previous threads about this work:


    I do not promise that all the threads there stay on topic, or that there are no other threads dedicated to The Art of Fugue! I will quote some of my favorite posts from those threads here.
    Last edited by science; Jul-17-2018 at 12:37.
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    I lead off with Conor71, who still comes along sometimes:

    Quote Originally Posted by Conor71 View Post
    I really like Fretwork's Art of Fugue performed on Viols for an original take on this work :



    I have a few different versions of AoF that I enjoy - I think it works best performed on Organ though!
    Harpsichord Concerto is a knowledgeable (and very opinionated) member who hasn't been active here in years. I would take this recommendation seriously:


    Quote Originally Posted by HarpsichordConcerto View Post
    There is a definitive recording approved by HarpsichordConcerto . This one pictured below. They played it such that individual lines are more apparent than solo keyboard versions (which I also have, played on the harpsichord), and with a bit of interpretative imagination to make this didactic piece sound like it was intended for concerto performance. Hesperion XX directed by Jordi Savall (on period instruments). Seriously, this one kills all others.

    Last edited by science; Jul-17-2018 at 12:34.
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    Here is SLGO from the same thread (with some images removed because TC no longer allows so many images):

    Quote Originally Posted by StlukesguildOhio View Post
    The Art of Fugue is one of those works (and there are a number of such works by Bach) that I have ended up in getting multiple recordings of. In part, as with a number of Bach's works, there is not clear instrumentation spelled out in the scoring and so I am open to performance on any number of instruments.

    I quite like Glenn Gould myself. If he is not the last word on Bach, he is always one of the essential voices. I'm quite is agreement with HC with regard to the Jordi Savall recording. I have long loved Savall's efforts with "early music" but never really looked to him for Bach (or Handel, for that matter) until quite recently. Everything I have heard has absolutely blown me away.

    Other favorite recordings include:



    The great Helmut Walcha was my first exposure to this divine work. I used to sit in the dark as a teenager absolutely mesmerized by the almost mathematical sounds of Bach's music. The architectural structure of the music overwhelmed me like a Gothic Cathedral, and I began to understand the medieval concept of the "music of the spheres".



    Marriner's recording was the first to introduce me to the possibility of a variety of instrumental voices applied to this work.



    Where Handel was a truly theatrical composer... composing operas for large sophisticated audiences in London, Bach, I have begun to recognize over time, was a master of chamber-like music. His cantatas, frequently employ a small group of instruments and vocalists with the exception of the great choruses. As such, the string quartet in no way seems out of place with this music.

    As Conor71 has already suggested, Fretwork's approach to this work on viols is quite unique... and I quite like it as well.

    ... The Loeki Stardust Quartet plays the work upon a series of recorders of different sizes and resonances. The Calefax Reed Quintet perform the work upon oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone, and bassoon bringing a wholly unique range of colors to the work.
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    Mandryka, whose knowledge is incredible, on string quartet versions:

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    I thought the Portland Quartet was more characterful than the Keller. One thing about the Keller I don't like is the way there's such prominence in the balance to the violins. it's like they think that the deeper voices aren't as important or something. I don't like the way the Portland use very marked dynamics myself, but that may just be me.

    Attachment 58879

    For me then, the extreme dynamics of The Portland Quartet means its not a pleasurable experience. The recording from The Modern String Quartet seems to me to be preferable. Well balanced, equal prominence of all the voices. And it's imaginative too - they're not shy of using pizzicato for example, or glissandi. If I have anything against it it's that there's a real emphais on beautiful sonorities, beautiful ensemble. I need to reframe that and make it a plus point. And maybe it's a bit "grown up" - like there's not enough sense of just excitement in making, in discovering, this extraordinary music. It's not as sedate as Keller though - well worth checking out this one, highly recommended:

    Attachment 58878

    By the way, the end of the Modern Quartet recording is really nice - a transcription of Vor Deinen Thron.

    But much much better than The Keller or The Portland or The Modern is this one from the Musicarius Quartet - recommended with no hesitation whatsoever. The articulation and the balance and the spirited style are wonderful. I think they use period instruments too. The downside is that they only play four cpti. Sorry.

    Attachment 58876

    While you're at it check they're bold juxtapositions of Mozart and Bach in their CD called Ars Tramscribendi.
    And Dr. Mike:

    Quote Originally Posted by DrMike View Post
    If it is strings you want:

    Go with Fretwork -
    Attachment 58901
    This recording on Harmonia Mundi, from a viol consort, is wonderful. One of the best I have heard, and in my top 5 Art of Fugue recordings.

    For something a little different, try saxophones -
    Attachment 58902
    The New Century Saxophone Quartet, on Channel Classics, also does a great job with this work.

    Or just get Helmut Walcha's recording on the organ.

    Or get all three.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bulldog View Post
    How about solo harpsichord? Kenneth Gilbert's my man on Archiv.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    My best Art of Fugue harpsichord experience was hearing Bob van Asperen play it last year in Paris, the recording used to be on the Cité de la Musique website. What did you think of Bradley Brookshire?
    Quote Originally Posted by Bulldog View Post
    I have Brookshire's recording and like it very much. I haven't listened to it for about a year, but I remember a relatively unique interpretation with stunning rhythms.
    Quote Originally Posted by Muse Wanderer View Post
    The Emerson's art of fugue was too strident to my ears with hurried tempi and with not much contrast between each piece.

    My gold standard is definitely Evgeni Koroliov on piano.

    Kenneth Gilbert on harpsichord is also sublime as always whenever he plays Bach.
    From another thread:

    Quote Originally Posted by ptr View Post
    You'll need at least these:

    Piano:
    Zoltan Kocsis (Philips)
    Organ:
    Håkan Wikman (Finlandia)
    Harpsichord:
    Davitt Moroney (Harmonia Mundi)
    Guitar:
    Jozsef Eötvös (Artisjus)
    Baroque Ensemble:
    Jordi Savall & Hesperion XX (Astrée-Auvidis)
    Brass:
    Canadian Brass (CBS Masterworks)
    Wind Quintet:
    Calefax Reed Quintet (MDG)
    Recorders:
    Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet (Channel Classics)
    String Quartet:
    Keller.Quartett (ECM)
    Chamber Orchestra:
    Neville Marriner & Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (Philips)
    Symphony Orchestra (Stiedry):
    Hans Zender & Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (Koch)

    /ptr
    Quote Originally Posted by Bulldog View Post
    My favorites:

    Organ - Weinberger/CPO
    Harpsichord - Gilbert/Archiv
    Piano - Nikolayeva/Hyperion
    Fortepiano - Riemer/ORF
    Multiple Instruments - Alessandrini/Opus 111 and Savall/Astree
    Last edited by science; Jul-17-2018 at 12:42.
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    My choices would be:

    Harpsichord: Leonhardt (DHM), Moroney (I or II), Messori, van Delft.

    Well, Gilbert is good, but he plays the shorter and inferior manuscript version.

    Organ: WIkman (for HIP), Walcha (for impact). Rogg, Corti, Alain I, Tribukait, Lippincott.

    Piano: Petermandl, Janssen, Lepinat, Daudet.

    Chamber ensemble (period instruments): Alessandrini, Malgoire.

    Chamber ensemble (modern instruments) : Redel I, Münchinger, Ristenpart II, Pommer.

    Viola da gamba quartet: Kölner violen consort.

    Some of all these are OOP. I can provide links to those available on request.

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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post

    How do you feel about this work?
    I think it’s important to play it with feeling, feeling coming from the way the voices respond to each other more than from instrument specific effects.

    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post

    What are your favorite aspects of it?
    I like the first edition because it seems to work in a single session for listening, it somehow coheres. And I like the more complicated fugues at the end of the final editions.



    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post

    And of course, what are your favorite recordings of it? Are there any that you'd strongly recommend?
    I only really like to hear it on harpsichord or organ. I haven’t found recordings in other settings which have captured my attention and imagination as much. Nevertheless, I have high hopes that The Chiarascuro Quartet will do something interesting with it.


    I like this, which ushers in a radical new idea of how to interpret baroque polyphonic scores

    268x0w.jpg

    I’ve also been enjoying this recently, which is safe but good

    Art_of_Fugue_DVD.jpg

    And even more so this, which is daring and I’d say very successful51YHB2UM4YL.jpg

    The second recording Leonhardt made is inexhaustible for me, each time I go back to it I find something fresh, this is the one that probably means most to me, this one

    51rFZWXKZOL._SX355_.jpg
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jul-17-2018 at 14:31.

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    Default Ras wants saxes!

    I like Bach's Art of Fugue arranged for saxophone quartet - I'm familiar with four recordings.:

    - My favorite of those four are The New Century Saxophone Quartet on Channel.
    - Aurelia Saxopone Quartet on Challenge is excellent too.
    - The New Danish Saxophone Quartet on the small Kontrapunkt label is also good.
    - I didn't like the Berlin Saxophone Q. on CPO that much.


    On modern piano I like:

    - Konstantin Lifschitz on Orfeo
    and Grigory Sokolov on Naive/Opus 111.

    Lifschitz is more elegant than Sokolov, but emotionally Sokolov reaches deeper than Lifschitz. Wouldn't want to be without any of those two. Still hoping Andras Schiff at some point will record The Art of Fugue.

    (The saxophone quartet of course is in-authentic when it comes to Baroque music since the saxophone was invented ca. 1900. - And likewise the modern grand piano was something Bach probably never even dreamed about…).
    "I only have a hunch in what I've become expert." - Leonard Cohen

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    Munchinger, Stuttgart - best orchestral color and many delicate interpretations.

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    Die Kunst der Fuge looks like abstract mathematics and sounds like music of the profoundest kind.” Alban Berg


    Favorite Recordings

    for chamber orchestra …

    :: Scherchen/Radio Beromünster Orchestra [Radio Zürich/Decca/Tahra ’49] ~ 1937 Roger Vuataz orchestration.

    Vuataz divides the orchestra into four parts—a nine-piece string section, a five-piece string section, a string quartet, and a woodwind quintet—and treats it like a four-keyboard organ. The result is heavy and dark yet somehow stark and austere, almost skeletal at times, at least as played here. It would be hard to imagine a more intensely earnest and plaintively expressive a performance than this one, with Scherchen managing to turn the rather lean and unvarnished Beromünster “sound” to his advantage—even the primitive recorded sound seems fitting. The canons are played chamber-music style, one voice per part, though the one voice may be taken by a different soloist from section to section. I normally don’t care for such “passing of the baton” within a movement, but it’s done in such an unfussy and natural way here that it doesn’t bother me. (Vuataz normally limits instrumental changes to one voice at a time to provide for overlapping continuity.)

    As for the performance, it’s a grimly focused and concentrated affair that has a sadly nostalgic air of unreconciled grief about much of the playing, this owing to the plaintive strings and melancholy woodwinds of the Radio Beromünster Orchestra. I’ve heard soloists play as such, but never an entire chamber orchestra—it’s unique and uniquely poignant in my Die Kunst der Fuge listening experience. But all is not gloom, despair and agony on me, as rays of hope and joy and the like manage to shine through breaks in the overcast here and there—and they’re all the more affecting for being relatively infrequent and unexpected. This is not a popular or a generally recommendable account of Die Kunst der Fuge, but it’s the most compellingly expressive account that I know.


    for piano …

    :: Charles Rosen [CBS Odyssey ’67]

    The final form of each of Bach’s fugues is an elegant manifestation of its structure, with no freeloading melodies or ornamentation or applied facade: every note pitches in and contributes to the organic whole—think well-designed bridge or Eiffel Tower. No pianist conveys this better than Charles Rosen, whose trademark intellectual and physical rigor and structurally oriented playing is ideally suited to the task. Indeed, his playing here epitomizes what fugal and canonical playing is to my ears/mind. If Rosen’s aesthetic tends toward the ascetic and foursquare—no one will ever accuse Rosen of gilding the lily—he plays handsomely within that context, and the music moves along with an unfussy confidence that’s satisfying without calling attention to itself. Rosen is joined through the magic of dubbing by his deranged/rearranged alter ego, “Olsen Archers,” in the 2-clav. version of the three-voice mirror fugues, and the extreme stereo separation of the piano tracks adds a quasi-dueling intrigue to these episodes. The recorded sound is rather dry and shallow, without much warmth or bloom to it, but it’s pretty good by CBS’s lowly standards for the period.


    for string quartet …

    :: Delmé Quartet [Hyperion ’99] ~ includes the Tovey completion of the final fugue (along with the uncompleted original) but omits the canons

    The tessitura of Die Kunst der Fuge doesn’t always fall in the natural range of the modern string quartet, so adjustments must be made: most groups play what they can in D minor and transcribe what they can’t up to G minor or thereabouts—the Emerson Quartet does this, I believe. The Juilliard Quartet got hold of an over-sized viola with extended range (custom made for the occasion, I reckon), allowing the group to play the entire work in the original D minor, while the Delmé Quartet use Robert Simpson’s arrangement, which transcribes the whole damn thing up to G minor. If you’re used to hearing the work in D minor (especially via period performances, which may use A=415 or even A=392, effectively a half step and a whole step lower than A=440, respectively), the Delmé Quartet account will sound quite high-pitched and take some getting used to.

    If the performance’s higher pitch takes some getting used to, so too does the group’s dry, constricted string tone (exacerbated by the dry, bloomless recorded sound). I have no problem with the string tone per se, which is surprisingly complex and colorful for being so dry and constricted, but with almost no resonant bloom to reinforce and flesh out the sound, there isn’t ideal body and weight to be found here—this is more apparent in the lower registers than in the higher. The sound the group produces isn’t off-putting, and it’s sort of interesting in its way, but it’s just not all that natural. The group also tends to favor a relatively brisk pace for most of the work; nothing extreme, mind you, but most movements are taken a notch or two faster than usual.

    What’s the appeal, then? Aside from the sheer quality/proficiency of the playing all around, the performance is impressively focused and intense, with a compelling sense of momentum and purpose about it at all times—even the best of the competing string quartet accounts sound lax by comparison. If it’s too unflagging and tense for most listeners’, it works for me.


    for viol consort …

    :: Phantasm [Simax ’97] ~ canons and mirror fugues are omitted
    :: Fretwork [Harmoni Mundi ’01]

    The viol consort is well suited to the demands of Die Kunst der Fuge, as the resulting timbres tend to be almost organ-like in breadth but more complex and interesting in their plaintive way, and the strong family resemblance among the instruments provides near-seamless timbral continuity from bottom to top—much more so than you get with, say, a modern string quartet.

    Phantasm plays with a bit more color/character than does the slightly plainspoken Fretwork, but Fretwork provides that much more internal clarity and includes all of the movements—though Phantasm counters with the five Bach fugues arranged by Mozart. The Phantasm account is more immediately appealing, especially with its riper, more resonant (if less clear and focused) recorded sound, but the Fretwork account grows on you for its earnestness and admirable lack of indulgence. That said, the difference between the two accounts is small in the grand scheme of things, and either account is worth exploring by anyone looking for a middle-of-the-road (in the best sense) path through Die Kunst der Fuge that’s easy on the ears.


    for strings and/or harpsichords …

    :: Goebel/Musica Antiqua Köln [Archiv ’84] ~ two contrapuncti are taken by one harpsichord, two by two harpsichords, and ten by Baroque strings with or without harpsichord; two canons are taken by one harpsichord, and two by two harpsichords; the two-clavier version of contrapunctus 13 is taken by two harpsichords.

    The closely related sonorities of the Baroque strings (more closely related than modern strings but less closely related than viols) prevent any one instrument/voice from standing out too much from the rest, making it easier to apprehend multiple voices at once. Both the harpsichord playing (by Andreas Staier and Robert Hill on uncommonly good-sounding harpsichords) and the string trio/quartet playing is as compelling as any that I’ve heard in Die Kunst der Fuge. The strings do play with more HIP “squeeze” and curt phrasing than is common nowadays, but it bothers me less than it usually does in this case. The pace is efficient and purposeful (as one expects from this group), but it never sounds unduly fast or rushed (as it sometimes does with this group). This is by far my favorite of Goebel/MAK’s Bach recordings, and the most warmly and naturally recorded too.

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    Whatever you do, avoid this one!

    1) It's in mono, even though he recorded it in 1993.
    2) The piano sounds more like a MIDI instrument or at best a digital piano.
    3) His tempos are at least half that of most keyboardists.
    4) He uses virtually no dynamics, pedal, or any expressivity--just the notes.



    Here are his timings:

    1-1 Contrapunctus 1 5:19
    1-2 Contrapunctus 2 5:43
    1-3 Contrapunctus 3 4:55
    1-4 Contrapunctus 4 9:19
    1-5 Contrapunctus 5 6:07
    1-6 Contrapunctus 6 5:27
    1-7 Contrapunctus 7 4:13
    1-8 Contrapunctus 8 12:34
    1-9 Contrapunctus 9 8:46
    1-10 Canone 1 Per Augmentationem In Motu Contrario 7:23
    1-11 Canone 2 All' Ottava 4:33
    2-1 Canone 3 Alla Decima In Countepunto Alla Terza 5:43
    2-2 Canone 4 Alla Duodecima In Contrapunto Alla Quinta 9:48
    2-3 Contrapunctus 10 8:03
    2-4 Contrapunctus 11 12:22
    2-5 Contrapunctus 12 5:41
    2-6 Contrapunctus 12 Inversus 5:38
    2-7 Contrapunctus 13 4:56
    2-8 Contrapunctus 13 Inversus 4:58
    2-9 Fuga A Tre Soggetti
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kontrapunctus View Post
    Whatever you do, avoid this one!

    1) It's in mono, even though he recorded it in 1993.
    2) The piano sounds more like a MIDI instrument or at best a digital piano.
    3) His tempos are at least half that of most keyboardists.
    4) He uses virtually no dynamics, pedal, or any expressivity--just the notes.
    Are you sure, that he didn't rescue it from a hermetically sealed museum case?
    Last edited by premont; Jul-29-2018 at 23:53.

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    Quote Originally Posted by premont View Post
    Are you sure, that he didn't rescue it from a hermetically sealed museum case?
    He rescued it from a garbage can.
    Last edited by mmsbls; Aug-20-2018 at 22:29. Reason: Removed unnecessary personal comment.
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