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   The Art Of The Fugue (Keller Quartet)



Год издания : 1998

Компания звукозаписи : ECM

Время звучания : 1:12:01

Код CD : ECM New Series 1652 (457 849-2)

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CD, стоящие на полке рядом : Classics (Symphony)      

Die Kunst Der Fuge

Recorded May 1997

J.S. Bach - The Art of the Fugue

About BWV 1080 on 'bach-cantatas.com'

Hungary's prize-winning Keller Quartet, whose account of mentor Gyorgy Kurtag's Musik fur Streichinstrumente received the highest praise internationally, now focuses upon baroque music with a revelatory performance of Bach's The Art of Fugue "The Keller Quartet take an experimental approach to Bach", writes Hans Klaus Jungheinrich, "inclining less to long lines than to 'respiratory' phrasing." The music breathes, yes, and the Keller Quartet's interpretation of Die Kunst der Fuge will be one of the most talked-about Bach performances of the year.

========= from the cover ==========

Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich

Counterpoint - Harmony of the Spheres in Enigmatic Form

A Guide to J. S. Bach's The Art of Fugue with the Keller Quartet

J.S. Bach's The Art of Fugue may have been thoroughly demythologized over 250 years, yet it remains in many respects - and perhaps forever? - enigmatic. The image of death tragically striking the composer before he could complete his final work has been consigned to legend. If Bach broke off in the midst of the fragmentary triple fugue - in which the signature theme B-A-C-H makes its first resolute appearance - then it was more likely with the intention of gaining some distance from the demands of devising an extensive collection of fugues, and to devote himself to the completion of the B-mi-nor Mass. Though the idea of adding the organ chorale "Wenn wir in hochsten Noten sein / Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit" (When we are in dire distress / We herewith step before Thy throne) to the unfinished fugue supported and emphasised the status of the work as an opus ultimum and musical legacy, this is unlikely to have originated with the composer. Rather, it bears the hallmark of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's shrewd attempts to market his father's works, in which The Art of Fugue was assigned the role of the old master's heroic valedictory. The Sturm und Drang generation were not altogether wrong when they saw Bach's compendium of counterpoint as something like a musical version of Kant's categorical imperative, alien as such abstract philosophical thinking would have been to the cantor of St. Thomas's. Attaching a heroic aspect to The Art of Fugue also had effects on the development of the (Romantic) cult of genius. Beethoven and Brahms did not cite Bach's qualities as a craftsman alone; their enthusiasm was also fuelled by the aura of a pioneer perceived more as an unsurpassable model than a mere precursor. The desire to isolate Bach from his own era and interpret him as a timeless master remains widespread to the present day and even finds echoes in Adorno's almost polemical effort to remove Bach from "Baroque music" (and defend him against "Baroque enthusiasts").

Examining The Art of Fugue can reveal ways in which Bach worked in and against his time. The authenticity of the title seems questionable; it would indicate a "modern" form of awareness improbable, though not impossible, for Bach. Surely a term like "hortus" would have come more easily to him than the emphatic word "art". There would have been a host of similar (though far more modestly conceived) "hortus musicalis" collections by contemporary composers for him to fall back on, and the announcement of a "Garden of Fugues" would by no means have seemed out of place. But plain-speaking Bach would doubtless have shied away from even this minute flight of sentimental fancy and preferred the title "Clavieriibung Vol. V", an understatement that would at least have established the affinity of the compendium of fugues with similar projects - the so-called Organ Mass, the Goldberg Variations and, indeed, the Well-Tempered Clavier. The Art of Fugue was long viewed as a later counterpart to A Musical Offering, conceived in the 1740 s. In the meantime parts of The Art of Fugue (and a comprehensive plan for a big contrapuntal instrumental work) are assumed to have been created as early as 1737.

In those years Bach was struggling with his tedious obligations as cantor at St. Thomas's in Leipzig / His search for strategies that would relieve some of the pressure occasionally brought him reprimands for alleged dereliction of duty. While he was undoubtedly experiencing a growing need to be "free" to compose, there could be no question of abandoning his post. In Bach's time, early bourgeois conditions for an independent existence as a composer were not yet in place. (Mozart was barely able to live this way; Beethoven managed only thanks to his considerable business acumen and powerful patrons; Schubert failed altogether.) Bach had no choice but painstakingly to make time, alongside his official duties, to compose exactly what he wanted without having to think of patrons or performances. This may be assessed as an aspect of "genius"; in any case, it expresses an emancipatory impulse that, in line with the Enlightenment and bourgeois individualism, was no longer satisfied with the traditional role of the musician. (Even Jan Dismas Zelenka, Bach's colleague in Dresden, who experienced even greater restraints and spent his life working under more famous court Kapellmeisters, allowed his subjectivist impulses free rein when he composed, not to speak of Handel, who made his way as an entrepreneur, with varying success, in more progressive England.) From the standpoint of this striving for independence, The Art of Fugue represents a progressive, emancipatory work, despite its many retrogressive musical traits. For his sons and the early classicists, the strict stile antico of Bach's contrapuntalism (which harks back to Frescobaldi and Palestrina) had something anachronistic, almost atavistic about it (on occasion, the word "barbarism" was even mentioned in this context). At the same time, the "science" involved (i. e. the ability to achieve "natural" polyphony despite rigid compositional techniques) was also admired, even turned into a fetish, because it had seemingly been lost. Bach's counterpoint began gaining authoritative, almost authoritarian, importance shortly after his death. Restricted at first to a small circle of professional musicians, it gradually gained mythical proportions as a virtual symbol and trademark of German nationalism. This explains why the reputation of The Art of Fugue received an additional boost during the Nazi era, though obviously for the wrong reasons. Error and legend are the servants of lies, but in the end they may also serve truth.

One of the factors that contributed to the mythical status of The Art of Fugue was the question of instrumentation, in other words, realisation in sound. Did the work not embody the ideal of "music for the eye"? Did it not represent the very special, hermetic type of composition that defies performance and genuinely reveals itself only to the "inner ear" of the reader of the score? The underlying-assumption of such a view is an ascetic variant of the Platonic notion that divine ideas do not require palpable form and are, in fact, corrupted by it. Bach would have disagreed violently, though he might have conceded that certain compositional details, for instance the meticulous techniques of the mirror fugue and double counterpoint, while easily recognizable to the reader of the score, are difficult or impossible to hear. But that makes no difference: discrepancies between artistic perfection and perceptibility have a long tradition and have become far more emphatic since the advent of Modernism. Bach's The Art of Fugue was meant and written to be heard, irrespective of its esoteric tendencies. (This would be the place to investigate the oft-invoked fact that numerology - a broad and ultimately thankless field for arbitrary speculation and, frequently, for projections masquerading as stunningly new metaphysical revelations - has been worked into the score.) There is no doubt that Bach had a "clavier" in mind: probably not a harpsichord or organ, but the pianoforte (which was still in its infancy). In the 1920s, Bach scholar Wolfgang Graeser, who was intimately acquainted with The Art of Fugue, suggested that the work should be performed by an orchestra - going out from the then perfectly defensible view that, as a "public" medium, the orchestra was the most suitable "instrument" when it came to rendering large-scale instrumental architecture. (The conductor Hermann Scherchen advanced a similar argument, if from the more thematic-analytic standpoint of the Schoenberg school.) Even the mid-2oth-century avant-garde still approached The Art of Fugue With, quasi religious zeal: early concerts of the"Domaine musical" in Paris evidently used Bach fugues to legitimate their own technical rigidity and "cabalistic" abstraction. Surely the most pragmatic and, in terms of the composer's intentions, "authentic" performance of The Art of Fugue would be on the piano (or, in keeping with period performance, the harpsichord or fortepiano). Peter Schleuning, one of the younger and more unconventional Bach scholars, makes a case for saxophone quartet, curiously enough. Quite apart from the fact that, because of its proximity to the jazz idiom, this solution (which would certainly provide some interesting listening) has fairly intractable connotations, there is a practical disadvantage: the occasional doubling of voices in the four-voice fugues (towards the end of the contrapuncti, as a rule) would have to be either ignored or adapted.

A quartet version has considerable advantages over a keyboard performance. Finding excellent keyboard players capable of delineating the polyphonic texture with power and precision does not really pose a problem. But it is easier for four string instruments to bring the voices out in sharp relief; and they are, of course, undaunted by doubled voices. (Perhaps it is more symbolic than real to assume that four individual voices can move more "freely" in tonal space than a single person producing all four voices.) An additional plus for the string quartet is the overtone-rich sound of instruments whose range and timbre exhibit a certain affinity with the vocal quartet (soprano/alto/tenor/ bass), thereby underlining the latent "singing" quality of the fugal voices. (This would not run counter to the idea of a genuine instrumental composition, for the four-voice chorale is clearly a formative element in Bach's compositions). Admittedly, for sensitive modern listeners, the string quartet is enormously encumbered with a tradition of its own, as a vehicle shaped by the Classical-Romantic experience of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. As much as these masters may themselves have drawn on Bach, when it comes to the indulgent art of the Romantic string quartet -informed by the principle of "cultivated, beautiful sound" and the nineteenth-century profusion of nuance and emotion - Bach proves unobliging.

The Hungarian Keller Quartet take a different, so to speak experimental, approach to Bach's The Art of Fugue. They play without conspicuous vibrato, their articulation inclining less to long lines than to "respiratory" phrasing, without over-emphasizing the breathless rhetoric of philologically reconstructed baroque phraseology. The "instrumental" impulse retains its intrinsic value, but there is no lack of "ecstatic sound": in passages, above all the transitional episodes, designed to give the imagination free rein before it is curbed again by strict fugal development. The Keller Quartet take the freedom that pervades the overall plan of The Art of Fugue to heart in another respect as well: in their choice of tempi. That Bach wrote a huge instrumental composition with numerous movements in a single key (d-minor) tempts many interpreters to opt for the identical tempo in every movement - a solution prodigious in its monomania but ultimately deadly in its monotony. Although it might be justified by allusion to the medieval "integer valor" (the general validity of a constant pulse frequency), it surely ran counter to Bach's "progressive" tendencies and helped monumentalise and mythicise a work that, if permitted to sound at all, could not sound hieratic or "unsensuous" enough to its admirers. Here the Keller Quartet clear away the cobwebs: they play the pieces at very different tempi, from extremely tranquil to lively and brilliant, confidently sweeping away simple proportions (e.g. fast tempo exactly twice as fast as slow) in the process. Vitality, vibrancy and emotional communicativeness are the benchmarks of this interpretation - an interpretation that clearly experiments with the "utopian" potential of the work, for example, by not shrinking from associations with Beethoven (e.g. in the dotted rhythm of Contrapunctus 2). We know, after all, that Beethoven studied The Art of Fugue intensively.

The question of performance practice can be solved pragmatically, while leaving sufficient latitude for surprising approaches (and perhaps even seemingly bizarre scorings like Schleuning's saxophones). The debate over the order of the movements, on the other hand, is more elusive and closely linked with Bach's alleged intentions when composing his opus magnum (one of several works of equal rank and similar systematic complexity). Bach began a first version in 1737, then, after a break of more than ten years, returned to it, only to set the still incomplete project aside again in 1749. If we consider this complicated history and recall its somewhat puzzling results, a conclusive statement about the "conception" of the work appears virtually impossible. A "big" instrumental composition in the contrapuntal-polyphonic style was the broad objective -but exactly what was it to look like? In 1737 Bach may not have known himself, and his renewed retreat from the score in 1749 indicates that he wanted to let his ideas "mature" a little more before going on.

Whether the fragmentary triple fugue was genuinely going to be the finale or whether more was planned also remains an open question. The notion that this final fugue marked the limits of Bach's mastery of constructive combinations is idle speculation aimed at cementing the myth of legacies and intimations of death. A good deal of evidence suggests that, although he suffered from cataracts and probably had diabetes (he died of the after-effects of the cataract operation), Bach believed he had more time. He would have intended to pick up The Art of Fugue at some future date and finish it in one way or another. He is unlikely to have wanted it to become his legacy in the strict sense, nor can it even be termed a typical "late work". It belongs to a class of quasi emancipatory projects Bach had been undertaking since at least the mid-1730s, in his quest to fulfil an ever stronger desire for compositional "freedom" (a conscious, practical decision with far-reaching consequences, even if it was not, as in the case of Mozart or Schubert, the result of a rationally grounded socio-political stance).

Around 1737 Bach probably wanted to demonstrate the symmetries between individual, self-contained fugal complexes; later on, the desire for a dramaturgy of development and intensification may have taken over. On that premise, it would be sensible to place the longest, most intricate, unfinished fugue at the end (its very incompleteness positing an imaginary goal). But another order would also be conceivable, with all the fugues in succession, followed by the four canons (Nos. 14 to 17 in the usual version).

This would even accord with the idea of progressive intensification, moving towards the greatest formal rigour, for there are no "free" elements left in the canons. Whether Bach would have liked this sequence is questionable, as he tended to prefer a dialectic interplay of freedom and stringency to demonstrative academicism. The academic rigour of The Art of Fugue is legend rather than fact: Bach was by no means trying to produce an object lesson in polyphonic fluency; he wanted to create vigorous music that expanded - and sometimes even risked breaking - the rules. In the process, as Schleuning establishes, harmonic thinking occasionally took precedence over "natural" line. The Protestant work ethic and freedom in the spirit of the Enlightenment are wedded in a conflict-laden union: the "servant" of counterpoint was equally its "master", letting the technique dance for him. In its own way, the fugue provided as much freedom as the sonata form would later on - formal freedom, above all, for the fugue is a method, not a form. Whether it consists of ten or only two "developments" and how the "episodes" separating these thematic development sections are designed makes no difference. The Bach who wrote The Art of Fugue should not be mistaken for an authoritarian fanatic with an obsession for order - he configures order and freedom dialectically.

Translation: Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart

Другие исполнения:

исполнение 1

исполнение 2

исполнение 3

исполнение 4

исполнение 5

исполнение 6

исполнение 7


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   1 Contrapunctus 1         0:04:00  
   2 Contrapunctus 2         0:02:20  
   3 Contrapunctus 3         0:03:41  
   4 Contrapunctus 4         0:02:41  
   5 Contrapunctus 5         0:03:06  
   6 Contrapunctus 6 A 4 In Stylo Franchese         0:03:06  
   7 Contrapunctus 7 A 4 Per Augmentationem Et Diminutionem         0:03:43  
   8 Contrapunctus 8 A 3         0:05:48  
   9 Contrapunctus 9 A 4 All Duodecima         0:02:11  
   10 Contrapunctus 10 A 4 Alla Decima         0:04:10  
   11 Contrapunctus 11 A 4         0:05:41  
   12 Contrapunctus 12 A 4         0:02:16  
   13 Contrapunctus Inversus 12 A 4         0:02:16  
   14 Contrapunctus 13 A 3         0:01:59  
   15 Contrapunctus Inversus 13 A 3         0:02:00  
   16 Canon Per Augmentationem In Contrario Motu         0:03:59  
   17 Canon Alla Ottava         0:01:57  
   18 Canon Alla Decima Contrapunto Alla Terza         0:04:31  
   19 Canon Alla Duodecima Contrapunto Alla Quinta         0:02:04  
   20 Contrapunctus 14         0:10:34  

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