Fuga a 3 Soggetti [ Contrapunctus XIV ] : 4-voice triple, possibly quadruple, fugue, the third subject of which is based on the BACH motif, B♭— A — C — B♮ ( 'H' in German letter notation )
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote that his father had died while composing this fugue. Recent research, however, suggests that Bach abandoned this movement several months before his death. His failure to complete it thus remains a mystery; Christoph Wolff suggests that Bach completed it in another manuscript, now lost.
As it stands, this fugue is based on three subjects – including one based on the notes of Bach’s own name, but excluding The Art of Fugue’s subject. Several prominent writers therefore claim that it is wholly unrelated to The Art of Fugue. However, The Art of Fugue’s subject can be combined with this fugue’s three subjects.
In all probability, then, Bach intended this to be a quadruple fugue, but abandoned it before introducing its last subject. Several musicians have tried to complete it, to prove that a quadruple fugue is feasible and to provide a more satisfying conclusion for this movement, which – as it stands – ends in midstream. The Delmé Quartet recorded the completion by Donald Francis Tovey; organist Helmut Walcha and harpsichordist Davitt Moroney recorded their own completions.
In the introduction to his book Musical Meaning and Emotion, philosopher Stephen Davies wrote: 'I do not believe that all music is expressive. Neither do I believe that expressiveness is always the most important feature of music that is expressive'. To illustrate this, he presented Bach’s Art of Fugue as the archetypal example. Here, he claims, is a work in which the listener’s attention should be drawn to 'the way the material is handled'; the music’s 'expressive and dynamic features' – or lack thereof – are of marginal importance (p. 354). This view is not atypical. The Art of Fugue’s reputation as a cerebral, intellectual work is so pervasive that Rinaldo Alessandrini, in the notes to his recording, was moved to ask: 'is it possible to consider The Art of Fugue as music?'
Until recently, The Art of Fugue was considered to be Bach’s very last work, sketched and written in last years of his life. It thus came to be viewed as Bach’s “Last Will and Testament”. This resonated with the more general tendency to consider any artist’s late works as transcendental, “unworldly” reflections of their creator’s spirit. Much was also made of the fact that the work was published with no indication of instrumentation: this was seen as further evidence for Bach’s disengagement from material considerations, his indifference to sonority and performance. Some even described The Art of Fugue as Augenmusik – “eye-music”, which should be contemplated and analysed, not realised in sound.
Since its first publication in 1751 (a year after Bach’s death), the work was often treated as Augenmusik. It was re-published, studied and analysed during the nineteenth-century, but did not receive a complete public performance until 1927, under the direction of then-Thomaskantor Karl Straube. Straube used Wolfgang Graeser’s colourful orchestration, which employed a variety of instrumental combinations – from solo harpsichord and organ, through solo strings, to a full orchestra of strings, brass, woodwinds and organ. Such orchestrations helped The Art of Fugue to finally reach the concert halls. However, they also strengthened the notion that the work was not bound to any particular instrumentation – thus bolstering, even in listeners’ ears, the Augenmusik myth.
— for complete essay:
Loading more stuff…
Hmm…it looks like things are taking a while to load. Try again?