BACH 730

The ART of the FUGUE - BWV 1080

The Thuringian Chamber Orchestra,
Guest Conductor: George Malcolm.

Johannes Ernst Köhler, Hildebrandt organ, Naumburg, 1747



1. Contrapunctus I and IV – Contrapunctus I – Simple fugue on the main subject
2. Contrapunctus IV - Fugue on the inverted subject
3. Canon XIV Inverted theme, canon at the 10th
4. Contrapunctus XVI Rectus - Fugue on the main subject
5. Contrapunctus XVI Inversus - The same fugue totally inverted
6. Contrapunctus V - Stretto fugue contrary motion, variant of theme
7. Canon XII – Variant of inverted theme, canon at the octave
8. Contrapunctus IX - Double fugue with main and new subject
9. Contrapunctus VIII - Triple fugue, variant of theme & 2 new themes


10. Contrapunctus II - Main subject with dotted rhythm in last bar
11. Contrapunctus III – Inverted subject slightly modified
12. Canon XIII – Variant of theme, augmentation, contrary motion
13. Contrapunctus VII – Stretto, contrary motion, augmentation & diminution
14. Contrapunctus XVII Rectus– Variant of theme and its inversion
15. Contrapunctus XVII Inversus – Same fugue totally inverted
16. Canon XV – Variant of theme, canon at the 12th
17. Contrapunctus X – Double fugue with main and new subject
18. Contrapunctus XI – Triple fugue on subjects of VIII inverted

Silhouette purportedly of JSB in private family ownership, Vienna.

In the Art of the Fugue lies some of the most structured, and structurally complex music ever composed, yet in its complexity and structural integrity lies the secret of its beauty, a beauty which can indeed be experienced and enjoyed without any knowledge or awareness of the underlying structure whatsoever.

The relationship between structure and emotion was expressed indirectly by Bach during the artistic dispute between himself and Scheibe during the years 1737-1739:

The true amenity of music consists in the connection and alternation of consonances and dissonances without hurt to the harmony. The nature of music demands this. The various passions, especially the dark ones, cannot be expressed with fidelity to Nature without this alternation.

In Bach's view of nature and harmony, the connection and alternation of consonances and dissonances was governed by counterpoint. And it is the timeless value of counterpoint, way beyond the scope of old and new techniques, styles, or manners of composing, that he thought needed to be upheld. Thus he devised a plan that would center systematically on fugal composition, and The Art of the Fugue was born.

The order of fugues and canons in the Schmieder Catalogue. (BWV) simply reflects the random order in which the printing plates had been bundled together after Bach's death. Though this order is normally used in performances and recordings, it does not provide a coherent program for ideal listening. Bach's own rule was: begin with simplicity, move towards complexity. We have respected this natural order; however since the complete work is far too demanding to be heard in one sitting, we offer the work as two programs each complete in itself, each offering all the major structural forms, each starting with simplicity then continuing into increasing complexity, and each ending with a powerful Triple Fugue.

Our performance is given by a chamber orchestra; we feel that this instrumentation offers the listener the two most important factors: clarity of structure, and enjoyability. The Canons are distinguished tonally by performance on the historic Hildebrandt organ at Naumburg, completed in 1747 and certificated by Bach himself in company with his old friend Gottfried Silbermann, the Saxon master organ builder.

When listening to the different fugues one can follow clearly the contrapuntal patterns; yet at the same time one is moved by the sheer beauty of the music itself. Anyone who passes over this work as a dry academic exercise is missing some of the most powerful music of the baroque era.

How, as we listen to this late work, may we visualize the Master in his latter years?

One popular portrait of Bach is by Elias Gottlieb Haussmann, Court Painter at Dresden. Bach is seen holding a fragment of a Canon. Though widely used in musical literature today, is this indeed an accurate image of the Master?

Haussmann painted the portraits of several of Leipzig's Mayors, and on close inspection one is struck by the fineness of the brushwork and accuracy of detail - in complete contrast to the hurried brushwork, rough strokes and lack of detail in Haussmann's Bach portrait.

There is in fact an old Leipzig tradition, that Bach was always in a hurry, would never sit for long, and that Haussmann complained he was never able to finish the work properly.

Be that as it may, an alternative is the wonderful Altersbild, the Portrait of Bach in Old Age published in 1904 as Volume IV part 2 of the New Bachgesellschaft. Here, surely, is the strict yet compassionate face of the Bach whose latter years gave us the B-Minor Mass, the Goldberg Variations, the Musical Offering and the Art of the Fugue.

Baroque Music Library