BACH Johann Sebastian, The Art of Fugue, Contrapunctus 14 arr. for string quartet

Bach’s contrapuntal masterpiece The Art of Fugue is shrouded in mystery: no instrumentation is specified, and the last fugue – Contrapunctus XIV – was left unfinished. The structure is also highly unusual as the work is monothematic: each of its canons and fugues representing a different treatment of the same theme. The surviving autograph manuscript appears to date from the early 1740s, and the first edition of the score appeared in 1751, a year after the composer’s death. In spite of the uncertainty of how to play the work, or what forces Bach might have had in mind, the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff has summarised its importance as ‘an exploration in depth of the contrapuntal possibilities inherent in a single musical subject.’  

© Nigel Simeone

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