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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080 (1750) [81.30]
Terje Winge (Gloger organ)
rec. 30 September 2001 Kongsberg Kirche, Kongsberg, Norway.
SIMAX PSC 1243 [81.30]

Comparison recordings:
Glenn Gould, organ. (excerpts) [ADD] Sony M2K 42770
Paul Jordan, Heiller organ. (Bergel/Jordan completion) Brioso BR 128
Helmut Walcha, organ. (Walcha completion) [ADD] DGG Archive 463 712-2
Musica Antiqua Köln, chest of viols. DGG Archive 431 704-2
Davitt Moroney, harpsichord. (Moroney completion) Harmonia Mundi HMC 901168/70
Delmé Quartet. (arr Simpson, Tovey completion) Hyperion CDA 67138
Alexander and Daykin, pianos. Connoisseur Society CD 4203

At one time rarely heard, this final work of Bach’s is now very frequently recorded and in a variety of editions and instrumentations. It was first performed publicly by full orchestra and has been arranged for string quartet, chamber ensemble and chest of viols. Even the Swingle Singers performed excerpts. Now accepted as a keyboard work upon the research of Tovey and others, there is still a variety of approaches, for that keyboard can be harpsichord, organ or pianoforte. One of the most successful versions is listed above for pianoforte duo.

There is also controversy regarding the order of the movements, and even the actual movements themselves, some of which, on one basis or other, can be omitted. This recording follows the 1751 published version without deviation.

The final fugue was left incomplete by Bach; or, more correctly, Bach failed to write down the completion of the final fugue as Bach most surely knew how it would go to the end. He was known for, beginning with a theme or themes, hearing a fugue in his mind in a single glance, a single grasp. Why the family was unable to engrave Bach’s completion of the work forms a puzzle with many possible answers. Most likely Bach’s sketches were simply misplaced inexplicably; such things happen, sometimes most often when people are being extra careful. Another possible answer that I favor is that the family found the sketch and didn’t recognize it because it was so revolutionary they couldn’t see the connection with what was already written, or in a kind of personal shorthand they couldn’t decipher. Completions of the final fugue have been written out and performed by Tovey, Walcha, Moroney, Erich Bergel and several others. There is little doubt in my mind that Glenn Gould intended to write his own completion eventually, but he died before he could get around to it, hence his recording of the work is truncated.

The final fugue in its broken form is already the longest fugue Bach ever wrote and had he finished it it would be recognized as one of his greatest works, shortlisted by many for the greatest single piece of music ever written. But what would we think of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony if he never finished the last movement? The Brahms Violin Concerto without its last movement? What do we think of the Venus de Milo without its arms, the incomplete Turandot, the incomplete Lulu, the unorchestrated Mahler Tenth Symphony? What we think is that we want them finished because what we have is off-balance and distorted by not being rounded off, like a table with three legs. So why don’t people play this work as Tovey completed it? His solution is extremely musical, if a little anachronistic - the drama and the harmonies waft in the direction of Wagner. Tovey’s completion is probably already in the public domain — I don’t think Tovey ever intended to copyright it — but even in the strictest interpretation of copyright laws, will probably be in the public domain in four years. It has been recorded several times so in any event the required royalty would presumably be minimal.

Apart from the gigantic final fugue the rest of this work, consisting of a series, over an hour long, of different kinds of fugues on the same theme can to some listeners seem dry and pedantic. The successful performers of the work, including Winge and those listed above, give the work life and variety through their dramatic instinct and their thorough knowledge of their instruments and their virtuoso skill.

This recording resembles Glenn Gould’s recording in that it is brisk in tempo and light in touch. Winge’s organ has more attractive sound than Gould’s. This recording is complete, but does not attempt a completion of the final fugue which simply stops as the player runs out of notes on the page, the way it is most often performed, leaving the listener in shock. The organ sound is luscious, bright and clear; for such a small instrument, remarkably varied. Some connoisseurs of the instrument will want the recording purely for the sound of the organ itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if some organ enthusiasts buy the recording simply for the photograph of the instrument, for it is amazingly beautiful.

Unusually this recording is on a single disk, as is the fascinating version for chest of viols by Musica Antiqua Köln, which requires quick tempi and which further requires clear, bright sound.

Paul Shoemaker



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