BACH Art of Fugue Emerson String Quartet

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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH

Die Kunst der Fuge
The Art of Fugue BWV 1080
(für Streichquartett · for String Quartet)
Emerson String Quartet
Int. Release 01 Aug. 2003
1 CD / Download
CD DDD 0289 474 4952 2 GH


Track List

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080

Version for String Quartet

Emerson String Quartet

Eugene Drucker, Lawrence Dutton, David Finckel

Emerson String Quartet

Eugene Drucker, David Finckel

Emerson String Quartet

Lawrence Dutton, David Finckel

Eugene Drucker, Lawrence Dutton

Philip Setzer, David Finckel

Philip Setzer, Lawrence Dutton, David Finckel

Eugene Drucker, Lawrence Dutton, David Finckel

Philip Setzer, David Finckel

Emerson String Quartet

Total Playing Time 1:19:59

In his essay in praise of Napoleon the adventurer Ralph Waldo Emerson approvingly quotes the French leader thus: "The desire of perfection is the worst disease that ever afflicted the human mind." The members of the eponymous Emerson Quartet would propably take issue with him to judge from their three-concert Wigmore Hall residency. Not only do they desire a form a perfection, they attain it. And I'm not talking about the kind of empty, technical perfection laid accusingly at the door of many young musicians. No, every note, every phrase, every movement has a purpose and a sense of its own standing within the given work as a whole.

The Emerson Quartet bring out all the varied characters, but the most impressive thing about them ist their concentration. Sometimes this can be overwhelming.

. . . I found myself very soon immersed in the work because of the unforced intensitiy of the Emerson Quartet's playing here.

This is playing of real character, every instrument an equal partner in the climb to the mountaintop, ultimately conveying the exhilarating purity sought by Bach.

The Emerson's enormous warmth and intelligence benefit Bach's great fugal testimony . . . I still admire their Classical exegesis, the liveliness and urgency of their phrasing and the warm glow of their tone. Theirs is an eminently satisfying performance.

The Emerson has some splendidly imaginative ideas -- not least, reversing its conventional seating positions for the inverted fugues. Bach's parts work equally well individually inverted and migrating, top to bottom. The altered soundscape is surprisingly telling.

Almost immediately, and indeed almost from the first jaunty statement of the theme by violist Lawrence Dutton, this has become one of my favorite recordings of Bach's daunting "Art of Fugue" . . . What distinguishes this recording is its rhythmic life, as well as the buoyant clarity of the individual lines. One hears that liveliness in Dutton's first notes, but also in the dotted rhythms of the second fugue, and, of course, throughout the piece. There is also variety here, as in the tiptoeing approch to the eighth fugue. The tension rises towards the climax of the piece: the Emersons play the eight-minute "fragment" of the 14th fugue, and follow that with the grand serenity of the Chorale, "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit". The performance is sublime. This is a recording that will fascinate even those new to this work.

The Art iof Fugue is certainly an album that will appeal to spiritual seekers everywhere.

The Emerson's enormous warmth and intelligence benefit Bach's great fugal testimony. [...] One of the leading virtues of this performance is the way each player colours and characterises individual voices. A good place to sample is the Seventh Contrapunctus, where Bach 'juggles [the theme] in three different tempos' (to quote Paul Epstein's exhaustive analysis), a nightmare to get right, I would imagine: and yet because the blending lines remain distinct, they are projected with total clarity. A secure sense of pulse also helps. [...] +Another novelty on this new release concerns instrumental positioning: in order to highlight acoustical differences between the straight and inverted fugues of Contrapuncti Nos 12 and 13, the Emersons reverse their seating for
the inverted versions. Here, as at other key points in the score, a forthright playing style helps focus the sublime ingenuity of the writing. [...] Having revisited the Emersons three or four times, I still admire their classical exegesis, the liveliness and urgency of their phrasing and the warm glow of their tone. Theirs is an eminently satisfying performance.

Dem amerikanischen Ensemble gelingt der Spagat, zum einen die Komplexität des Lehrwerks plastisch und transparent darzustellen und das auf einem atemberaubend hohen technischen Niveau mit gezielter Akzentuierung und klanglicher Differenzierung. Zum anderen verstehen sie es, neben der Struktur die musikalische Qualität, den melodischen Bogen nie abreißen zu lassen, den Verlauf organisch, jeden neuen Themeneinsatz als selbstverständlich darzustellen und die Konzentration beim Zuhörer bis zum Ende zu bannen.

Der Zauber wirkt nach... Bachs "Kunst der Fuge" in einer außergewöhnlich guten Interpretation...

Bachs "Kunst der Fuge" als ewig tönendes Mandala? Für die Herren des Emerson String Quartet ist das kein abwegiger Gedanke. Ihre 80-minütige Version mutet an wie meditative Himmelsmusik -- aber nicht vergeistigt, düster, abstrakt ..., sondern in hellen Farben, klangorientiert, gefühlig schillernd in feinem Vibrato. Damit orientieren sich die Emersons überzeugend an Bach himself: Der hatte sein Opus ganz der "Gemüths-Ergötzung" gewidmet.

Musik pur, ganz bestimmt nicht zum Nebenbei-Hören. In diesem Fall mit dem famosen Emerson String Quartet.

Hier und heute jedoch darf man sich von den Emersons wieder eingeladen fühlen, an einem Fest teilzunehmen, in dessen Verlauf der ferne Bach durch rasche Tempi und Brillanz buchstäblich auf spielerische Weise näher rückt, und zwar in seiner ganzen Schönheit. Das Emerson String Quartet erreicht einen Punkt, an dem das Werk, wie der Bratscher Lawrence Dutton sagt, "von selbst läuft". ... Die Emerson-Interpretation weckt im Zuhörer eher träumerische, romantische, im Thomas Mannschen Sinne naive Gefühle. Wer die Noten sinken lässt, kann es selbst in der vierstimmigen Spiegelfuge mit Eichendorff halten: "Und ich lasse mich entführen! Ach, wohin? mag ich nicht fragen."

diese CD könnte süchtig machen. ... Und siehe, plötzlich wird aus vermeintlich «akademischer», jedenfalls trockener Musik ein höchst lebendiges, ja ergreifendes Musikerlebnis.

Die Emersons spielen ihren Bach als große Ausdrucksmusik, nicht anders als sie ihren späten Beethoven spielen, das heißt: mit "romantischem" Vibrato, farblich reich abgetönt, mit so intensivem wie differenziertem Strich... Entscheidend ist die Durchsichtigkeit des kontrapunktischen Gefüges, und die ist bei den Emersons in jeder Phase gewährleistet. Wie intentsiv die vier Musiker sich mit dem Werk auseinandergesetzt haben, spürt man bei der Wiedergabe eines jeden dieser 21 Contrapuncti... Meisterlich!

Da wird ein kunstvolles, überaus transparentes, tänzerisch beschwingtes Bewegungsspiel vorgeführt, das kein großflächiges Überspielen von kontrapunktischen Strukturen erlaubt. Ein sympathischer Bach-Swing, der jedoch nie in übertriebene Gelassenheit ausartet. Da Motive prägnant geformt werden und Themensätze präzise kommen, breitet sich nirgends Einförmigkeit aus. Sehr flexibel wird auch das Tempo gehandhabt . . . Viel Spannung also in einer modernen Wiedergabe, die unnötige Strenge meidet. Man spürt die Geschlossenheit, die den Sinn jedes Einzelstücks sowie seine Integration in das gesamte Fugenkompendium eindrucksvoll belegt.

Les Emerson ont mis tous les moyens de leur côté pour que la lisibilité de leur interprétation soit optimale . . . Le jeu des Emerson est, de plus, d'une exemplaire clarté, d'articulation notamment. Ils savent toutefois garder leur formidable et habituelle homogénéité onctueuse qui donne force et cohérence à leur lecture.

... magnífico libreto del disco, el cual permite un análisis muy interesante de la pieza, pista a pista. ... Esta grabación es muy bella y cuidadosa del detalle, e incluye cambios instrumentales (a viola) para permitir que las notas bajas, las que escapan al segundo violín, se mantengan sin distorsión.

Si bien "El arte de la fuga" es una obra conocida en su formato iriginal para teclado, las posibilidades que ofrece en otros medios son infinitas y un buen ejemplo es esta transcripción para cuarteto de cuerda, interpretada por el grupo Emerson . . . La interpretación del Cuarteto Emerson es, aparte de un sentido homenaje al genio de Eisenach, un excepcional trabajo de orfebrería técnica, que acercará esta obra a aquellos que la puedan encontrar un tanto árida en clave.

. . . afinación perfecta, velocidad uniforme, pulcritud máxima, ausencia total de sobresaltos.
    Overall Structure

Fugues with a single subject
Simple fugues:
A I.* Subject, S, in original form. Simple harmony and two-beat rhythm.
B II. The same, but with a snappy dotted rhythm added to the counterpoint.
C III. Inverted (upside-down) form of subject = I. The voices get more chromatic. We first hear a variation of the inversion (Var) that becomes the subject in later fugues.
D IV. I, counterpointed by a dipping motive derived from S's tail. I appears in ever more remote harmonies. The overall rhythm is growing more complex.

Counter-fugues, in which the subject - Var - is paired with its own inversion:
E V. Stretto fugue (as are VI and VII), in which the entries of Var overlap.
F VI. Answer is not only in inversion, but also in diminution (twice as fast). Florid, with sharp dotted figuration: "in the French style".

* Roman numerals indicate Contrapuncti
G VII. "In augmentation (half as fast) and diminution" - juggles Var in three different tempos simultaneously!

Double and triple fugues - fugues with more than one subject (in this case, all variations of S). Each subject has its own exposition, and all are combined in the end.
H VIII. Triple fugue (3 voices). Subject 1 is a chromatic twisting of S. Subject 2 involves more chromatic twisting and an insistent, repeated-note motive. Subject 3 fractures the inversion of Var into dramatic, three-note groups.
I IX. Double fugue. A frantic, rushing variant that stretches the opening 5th into a leaping octave + the stately moving S.
J X. Double fugue. It uses Subject 3 from Contrapunctus VIII + Var.
K XI. Triple fugue. An even more sweeping exploration of the same subjects that figured in Contrapunctus VIII.

Mirrors and canons - I through XI have proceeded linearly in time, one after another. With the mirror fugues (Contrapuncti XII and XIII), we now move into a new, spatial dimension. Each of them is, in fact, a matching pair of fugues, exact mirror images: the top-to-bottom order of voices is exactly inverted, as are all the melodic lines. Bach even wrote each pair in the score with one mirror fugue above the other.
It is in this break in the "continuum" that the Emerson Quartet has chosen to introduce the four canons. Unnumbered in the score, they are not fugues, but, rather, two-voice compositions in which one voice imitates the other according to a particular transformative rule. In this performance, three of them are inserted between the two mirror fugues, which, in turn, are framed by two different versions of the fourth canon:
L Canon in augmentation and contrary motion - with the counterpoint going twice as slow and upside down, the two voices seem to inhabit completely different spheres. A strange and haunting piece. This is an early version.
M XII. Triple-time variant of I followed by...
N ...its mirror inversion.
O Canon at the Octave (the interval that separates the two imitating voices)
P Canon at the 10th. The interval grows wider...
Q Canon at the 12th. ...and wider again.
R XIII. (3 voices) Swirling version of S (a counter-fugue - see above) followed by...
S ...its mirror inversion. (The mirroring is not quite exact: the order of voices is switched from ABS to SAB.)
T Canon in augmentation and contrary motion (an expanded version that appeared in the first edition).

Quadruple fugue (unfinished) and chorale - Unfortunately, according to his son's note in the first edition, the composer "was prevented by his eye disease and his death soon thereafter from finishing the last fugue". (He actually lived and remained active for another six months.) It breaks off, shockingly, in mid-phrase.
U XIV. Fugue with three of four subjects extant. Subject 1, in half- and whole-notes (minims and semibreves), is not a variation of S, but rather an echo. Subject 2, rising and falling in curling eighths, again recalls both S and I. Subject 3 is B (= Bb), A, C, H (= B) in slow notes. The fugue breaks off before Bach could add the last subject, presumably S, and then combine all the elements in totally invertible fashion, as his obituary said he had planned. Some great musical minds have made laudable attempts to complete it. Since it is the original subject that is missing - a subject that by now has been explored so exhaustively - it almost seems, on some level, that Bach is saying: "Here, now you try".
V Chorale: "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit" - As compensation for the unfinished fugue, the Art of Fugue's first edition, which came out in 1751 under the supervision of Carl Philipp Emanuel, included a chorale entitled "Here Before Thy Throne I Stand". This was Bach's last musical bequest, a revision of his chorale setting "Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein" that he dictated from his deathbed, and although it has nothing to do musically with the Art of Fugue, it is often used to conclude performances of the great work, which itself stands as a final summing-up of the master's art.
*
David Finckel: I don't know if there's scientific evidence to support it, but when I listen to this music I feel my brain cells being re-aligned. The fugues are complex yet so perfectly ordered, so respectful of the laws of physics that govern music and make it a universal language. Just hearing Bach's work, even without much concentration, is like having my musical windows cleaned - all other music around me becomes clearer and more understandable.
Lawrence Dutton: Figuring out each fugue was like solving a mystery.

Eugene Drucker: The whole last fugue seems to be striving towards something ineffable, something beyond the reach of mortal man (even as immortal a mortal as Bach). There is a sense throughout this cycle of Bach summing up a life's work, utilizing every ounce of technical mastery and stretching the boundaries of what the ear can perceive and the mind can grasp. His pushing himself to achieve a higher plane has an emotional impact and a spiritual resonance that cannot be described in words.

Lawrence Dutton: It unlocks a yearning that all of us have, to be connected to "something bigger, something spiritual". Bach was making music that would connect people to God.

Philip Setzer: When I play any of these fugues, and especially when I play the whole cycle, I find that I become somewhat mesmerized. The complexity of what I am helping to reproduce is at once daunting and thrilling. There is definitely some kind of power that pulls me along in its wake. Or am I riding the crest of the wave? In my quasi-hypnotized state I feel a warmth and very human glow reflecting off the surface of these most perfect, intricate multi-jeweled fugue-machines.

Lawrence Dutton: When it feels right, it just goes by itself. As a performer, you have to try to find the place where it feels right, where everything works. And you can get to that point. Maybe that relates to Bach's idea of heaven - where everything works like this.