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Re: GG: Art of Fugue

On Thu, 18 Apr 1996, Bradley P Lehman wrote:

> Leonhardt (essay publ. 1952) argues it very forcefully (and, to my mind,
> convincingly).  Tovey (publ. 1931) also argued strongly for it being a
> keyboard work: the only way to fully experience the piece is to play it
> with one's own two hands.  (Tovey did his arguing for piano, because the
> harpsichord wasn't into a big revival yet.) Both their polemics line up
> with my own experience as a player.  I play it myself on harpsichord,
> organ, and piano (and as of a few months ago, clavichord)...it works best
> on harpsichord.  And as I worked on learning the whole thing, I realized
> that the movements are not only compositional examples of fugal technique,
> but graded exercises in *playing* technique.  In almost every case, each
> movement is more difficult physically than the preceding ones.  In my
> experience, one has to develop a new technique of practicing, and a new
> technique of learning pieces, especially getting into contrapuncti 11-13. 
> (And consequently those are especially satisfying to bring off
> successfully, like climbing a mountain, I suppose.)
> Back to Leonhardt's most convincing arguments: he deals with physical
> playability (the otherwise "pure" musical thought being altered a bit to
> fit what two hands can manage); notation (open score being a
> well-established practice for solo keyboard works); compass (notes being
> too high or low for any other existing orchestration except keyboard...for
> example, the tenor line going below what a viola could handle); addition
> of new voices in the last few measures sometimes (natural on keyboard,
> problematic in ensemble); use of the tenor sometimes as a bass, below the
> bass line (arguing against organ with 16' pedal playing the bass line);
> use of parallel thirds in the deep bass (which sound like mush on the
> organ but are clear on harpsichord); and the issue of long-sustained notes
> being more easily droppable on harpsichord than on organ (and he makes
> reference to this in other Bach works that are clearly for harpsichord). 
> The nature of harpsichord tone causes the ear to project voices forward in
> time coherently, even though the actual notes may have faded.  (Listen to
> a good harpsichord performance of #7, with the subject going at three
> speeds, and hear how clear the counterpoint is despite the fact that long
> notes have faded out.)
> For an obvious example of that last point, long-sustained notes, see the
> end of #6, where the D pedal point in the bass has died away by the point
> where the left hand needs to move upward off it to play more notes...but
> then Bach has the hand suddenly retake that same D in the tenor to get it
> sounding again, and from there the hand can hold it through the end.  This
> doesn't make sense on anything except harpsichord or clavichord (or more
> recently, piano).  It's especially telling because the manuscript
> indicates that he likely wrote that little rhythmic lick in later, as a
> compositional trick to get the D back.  The use of harpsichord makes
> Bach's cleverness have the proper effect; on other instruments those notes
> have less reason to exist at all. 
> And then of course there's the huge point that the earlier manuscript
> version was written in keyboard score in the first place....  If it had
> been explicitly an organ work, there might have been clues as to
> registration or to what the pedal is to play (if anything).  
> The Art of Fugue was most likely intended for music lovers to play
> themselves, in their homes...where they would have had harpsichords and
> clavichords, not organs.  (And drawing this back to Gould...it reminds me
> of his comment about Schoenberg's use of the piano as a quick and
> convenient medium in which to try out his new compositional ideas first. 
> If a composer is working on a somewhat "pure" compositional approach that
> doesn't rely too much on special timbral effects to make its points, s/he
> might well cast the piece for whatever instrument is most generic and
> easily available and flexible.  In Schoenberg's case, the piano; in
> Bach's, the harpsichord and clavichord.)

	Well, this all makes sense with respect to Art of the Fugue, but 
looking at many of Bach's other works is it possible to say that he cares 
very little about instrumentation, and more about the notes? True, 
chances are it was written as a keyboard work, but does that mean he 
wouldn't have later arranged it for an orchestra (with a little bit of 
voicing changes) or maybe some other instrumentation... coming from the 
great Baroque tradition of not letting good music go to waste. Especially 
when there's another interested buyer without a harpsichord, but with a 
great orchestra... 8-)



The only thing we have to fear is spearing ourselves...

			- A very wise man
Ryan Anderson
Lewis & Clark College