J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Die Kunst der Fuge

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Calefax Reed Quintet
Basset Horn
Individual Works:Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:MDG
Catalog Number:MDG 619 0989-2
Year Released/Recorded:2000
Total Playing Time:76'54
Comments:Ivar Berix said:

Bach Rid of His Wig

Notes on The Art of Fugue

Since its founding in 1985 Calefax has occupied itself more intensively with Johann Sebastian BachÆs The Art of Fugue than with any other composition. Raaf Hekkema began with a first arrangement in 1990, we began playing smaller selections in 1994, en in 1999 we were able to perform a complete version. During all these years The Art of Fugue has become increasingly dear to our hearts. We have become acquainted with this work step by step and learned how to play it better in close contact with it. In addition, we have varied the instrumentation repeatedly so that at present the five musicians employ a total of ten instruments.

Recently in particular, however, it has also become clear to us that The Art of Fugue is indeed a very sensitive composition. It is not without reason that it has continued to be the subject of new discussion among musicians and musicologists. A great many still unsolved riddles surround the work. Here we would only like to mention a few of these questions. Why did Bach not prescribe an instrumentation and what significance does this have? What is the proper order of the parts? Should one adapt the part writing in an ensemble performance? Should one follow the first edition or the manuscript? Why did the Contrapunctus XIV remain unfinished? Can one even perform an unfinished work? If yes, how should one deal with such an abrupt ending? Was The Art of Fugue intended for practical performance? Or was it perhaps instead a theoretical (learning) piece concerning counterpoint? Our occupation with these and many other (still unresolved) questions was very productive for us. We sometimes also felt the danger that the performance of this music was becoming a less spontaneous, almost theoretical matter.

Our encounter with Contrapunctus XIV by the Dutch artist Pascal Möhlmann was therefore a relieving experience. In th9is painting one sees Bach before a background of fourteen golden stripes. The expression on his face suggests very attentive listening or observing. The piece of paper that he is holding in his right hand contains the fragment of a musical score and represents one possible ending of the unfinished Contrapunctus XIV. When we consider Bach himself, we notice at second glance that he has finally taken off his wig û 250 years after the Hausmann portrait. We see a human being! A somewhat corpulent man with a stubble beard who outdid most of his genial colleagues as a musician. The human quality revealed to us for a moment in this portrait increased our desire not to continue to spin Bach into his own mystical web. We simply want to play his music and, if necessary, to adapt his music to the instruments available to us, just as he adapted his music to the instruments available to him. Respect need not mean keeping oneÆs distance. What one wants to view respectfully from close up is something that one can take oneÆs time to absorb into oneself. What one regards with tender esteem brings with it an invitation to pleasure. After all, the best baker in town has a practical goal in mind, namely that people eat his breadàà

Calefax Reed Quintet:
Oliver Boekhoorn: oboe, oboe dÆamore, english horn
Raaf Hekkema: soprano and alto saxophone
Ivar Berix: B flat and E flat clarinet
Jelte Althuis: basset horn and bass clarinet
Alban Wesly: bassoon
For more information please go to: www.calefax.nl

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Ivar Berix
Date First Submitted:05/13/2000