Bach-The Art of Fugue BWV 1080 and Musical Offering BWV 1079
The Art of Fugue or The Art of the Fugue (original German: Die Kunst der Fuge), BWV 1080, is an unfinished work. The work was probably started in 1742. Bach's first version, which contained 12 fugues and 2 canons, was copied in 1745. This manuscript has a slightly different title, added afterwards by his son-in-law Altnickol: Die Kunst der Fuga. His second version was published after his death in 1750. It contains fourteen fugues and four canons. The Art of Fugue is one of the most complex works ever penned by Bach and is considered a crowning achievement of western art.
The order of the fugues and canons has been debated, especially as there are differences between the manuscript and the printed editions appearing immediately after Bach's death. Also musical reasons have been invoked to propose different orders for later publications and/or the execution of the work, e.g. by Wolfgang Graeser in 1927.
The 1751 printed edition contained — apart from a high number of errors and other flaws — a four-part version of Contrapunctus XIII, arranged to be played on two keyboards (rectus BWV 1080/18,1 and inversus BWV 1080/18,2). It is however doubtful whether the printed indication "a 2 Clav.", and the fourth added voice, that is not mirrored according to Bach's usual practice, derive from him, or from his son(s) that supervised this first edition.
The engraving of the copper plates for the printed edition would however have started shortly before the composer's death, according to contemporary sources, but it is unlikely that Bach had any real supervision in that preparation of the printed edition, due to his illness at the time.
The first printed edition also includes an unrelated work as a kind of "encore", the chorale prelude Vor deinen Thron tret Ich hiermit (Herewith I come before Thy Throne), BWV 668a, which Bach is said to have dictated on his deathbed.
A 1742 fair copy manuscript contains Contrapuncti I–III, V–IX, and XI–XIII, plus the octave and augmented canons and an earlier version of Contrapunctus X.
Manuscript copies of the Art of Fugue, as well as the first printed edition, use open scoring, where each voice is written on its own staff. This has led to the assumption that the Art of Fugue was an intellectual exercise, meant to be studied and not heard. However, musicologists today, such as Gustav Leonhardt,agree that the Art of Fugue was probably intended to be played on a keyboard instrument.The fact that it is playable on a keyboard at all is evidence for some that this was Bach's intended instrument, as it is not possible to play most of his ensemble pieces on a keyboard instrument.
The Musical Offering (German title Musikalisches Opfer or Das Musikalische Opfer), BWV 1079, is a collection of canons and fugues and other pieces of music based on a musical theme by Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great) and dedicated to him.
The collection has its roots in a meeting between Bach and Frederick II on May 7, 1747. The meeting, taking place in the king's residence in Potsdam, resulted from Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel being employed there as court musician. Frederick wanted to show the elder Bach a novelty: the pianoforte had been invented some years earlier, and the king now owned several of the experimental instruments.During his anticipated visit to Frederick's palace in Potsdam, Bach, who was well known for his skill at improvising, received from Frederick a long and complex musical figure to improvise a three-voice fugue. Frederick, then, defied Bach to make that into a six-voice fugue. The public present thought that just a malicious caprice by the king, intent into humiliating philosophers and artists. Bach answered he would need to work the score and send it to the king afterwards. He then returned to Leipzig to write out the Thema Regium ("theme of the king").Two weeks after the meeting, Bach published a set of pieces based on this theme which we now know as The Musical Offering. Bach inscribed the piece "Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta" (the theme given by the king, with additions, resolved in the canonic style), the first letters of which spell out the word ricercar (an older name for fugue).
Apart from the trio sonata, which is written for flute, violin and basso continuo, the pieces have few indications of which instruments are meant to play them.
The ricercars and canons have been realised in various ways: The ricercars are frequently performed on keyboard instruments, an ensemble of chamber musicians with alternating instrument groups, comparable to the instrumentation of the trio sonata, often playing the canons. But also recordings on one or more keyboard instruments (piano, harpsichord) exist, as well as with a more ample orchestra-like instrumentation.
As the printed version gives the impression to be organised for (reduction of) page turning when sight-playing the score, the order of the pieces intended by Bach (if there was an intended order), remains uncertain, although it is customary to open the collection with the Ricercar a 3, and play the trio sonata toward the end. The Canones super Thema Regium are also usually played together.
*Academy of St Martin in the Fields
*Sir Neville Marriner