The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, by Johann Sebastian Bach

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Introduction

"Über dieser Fuge..."
Structure of The Art of Fugue
The "unfinished" fugue
About the realization
How to listen to The Art of Fugue
About the narratives below

 

The Art of Fugue

Simple Fugues
Contrapunctus I  (3:52)
Contrapunctus II  (3:12)
Contrapunctus III  (3:49)
Contrapunctus IV  (3:18)

Canon alla Ottava  (4:12)

Stretto Fugues
Contrapunctus V  (2:24)
Contrapunctus VI  (4:20)
Contrapunctus VII  (2:49)

Canon alla Decima  (4:44)

Double and Triple Fugues
Contrapunctus VIII  (5:17)
Contrapunctus IX  (2:46)
Contrapunctus X  (3:29)
Contrapunctus XI  (6:58)

Canon alla Duodecima  (3:33)

Mirror Fugues
Contrapunctus XII + inversus  (3:36)
Contrapunctus XIII + inversus  (4:23)

Canon per Augmentationem  (4:16)

Quadruple Fugue
Contrapunctus XIV  (11:52)

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Contrapunctus IV: simple fugue, 138 bars, 3:18   

As in Contrapunctus III, Bach uses an inversion of the main AOF subject, but this time he starts it on the dominant rather than the tonic:

This puts the inversion firmly on the D minor triad, unlike the troubled wandering of the Contrapunctus III subject, and the result is a joyful transformation of the mood of that previous fugue. Here is Easter to Contrapunctus III's Good Friday, a radiant burst of music that sets the stage for much of the rest of the cycle.

For the first time thus far in AOF, I use the full orchestra employed in this realization, including the great organ and the upright bass bumping happily along in the bass. This fugue is perhaps best experienced after hearing the first three, where its transformative affekt is most dramatically revealed. Either way, it's a treasure, so sit back and enjoy!

A big part of the joyful character of this fugue is the little two-note motive that runs through it:

Does that look familiar? Right, it's the augmentation of its pensive cousin from Contrapunctus I! Thus are the first and fourth fugues tightly linked, tying this set of four fugues nicely together.

Listen also to the first appearance in AOF of stretto -- overlapped instances of the fugue subject. You'll hear it twice, toward the end, at 2:25 in the tenor and bass, and again at 2:30 in the alto and soprano. Thus, in addition to looking back to Contrapunctus I, this fugue prepares the ear for the stretto fugues that begin in Contrapunctus V.

The subject appears sixteen (4 x 4) times, perhaps in an emphasis, at this conclusion of the first quartet of fugues, of the 4-symmetry of AOF.

Player image: The crown jewel of the solar system is Saturn, orbited by 60 moons and a glittering system of rings comprised of trillions of bits of ice. Although the rings are some 300,000 km across, they are only about 30 m thick -- thinner, relatively speaking, than a razor blade. They are highly reflective and easily visible with binoculars. The orange object in the foreground is Titan, one of the largest moons in the solar system and home to an atmosphere thicker than that of Earth. It is now known to have clouds and precipitation, and may have seasonal seas of organic sludge on its surface. The smaller moon near Saturn is not quite to scale; in reality, Earth would be only a bit bigger next to the giant planet. Saturn is one of the wondrous sights of the cosmos, with myriad particles and moons swirling about it in a dance governed by the beautiful canons of Newton. Image credit: Rendering by me.