A great deal of speculation has arisen surrounding Johann Sebastian Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080. We know of no Bach autograph containing the complete collection, and the first edition was published after the composer’s death. The partitura notation used in the preserved score does not indicate what instrument the work was meant for. Scholars suspect that it could have been a keyboard instrument, but the lack of unequivocal markings allows it to be performed by other forces too. There are also doubts concerning the actual contents of the collection. The first publishers based it on four Bach autographs. The last of these contains only an unfinished fugue; according to a note by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, the composer died while writing this piece. Added to the edition at the end was the chorale Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV 668.1, which according to the publisher’s preface was intended to recompense admirers of Bach’s music for the incomplete final fugue. Moreover, some scholars have questioned whether it really belongs to this set of works, given that it is the only piece without the theme that unites all the other compositions. Opponents of that theory, however, suggest that the unfinished fugue was to present a new, fourth theme which Bach failed to write down before he died. One thing is certain: Johannes Mattheson was quite right to assert, in 1752, that Die Kunst der Fuge would one day draw great admiration from other composers.
Simply… Philharmonic! Project 2:
Exactly 300 years ago, in May 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach took up the post of cantor at St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig. His duties included providing the musical setting in the city’s principal churches, which led him to compose cantatas for the liturgical year. Yet Bach’s creative path began much earlier, during his teenage years, when he came under the care of his elder brother, Johann Christoph. It was there, as the anecdote goes, that he first tried copying out the works of German masters of keyboard music. In later years, however, he also took an interest in Italian and French music, copying out Charles Dieupart’s Six Suittes de clavessin, for example, and Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali, and he also transcribed concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and others. As a mature composer, he turned to nearly all the musical genres of his time, avoiding only opera. The Leipzig cantor’s compositional path was symbolically crowned with Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080, which assured his standing in the history of music as a peerless master of fugue and counterpoint.