Contrapunctus 14 Analysis Essay

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Contrapunctus I: simple fugue, 78 bars, 3:52   

The Art of Fugue begins with the D minor subject that will pervade, in various guises, the next 80 minutes.

This "simple" fugue is about as straightforward as AOF gets. The subject appears eleven times, eight of the instances being in two identically voiced expositions (ASBT) in the first half of the fugue. Therefore, just as the subject is divided into halves progressing from long note values to shorter ones, this fugue itself proceeds from a fairly rigorous first half to a slightly freer second half. However, it never sheds its the somber character, with the soprano rising in the penultimate bar to its highest note, a pleading B flat, before settling down to the concluding D major.

While AOF in many places will be sparkling exuberance, this is not such a place. The first three contrapuncti form a serious, contemplative prelude to the largest structure of the cycle. Accordingly, I have used a spare arrangement to give this piece the timeless, eternal feel that I find a proper introduction to the cycle. The character of these opening contrapuncti guides both one's interpretation of an arrangement, as well as one's mindset upon beginning to listen to the work -- and will make the joyful dawn of Contrapunctus IV all the more rewarding.

As you listen to this fugue, listen for the two-note motive that pervades the sequential passages between the expositions:

This graphic just shows the rhythm, not the pitches. Don't worry about this too much for now; file it away for future reference. (Oh, all right, if you're curious, go to Contrapunctus IV.)

In his completion of Contrapunctus XIV, Zoltán Göncz mirrors the pause at 3:18 in the present track (see fugue map above), as the massive quadruple fugue winds toward its conclusion, nicely tying the final moments of AOF to this opening fugue.

AOF was was written at a time when Bach was composing a number of great "cycles," including the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) and their accompanying set of 14 canons (BWV 1087), which I have realized elsewhere on this site. In Canon 11 of BWV 1087, Bach inscribes Christus Coronabit Crucigeros -- "Christ will crown those who carry His cross." We should first always look for musical necessity over subtle symbolism, but it will be fun to speculate on the numbers 3, 4, 11, and 14 as we listen to AOF. The number 3, for example, refers in a number of Bach works to the Trinity, and perhaps it is not accidental that the Canon 11 inscription contains three words, all beginning with the same letter.

Apart from the final fugue, the triple fugue of Contrapunctus XI is the weightiest moment of AOF, and there seem to be many references to it throughout the cycle. For starters, the subject appears appears 11 times in this fugue.

 

Reference:Thesis (DMA)--University of Auckland, 2006.

Abstract:

The literature about the unfinished ending of J S Bach’s The Art of Fugue (Die Kunst der Fuga) BWV 1080 is in universal agreement that the work remained unfinished at Bach’s death; some texts go a step further to say that it is unfinished because he died. After giving a series of performances of the work, the author became convinced that this latter view must be incorrect, and that Bach left the work unfinished deliberately. This thesis explores this idea in detail and, by presenting a number of new theories, suggests not only that Bach left the work unfinished deliberately as an invitation to the reader, student or performer to work out his or her own completion, but also that he left a number of clues, hidden to a greater or lesser extent, to indicate that that was his intention and to supply vital information about the content of the missing bars. Divided into two parts, the thesis first considers some of the evidence contained within the manuscript itself, up to and including the final written bar, and then in the second part goes on to consider two essential aspects of the completion. By way of introduction, the first chapter surveys the controversial area of Bach’s use of numbers in his music and draws attention to the number of the final bar, which can be interpreted as a clue to the fact that Bach expects the music to be continued. Chapter Two invites a reconsideration of Christoph Wolff’s famous “Fragment X” theory, which suggests that the continuation of the final fugue was written on a separate, now lost, piece of paper. Many inconsistencies and details in the manuscript suggest strongly that Wolff’s theory is incorrect. As part of this theory, the author reports on his own examination of the original manuscript in Berlin. Chapter Three, through a detailed study of the architecture of the final fugue, makes the bold claim that the author has definitively proved the exact number of bars required to complete the music in accordance with Bach’s intentions: this theory develops and refines the work of Gregory Butler in this area, and, to corroborate the theory, presents a possible interpretation of the unusual markings at the end of Bach’s score and of a significant correction made by Bach in his manuscript. Finally, in Chapter Four, the question of the proposed inverted combination of all four fugue subjects is revisited – a combination that several writers have claimed to be impossible – and a new and convincing solution to this problem is presented and justified.

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