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What is Bach's best fugue?

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Showing 1-25 of 30 posts in this discussion
Posted on Feb 16, 2014, 3:26:08 PM PST
Henry Kaspar says:
The Gould recording:

Gould is not necessairily my favorite Bach pianist (Nikolayeva, Koreliov, Sokolov...), but here he extracts somehting nobody else does.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2014, 2:36:32 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2014, 3:39:19 PM PST
KenOC says:
Interesting. I think the C# minor fugue is traditionally played slowly. Or so it seems, since Beethoven evidently had it in mind when writing his own fugue in the same key to open the Op. 131 quartet. And maybe Bartok as well, in the opening slow fugue of his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.

Posted on Feb 16, 2014, 2:29:50 PM PST
Henry Kaspar says:
I'm in with the c sharp minor fugue from WTC I. And I find the Glenn Gould recording of that fugue absolutely dazzling, taking it at than twice the speed than most other performers. With this the fugue gets a rythmic - on top of the contrapunctual - complexity that is just mindboggling.

Posted on Feb 16, 2014, 12:39:40 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2014, 12:54:21 PM PST
My favorite is the fugal opening to Cantata BWV 19. For me, it's one of the most mind-blowing movements that Bach composed: Bach, J.S.: Cantatas, Vol. 2 (Milnes) - Bwv 19, 130, 149 (Saint Michel)--track 7.

Posted on Feb 16, 2014, 12:20:25 PM PST
Jim Ginn says:
What Mahlerian said goes for me too.

Posted on Feb 16, 2014, 9:25:39 AM PST
Mahlerian says:
I don't think anyone has yet mentioned the Kyrie from the B minor mass, which has always been a favorite of mine. The triple fugue "St Anne" is also quite impressive, and I enjoy the Schoenberg orchestration far more than I'm supposed to...

Posted on Feb 16, 2014, 5:54:53 AM PST
Dmitri says:
The Little Fugue in G Minor For Organ! (Of course)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2014, 3:06:30 AM PST
I like the Tovey completion.
Bach: Art of Fugue for String Quartet

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2014, 3:02:43 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2014, 3:06:48 AM PST
Mandryka says:
You know the incomplete fugue never appeared in the first edition. It's not at all certain that Bach intended it to be in there, it may have just been a marketing thing (the idea of him dying without finishing this big collection, arguably his most important organ music, is kind of romantically attractive.) You get a similar thing going on with Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir in Clavier Uebung 3.

Anyway I find the 1740 Art of Fugue very satisfying -- Ken Gilbert recorded it, it's a wonderful version.

Posted on Feb 16, 2014, 2:26:33 AM PST
Mage says:
I'm with A.B. Art of Fugue, last movement. Forget all the technicalities, stretto, inversion and whatnot. This fugue starts out as a wonderful devotional piece, a simple sound with a very simple but compelling rhythm to it. Its almost only got one voice, because one voice does a few notes, then another voice, and so on. But for all this simplicity and peace, it has tremendous power. Then it flips to a fast little rippling theme, combines back with the first, and the music keeps on driving upwards. Finally, this ends and the third theme comes in, a dissonant 4-note start (BACH), but somehow turned into a melody. And then this starts combining.. and we're not playing in one key anymore, but an infinite musical universe. And then, ineffably, theme 2 sort of canons, and themes 1 and 3 also join in.
And if you want to hear how it might have ended, listen to Goncz's completion... incredible.

Posted on Jan 1, 2013, 9:02:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2014, 12:26:51 PM PST
Many thanks, Auntie Lynn, and I hope your New Year is happy.

As for Bach's best fugues: I can't speak to "best" technically---because I don't know how to write a fugue and barely know how to follow one. It's a lot easier for me when I have the score to follow.

The best one emotionally? For me, it's Contrapunctus XIV from Art of Fugue. Ken mentions it earlier in this thread.

Contrapunctus XIV begins with a new theme. You've been listening to Bach's basic D minor theme for an hour or more, and then you arrive, finally, at Contrapunctus XIV---and he introduces a brand-new theme. And then another, and then another, this time with his name. You know that he's planning to combine the three new themes with the original D-minor theme at some point to make a gigantic quadruple fugue. The tension builds to an unbearable point---and this from a composer who knew more about building tension than anybody---and then the whole thing ends. It just trails off. The D minor theme never comes back. You never get the end of the story. It was shocking when I first heard it, and it continues to be shocking every single time. (Andrew Rangell says: There is no remedy for this.)

And it's not shocking because (as we used to think) Bach died with pen in hand trying to finish the fugue. Bach lived maybe seven or eight years after putting down his pen. He wrote other stuff. It's shocking because who does not want to see it through to completion? I keep asking myself: Why didn't he just finish it? He had the ending in mind. (This I get from writers who know how to write a quadruple fugue and who say that you have to have the ending in mind before you begin a quadruple fugue!)

On the other hand, I think the Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor is his most spectacular, his most theatrical of those works of his that I 've heard.

My favorite movement of his? The first movement of the second keyboard partita. After the very French intro, the rest of the movement is two-part counterpoint, so I suppose not technically a true four-part fugue.

What is the best of him? IMHO? That's easy: The Goldbergs. There is nothing in my experience to touch the return of the Aria. Jeremy Denk says: "There you are, listening to the Goldbergs. The Aria comes back. You're much older now than you were when you first heard it. Perhaps you're Bill Murray now, and you were Scarlett Johanssen then. That's what the Aria does when it comes back, it whispers in your ear, the thing you needed to hear, the thing you needed to know. Though this realization comes to you through Bach, whatever Bach brings out in you here is yours, it comes from you, it belongs to you; The other function of the Goldbergs is to give you back your best self...'".

Posted on Jan 1, 2013, 6:02:35 AM PST
Auntie Lynn says:
Happy New Year friends; anyway, Old Blue teaches a whole course on the WTC - I think it's Music 116. Anyway, I took it and we had to diagram both books. I can certainly say it was one of the most beneficial exercises I ever undertook in my life...

Posted on Dec 31, 2012, 12:28:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 31, 2012, 2:26:59 PM PST
WRMiller says:
My favorite fugue is the Fugue in G minor, BWV 578, "The Little Fugue." I was first introduced to this
fugue by listening to the Leopold Stokoski's orchestral version, but I also like listening to a recording
of Virgil Fox playing it on the organ.

Posted on Dec 4, 2012, 3:44:50 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 4, 2012, 3:45:15 PM PST
One of my favorites is the Fugue from the A minor Fantasie & Fugue BWV904, especially in the Philips Leonhardt recording.

Posted on Dec 4, 2012, 3:33:20 AM PST
Jim Ginn says:
I really like the C Major fugue from the Toccata Adagio and Fugue BWV 564 It is so up-beat, jolly and joyfull..Ho Ho Ho..!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012, 12:54:22 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012, 6:17:28 PM PST
Here's another favorite.
RVW's Symphony # 4: IV movement: finale con epilogo "fugato". I love this symphony. Well, the only RVW symphony I'm not fond of is the Sea one, because vocals are not my cup of tea. I do love the scary banshee in the Antarctica Symphony, though.

Posted on Dec 3, 2012, 8:43:50 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012, 9:04:30 AM PST
scarecrow says:
each fugue from the WTC is like a portrait,Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large. . . .
I'm fond of all of Book I WTC; Book II is more Third person, cosmopolitan; Book 1 is more private;
Paul Badura Skoda has an excellent book on WTC, and John Kilpatrick . . .

the G-minor,C-minor, both very interestingly "common", for the "Commons";in Antonio Negri's sense; as the A-minor and E-minor;although the C-major fugue is very poetic, gentle;as the opening prelude, listen to Richter, he knows. . .
C#-minor,is more oratorio-like-the prelude being a mere intro to it; as the F-minor. . . . . .. . . ..gorgeous seductive prelude as well. .
Bach did think in terms of "nesting" of emotions; a few leading up to a massive one, scaling the heavenly heights,
He does this in the ''Cello Suites'', reserving D-Minor and C-minor as the "Big"Ones, the Unknowns. . .D-minor is the'' Second Cello Suite''' so he gets the Big stuff out of the way quickly, with the opening G-major playful Suite #1 a mere intro- - -
Back to WTC--
Then high spirited B-major. . .Eb Major Fugue, is very positive. . as dignified Ab major;less so the A-major. .
The ponderous B-minor. . .is sublime . .both prelude and fugue. . .
not to forget that the preludes DO , do their job of setting the context, in fact there is a different meaning in playing the fugues alone .. .which I think lose their power without the prelude;
Shostakovich got much out of these WTC, He wrote his after a competition in East Germany was it where He was a judge. . ., ?Then he wrote his sets. . .in the early Fifties. .
Context is everything really---like one- you must play all of Chopin's ''preludes'' to get their meanings. . .

Posted on Dec 3, 2012, 7:12:32 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
The English Suites contain some great ones (the gigues at the ends of the g-minor and d-minor suites really make the keyboard roar) and the keyboard toccatas have some of his great earlier fugues, particularly the f-sharp minor fugue in the D-major, the c-minor with a stretto using the inversion, and the f-sharp minor has a great fugue as its "first movement" after the initial fantasy.

Thought not quite in the spirit of the thread, the counterpoint that permeates the St. John Passion is some of the greatest he wrote and the fugettas are so embedded in the music that it's hard to single out any particular fugue -- just listen to the whole thing! My favorite it Gardiner but here is Suzuki:

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012, 6:27:49 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012, 6:28:36 AM PST
One of my favorite is the one in the
Toccata, adagio and fugue BWV 564, played by Helmut Walcha.
(actually, I like the whole thing)

Also like Loussier's piano Jazz rendition of the same whole piece in the 1960s with his former partners, Christian Garros, percussion, and Pierre Michelot, double-bass.

Posted on Dec 3, 2012, 5:45:12 AM PST
Auntie Lynn says:
Even Stravinsky said: "Nobody wrote fugues like Bach..." Anyway, they are all great, but my personal fave is the d minor, can't remember if it's BWV 565 or 595 whatever - it's the Captain Nemo and it's the MOST FUN to play...not that it matters ;-}

Posted on Dec 2, 2012, 11:53:04 PM PST
M. You says:
I also count the Ricercar a 6 among his greatest works, but it's very unusual as a fugue, after the initial exposition. I like the Fuga Canonica very much as well - does anyone know if this is unique, or if there are other fugues which are strict canons at the same time?

Posted on Dec 2, 2012, 11:14:24 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 2, 2012, 11:19:23 PM PST
Skaynan says:
I don't know if it's the best, but I find the Musical Offering the most impressive, because the given subject (by Frederick the Great) is so difficult to manipulate. The Ricercar a 6 is unbelievable.

Posted on Dec 2, 2012, 8:52:19 PM PST
Dichterliebe says:
And the a-minor ain't bad, either!

Posted on Dec 2, 2012, 8:49:25 PM PST
Dichterliebe says:
M. You,

Yes, absolutely, that Bach could write such a magnificent fugue for the solo violin is all part of the glory of the music. The notes themselves as you say are inextricably linked to the possibilities of the instrument and despite the violin's limitations, Bach wrote a magnificent fugue. He would not have written the same notes for the solo keyboard or the solo cello -- this is all part of the wonder of this sonata. Knowing the limitations of the instrument translates into a truly awe-inspiring musical experience.

Posted on Dec 2, 2012, 8:46:42 PM PST
Edgar Self says:
Oh, absolutely, although the measure of length is expired time. Who counts the measures in Mahler's symhonies? Yet everyone knows the Third is longest, because it says so on the clock. That C-major fugue for solo violin isn't maybe a very good fugue, certainly not one of Bach's best, but the wonder is that the violin can suggest it at all, and ... it is the longest, in a very unexpected place. I much prefer the chordal opening that the violin plays in the C-major sonata.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
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Initial post:  Dec 2, 2012
Latest post:  Feb 16, 2014

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