Bach: The Art of Fugue / Musical Offering essential recording
There are many apocryphal stories in the classical-music world, but the one in which Frederick the Great challenged Bach to improvise a six-part fugue on a theme of Provigil online No prescription the king’s own invention is true, and The Musical Offering was, after a period of further reflection, the result. As with all the works of Bach’s later years, the work is both great art and a “teaching piece,” which shows everything that he thought could be done with the king’s theme. The Trio Sonata based on the theme is the only major piece of chamber music from Bach’s last decades in Leipzig, and that makes the work and essential cornerstone of any Bach collection. This performance, led by Neville Marriner, is both polished and lively, and very well recorded. At a “twofer” price, coupled with The Art of Fugue, it’s the preferred version of the work on modern instruments. –David Hurwitz

Bach: The Art of Fugue / Musical Offering

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5 Responses to “Bach: The Art of Fugue / Musical Offering”

  1. M. Friedman Says:

    It was the music on this disc — originally available as separate boxed sets of vinyl records — along with ASMF’s Brandenburgs that really sparked my interest in baroque music in general, and Bach in particular. Though, 30 years later, the performance sounds a little dark, slow and dense to ears accustomed to airier historically-informed performances, it nevertheless has a richness and warmth that you simply won’t hear on any other recording of these two works.

    This is absolute music, composed without any specific instrument in mind. The Offereing and the Art of Fugue have been equally successfully performed on the organ, harpsichord, piano, and by string ensemble. The ASMF succeeds in presenting them in ALL of these contexts, except the piano.

    The performance is first-rate, if a little reserved.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  2. Dorian Lopez Says:

    This cd is best for those of us who are unfamiliar with Bach’s music and want to get to know these two works and buy an affordable cd at the same time. As a general introduction it is great and very educational–the art of fugue is played on various instruments to drive home the fact that the music was never scored for specific instruments. Each contrapunctus is given a decent and fair showing.

    Marriner however seems to be most comfortable when he is conducting lighter, airier stuff like Mozart divertimentos (some of the best mozart around is conducted my marriner in my opinion) Bach is a little above him i think.You can tell that he has deep respect for this music by the way he handles it–but i think he has trouble finding the soul or emotion of this music. Put another way he demonstrates masterfully the intellectual side of Bach, but fails at capturing the emotion and feeling of Bach. And dont tell me that there is no emotion to Bach’s music–because i know better having heard some of his other pieces.

    To be fair though it should be said that The Art of Fugue and to some extent the Musical Offering are two of Bach’s most abstract and “conceptual” works so it is no wonder that one might have trouble capturing all its dimensions on cd. I have difficulty sitting through this cd (although i have done it several times) at times the performance comes off as being a little dry and rote–almost as if one was playing an exercise or an etude rather than a work proper. It is best in small pieces. The fugal nature of the piece can at times make one think one is hearing the same thing over and over due to the slower tempo and conducting style of Marriner. In reality however there are many different things going on in each fugue despite the fact that they are all based on one theme. Close listening to the cd helps to develop a sensitive ear as you try try to distinguish what is going on in each fugue that sets it apart from the others (analysis).

    As a final word, this cd is not bad-it s a good showing, but its definitely not the best perf either.In my opinion-this cd is best heard in small chunks. Its great if you want an introduction to this work, its great if you want to save money. Its great if you like your bach simple– except for two harpsichords it doesnt use period instruments–but it does use period performance (no vibrato, small ensemble) Its also great if you like to “dissect” your Bach as you hear it and see the analytical side to this music. If however you would like to hear the emotional side to these very intellectual and somewhat abstract pieces try the Munchinger. Also do not miss the Stardust Quartet interpretation on recorders–it sounds as if it were a totally different piece–very airy and beautiful rather than heavy and concrete.

    In general i would say if you dont know these two pieces by Bach start with this and once you feel comfortable and familiar with the piece check out some of the other interpretations and see how they differ and which you like best.
    Rating: 3 / 5

  3. Mark Lee Says:

    This CD set comes from some tapes recorded during the ’70s, and the audiophile will quickly hear this. In spite of this hiccup, the depth of the performances are striking.

    In his last years, J.S. Bach wrote much of his music for the sheer joy of creating mathematically delightful pieces, hence the endless variations and inversions of the themes from “Art of the Fugue” and “Musical Offering.” Some evidence suggests that J.S.B. didn’t care too much whether or not the music was, in fact, performed. I think he would be struck by this performance, especially, of the 6-part ricercar – one of the most complex and repeatedly listenable compositions ever put to paper by man.

    This is not necessarily a collection of music that bears constant listening to from start to finish as if it were a number of movements of a larger piece. Pick and chose your diamonds from the drawer, and leave a few for another day.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  4. David A. Baer Says:

    An acquaintance of mine once overheard the sound of Bach emanating from my computer, grimaced slightly, and said ‘it’s repetition’.

    Precisely. Though she thought she was making a criticism.

    J.S. Bach explored creation via the medium of music. In overturning and resettling the soil given to him by musical convention and his own fecund mind, he understood himself to be exploring the possibilities of God’s good earth.

    He produced no more repetitious works than the Art of Fugue and Musical Offering. But ah, the glory!

    Because Bach was not specific about the instrumentation he desired for one or both of these works, Sir Neville Mariner and the Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Field, those always trustworthy custodians of all things baroque, give us this fine recording of a number of combinations of strings as well as of organ and harpsichord.

    These are not pieces for random listening. One needs to sit and soak in the seemingly endless creative moves that Bach could make with just a few themes. It is endlessly repetitious and ceaselessly fascinating, perhaps a bit like love itself. Indeed it is almost entrancing.

    In fact Bach *was* loving several objects as he exercised his masterful, musical intuition. He was loving God, for at the end of each manuscript he penned the initials ‘S.D.G’ (‘Soli Deo Gloria’ = ‘To God alone be the glory’). He was loving the very creation he was exploring. And, professional considerations notwithstanding, he was loving those sympathetic listeners who for centuries would find themselves amazed at his craft.

    ‘The Craft of the Fugue’, after all, is arguably the better translation of ‘Die Kunst der Fuge’ than the more conventional ‘The Art of Fugue’, though at any rate Bach’s craft was that of an artisan who also happened to understand the constituent elements of his craftsmanship with exceeding guile.

    As one listens to this magnificent music, it is possible to believe – one must almost say to glimpse the reality – that God is his heaven, that this good earth is indeed a beautiful thing, and that sympathy on the part of the listener moves one a step or two towards conviction on these counts.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  5. Michael Cammer Says:

    Of the five CDs of J.S. Bach’s The Art Of The Fugue recently acquired, this is my least favorite. It is good, but but lacks the precision and spark of Karl Munchinger’s direction (see ASIN B000050GK0). I tend to find Marriner’s direction “creamy”; perfect for a piece like Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, but not right for this Bach. Also, the mixture of different instruments from piece to piece breaks up the continuity.

    The Canadian Brass version (ASIN B0000026NK) is excellent but is difficult to listen to in one sitting unless you love brass. If you want a masterfully conceived and executed version of The Art Of Fugue consisting of nothing but brass, this is the CD for you.

    The Hans Fagius all organ version (ASIN B00004YYRV) is also excellent, but I personally tend to find the all organ program a bit hard to take in one sitting. And it doesn’t have the contrasts of multiple-instrument versions. Of course, this far more likely historically accurate to Bach’s time than the all brass version.

    Other reviewers have extolled the Emerson Quartet version of the Fugues (ASIN B00008O8B3). It’s really good, but not as good as the Karl Munchinger one (ASIN B000050GK0). It’s not as precise and rigid. I like the crisp, controlled almost machine produced sound of the Munchinger version.

    The Karl Munchinger version is the best for both an introduction to Bach’s late Fugues (and other pieces) and for a sublime listening experience. I recommend getting the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester version (ASIN B000050GK0). Why go for good or excellent when you can get the best instead?
    Rating: 3 / 5

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