The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Listening to JS Bach's "Art of the Fugue"


Next Saturday evening (November 1), my son Sam and his brilliant colleague, pianist and harpsichordist Ralitza Patcheva, will be performing the complete "Art of the Fugue" by JS Bach in Washington DC—information on the concert and a tickets form is here. [It will be repeated at part of Catholic U's Washington International Piano Series on November 6.] It's truly one of the great monuments of Western art—and one that is hardly ever experienced live, in its entirety, because of the extraordinary demands it places on the performer(s) and listeners alike, and having a chance to hear it is a little like being told that the Sistine Chapel was being closed to public view except for a one-day public viewing. It's a kind of monumental treatise, written not in text but in music, on musical composition, and having heard the run-through a few days ago I can tell you that hearing it is an overwhelming experience—exhausting but deeply fulfilling and profound in the way that only Bach can be. Bach's facility with fugal writing was other-worldly—how he can write music of such formal complexity, with multiple voices, all being speeded up or slowed down or inverted into mirror form, twisted around and chopped up, is simply astonishing. It's the kind of music where it helps to have some information about what's going on in the notes—and Sam has prepared a series of blog postings [here, and here], and podcasts, illustrating some of the remarkable features of the music, that are well worth reading/listening to. If you're in the Washington area and want a musical experience unlike anything I suspect you've had before, you should join us at the concert—it's going to be quite a show.