The Art of Fugue

by

comment

With the opening theme statement of Bach's The Art of Fugue, as played by the Keller Quartet, the inner ear is affected, brought to attention. The first of these 20 fugues and canons begins with a stately, isolated voicing, which soon is joined in counterpoint by the remaining three instruments. Bach didn't specify the instrumentation for his last -- unfinished -- masterwork, though many have assumed it to be a manual for keyboard, while some have orchestrated it for chamber ensemble, even full orchestra. Now that the Kellers have made this string quartet reading available, we're able to hear tonal qualities and abstract relationships of sound in a pure state of grace. The Quartet's musicianship and collective "soul" were evidenced by its award-winning 1996 release of György Kurtág's Musik für Streichinstrumente (Music for Stringed Instruments) -- also on ECM. Here, the group's collective "breathing" while submerged deep in Bach's counterpoint brings a new understanding of the Art to light. Bach's prodigious intellect is unmistakable in the quartet format, as each instrument engages symbiotically with the others, yet each line of musical thought is articulated with its own specific vitality. It seems paradoxical to speak of the austere Art as passionate music, but the Kellers interpret each of the many sections of this work with feeling -- giving each variation its own identity, without violating the cohesive pulse of the whole. Not only does this performance benefit from the sonic textures of the stringed instruments, but it also suggests historical connections that don't often come to mind: Here it seems that we can hear the Bach in Beethoven, the Bach in Shostakovich, the Bach in Philip Glass. The Keller Quartet gives a sensuous primacy to Bach's musical architecture, reminding us that he was no mere composer of self-expression. They give us, unmistakably, the Bach of structural inspiration, a harmonic genius whose most unshakable faith was in the inexhaustibility of music itself.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.