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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Orchestration of Bach's Fuga (Ricercar)
Anton Webern (the disciple of Schönberg and his ‘Twelve-tone School’) orchestrated the Fugue from Bach’s Musical Offering in 1935 “to bring the music out of its esoteric abstractness and make it alive and comprehensible, to bring it closer to the listener”. (Don't forget this was before any hint of the early music ‘authentic’ school that has shown how ‘alive’ Bach’s music can be without artificial aids.) “My orchestration attempts ... to reveal the interrelation of motifs. This was not always easy. It seeks, of course, in addition, to show how I see the character of the work.” The result, then, is a fascinating insight into how one of the twentieth century’s more provocative musical minds ‘heard’ this grandest of Bach’s fugues. Of interest is not only how the notes are placed among the instruments of the orchestra (for a visual simile think of the pointillism of artists such as Seurat), but also how these sounds highlight the phrasing and articulation of Bach’s invention. Then reflect on how different the end result is from those contemporary elephantine transcriptions of Bach that Stokowski made so famous in his Philadelphia Orchestra recordings.
© David Gardner