Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bach's Art of the Fugue - First Recording


In 1934, the Roth String Quartet made the first recording of Bach's mammoth Art of the Fugue, a set of 14 fugues and four two-voice canons, all based on the same thematic material. Bach didn't specify any particular instrumentation; the Roth version was arranged by composer Roy Harris and musicologist Mary Norton. Even without the canons, which weren't included in this first recording, the work runs to 19 12-inch record sides. Even many years later, this performance gets pretty good reviews, and it has given my much pleasure.

My set is a later pressing, from the first half of the 1940s. It's in very nice condition, with minimal surface noise, for the most part. Most of the fugues fit onto one record side, but a few run to two or even three sides. I've merged the parts digitally in those cases.

The longest of the fugues is "Contrapunctus XIV," and Bach left it unfinished, either by design or by chance. It's one of my favorite pieces of music; to me, the ending is a metaphor for the unfinished nature of our lives.

The members of the Roth String Quartet are Feri Roth, Jeno Antal, Ference Molnár, and Janos Scholz. They recorded Art of the Fugue in December, 1934.

Contrapunctus I

Contrapunctus II

Contrapunctus III

Contrapunctus IV

Contrapunctus V

Contrapunctus VI

Contrapunctus VII

Contrapunctus VIII

Contrapunctus IX

Contrapunctus X

Contrapunctus XI

Contrapunctus XII

Contrapunctus XIII

Contrapunctus XIV