Bach's Musical Offering, BWV 1079, contains two keyboard fugues presented in open score. A ricercar in 3 parts and one in 6. Both pieces are favorites of mine, and in my college days, I even wrote an original piece using the work's "royal theme." In this epsiode, we take a break from the sonatas for violin and harpsichord to explore this 6-part setting from BWV 1079.
In the episode, I feature recordings by:
- Davitt Moroney,
- Munich Chamber Orchestra,
- Ensemble Sonnerie, and
- Ensemble Contraste, in addition to
- Mahani Esfahani performing C.P.E. Bach
Despite the fact that Bach's style was in opposition to what was becoming a lighter style, as his own son would come to embrace as a composer, I believe on top of the puzzle he's fit together with this fugue he is still managed to reach us emotionally with some drama. The capacity to emphasize and capitalize upon this drama is brought around performances that allow us the clarity of different instrumental sounds on different lines combined with those that can "breathe." Ultimately, my favorite recording is one of compromises by Ensemble Contraste, where in a piano plays multiple parts of the 6-part texture, and the ensemble still holds back just a bit not to over-emphasize the treasures within. While no performance will lighten things to the point of the example I share from C.P.E. Bach's keyboard sonatas, I'm led to believe there are richer musical rewards with richer musical textures.
I should add that rewards rich or lean, each of the recordings featured are recommended for your collection. In addition, I recommend this book that I referenced in my earlier episode featuring BWV 1079 that's easy to read for non-musicians (and musicians alike) that paints just what an extraordinary occasion it was for J.S. Bach to visit Pottsdam, his son, and the court of Frederick the Great.