DUO Stephanie & Saar’s third release on New Focus Recordings, The Art of Fugue, is the first ever complete piano duo recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s enigmatic final work.
Dated 1748, scholars have understood The Art of Fugue as an academic endeavor by an aging master paying tribute to the fugue, which was by then falling out of fashion. Others consider the work as a sort of “Da Vinci Code” of numerology, puzzles and musical coding. The mystery of Contrapunctus 14, notable for both the inclusion of Bach’s name as a theme and for its unfinished state, adds to the work’s mythology and cult status.
Bach found fugues to be a source of endless creativity. The Art of Fugue, a collection of fourteen fugues and four canons, is an exploration of the full spectrum of contrapuntal possibilities, all derived from one monolithic theme in D minor. From a purely technical standpoint, Bach’s compositional prowess is in full display as he employs inversion, retrograde, augmentation, diminution, multiple fugue subjects, mirroring and canonic writing - all while creating an intense and emotionally gripping musical experience.
In order to present the most dynamic range of sound possibilities, DUO Stephanie and Saar perform The Art of Fugue as four-hand, two piano and solo works.
The duo presents The Art of Fugue as a double CD comprising of two cohesive parts: CD 1: Contrapunctus 1-11 presents a gradual progression from simplicity to complexity.
Contrapunctus 1-4: Simple fugues, built on single subjects and their inversions.
Contrapunctus 5-7: Complex fugues that utilize both the fugue subject and its inversion simultaneously, in augmentation and diminution.
Contrapunctus 8-11: Expanded double and triple fugues that implement multiple fugue subjects at once.
Bach invoked a wide variety of styles in these fugues. Contrapunctus 1, noble and stately, is immediately followed by a quirky gigue-like dance. Other notable fugues include Contrapunctus 6, In stylo Francese, a boisterous French Overture that overflows with rich ornamentation. Contrapunctus 9, fleeting and capricious, is performed on two pianos for clarity and speed. Contrapunctus 11, a stately processional and the most complex fugue of the entire set, leads Part 1 to a vigorous climax.
CD 2: Contrapunctus 12-14 and the 4 Canons. Mirror fugues and canons in alternation, culminating with the unfinished Contrapunctus 14.
Contrapunctus 12, inversus a 4, Forma recta
Canon alla Ottava (Saar Ahuvia)
Contrapunctus 12, inversus a 4, Forma inversa
Canon alla Decima in Contrapunto alla Terza (Stephanie Ho) Contrapunctus 13, Fuga inversa a 2 Clavicembali, Forma recta Canon alla Duodecima in Contrapunto alla Quinta (Saar Ahuvia) Contrapunctus 13, Fuga inversa a 2 Clavicembali, Forma inversa Contrapunctus 14, Fuga a 3  Soggetti
Epilogue: Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu (Stephanie Ho)
Mirror fugues are a pair of fugues that are mirror images of one another. In the two mirror fugues, Contrapunctus 12 recta and inversa and Contrapunctus 13 recta and inversa, Bach employs “mirroring” technique not just with the fugue subjects but with voice entries, sequences, cadences and key relationships. Due to their density, the mirror fugues are performed on two pianos, including Bach’s own original transcription of Contrapunctus 13 for two harpsichords.
The canons, or “games in musical mathematics” show Bach’s penchant for whimsy and improvisation. They are less rigorous and serve as interludes to the dense mirror fugues. The Art of Fugue reaches its apex with Contrapunctus XIV, the incomplete fugue with Bach’s signature B- A-C-H theme. After a moment of silence, the entire work concludes with the lamenting Canon in Augmentation, a poignant farewell.
released June 1, 2017
Produced by DUO Stephanie & Saar, Ryan Streber and Daniel Lippel
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Ryan Streber
Edited by Zach Herchen and Ryan Streber
Photos by Masataka Suemitsu
Recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY
on September 17, October 22 and December 8, 2016
Special thanks to Michael Merck at Knockdown Center and Rachana Vajjhala
New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as
new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director), composer engineer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003-4, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers....more
supported by 4 fans who also own “Bach: The Art of Fugue”
I love the fresh sounds of this ensemble. Catchy but quirky, challenging but accessible. I heard reminiscences of Frisell and Zorn, a touch of Bley... and "Everywhere from There to There" sounded almost immediately like a lost Joe Jackson track, cleverly remixed. Kudos on a thoroughly engaging and entertaining listen! Would love to hear more from this collective! Dr. "Buzz" Frenzy (Matthew J Hesse)