Johann Sebastian Bach's supposed swan song, The Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080, has always been a troublesome work to realize; it was printed in open score, with no indication of what instrument or instruments should be used, and it was apparently left unfinished, with a mighty quadruple fugue breaking off just as it approaches its climax. The complications only deepened with the examination of the work's autograph manuscript, housed in the Berlin State Library and here referred to by harpsichordist Fabio Bonizzoni as "P200" after its catalog number there. This manuscript seems to demolish the legend surrounding The Art of the Fugue. It dates from the early 1740s, indicating that Bach did not in any way intend the work as his life's finale. And the ordering of pieces is different from the familiar one, which dates back to the printed version. Bach apparently intended to revise his manuscript for publication, but how much of the revision was his own work and how much that of his sons is under debate. Bonizzoni is one of a number of performers to have based his reading of the work on the autograph, but he adds several novel twists. First, while he relies on the ordering the fugues in P200, he plays the individual fugues (with one exception) as published, arguing that Bach's second guess was better than his first. Second, and most startlingly, he adds another harpsichordist, Mariko Uchimura, in the two mirror fugues which in this version essentially end the work. His justification is the presence, in both P200 and the printed version, of an arrangement of one of the fugues for two keyboards. This arrangement has been used as an argument against playing the work on a harpsichord or other keyboard instrument, but Bonizzoni makes a different and larger leap: he reasons that the mirror fugues, which are extremely difficult to play for a single keyboardist (and thus have also been cited in opposition to the idea of The Art of the Fugue as a keyboard work), must also have been intended for two players. This enters the realm of speculation, obviously, but Bonizzoni convincingly ties it to his overall musical vision of P200, which, in the words of annotator Anselm Hartinger, "follows the principle of increasing complexity and melodic segmentation." Briefly, Bonizzoni sees the work as a dramatically intensifying whole of a sort that the published version, with its sorting by type, was not. He carries this off effectively, making the addition of a second player seem a fairly natural development. This falls into the category of experimental realizations of The Art of the Fugue, and it may not be the best choice for someone starting out with the work, but those already addicted will want to investigate it.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080|