Tablet - Portrait

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Ferrucio Busoni

Although this immense (40-minute) keyboard work has been described as an attempt to complete the unfinished final three-subject fugue in Bach's "Art of the Fugue, " others describe it as, rather, an hommage to the master and his great theoretical work. Busoni worked on it between 1910 and 1922, and released three versions for solo piano and one for piano four hands. In 1912 it was also set by Middelschulte for organ, based on one of the solo piano versions. It is, naturally, a highly contrapuntal work, and Bach's name (B-flat, A, C, B natural) is frequently used. The form is complex: First comes a "Prelude in the form of Variations, " based on a Bach setting of the chorale "Allein Gott, " itself already containing the four BACH notes. The next three sections comprise a reworking of the three-subject fugue, which Busoni developed from the point where Bach ceased composing. The BACH theme is present from the second subject onward. Part 5 is an intermezzo based on BACH. The sixth through eighth sections are a set of variations thre three subects and the BACH theme. No. 9 is a cadenza combining BACH and the sixth part of "Art of the Fugue." Then Busoni extends the completion of the three-subject fugue by adding the main theme of "Art of the Fugue" together with the three fugue subjects. Then the BACH theme itself becomes a fifth subject. Finally, the chorale returns along with the BACH theme in a huge peroration. This is a masterly composition, too long and technically difficult to figure on the typical recital program, but highly worthwhile of study and of presentation on special occasions. Its complex intellectual rigor also has to be confronted by the listener, but when grasped is comprehended with awe.