Eight Fugues
Review by John Collins

Wilhelm Friedrich Bach: Eight Fugues.
Edited by Paul Simmonds and Mike Daniels.
Available from Paul Simmonds for 12 Euros + postage at www.paulsimmonds.com

The Eight Fugues were announced in 1778 but only one printed copy was made, perhaps, as Forkel remarked, due to the considerable technical difficulties posed by the composerís Polonaises and Sonatas. All the fugues are in three parts, the keys used being C, C minor, D, D minor, Eb, E minor, Bb and F minor; they are a stylistic mixture of the old and new, the subjects of the C minor and Bb fugues being the most reminiscent of the Inventions. A strategically placed semiquaver rest following a detached quaver in the subject of no. 1 in C, the false relations between the parts in no. 3, the shifting, restless rhythms in no. 4 with its chromatic twists, the galant playfulness of no. 5 with its written out appoggiatura on the first beat of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th bars, the chromatic passing notes in no. 6, the flowing subject in 6/16 in no. 7 with dotted rhythms occurring as the fugue progresses lead to the longest and most successful fugue, this being a double fugue in which the second subject enters immediately in the bass in bar 2 after the first note of the descending chromatic tetrachord in the treble occupying bar 1. The subjects are inverted halfway through, before a return to the originals; a quaver movement is maintained throughout the piece which owes much to the spirit of the 16th century although with modulations to remote keys favoured by the galant. In these fugues the subject, together with any pretence of contrapuntal writing, is frequently abandoned for many bars of pre-Romantic indulgence before a return almost as an afterthought to remind us (and perhaps the composer himself!) that it is indeed a fugue that is being played.

The edition, based on the sole printed copy presented to Anna Amalia now housed in the Berlin state library, is ringbound and very clearly printed with six systems to the page, only nos. 5 and 7 covering more than two pages; no. 6 is printed in a smaller font than the others which keeps it on two pages but it is still easily readable. There are two facsimiles, of the first page of nos. 3 and 5. The original musical text is followed by the readerís attention is drawn to a few editorial suggestions. Of the same level of difficulty, perhaps, as J.S.Bachís Sinfonien, care must be taken when parts pass from hand to hand, as for example in the C minor, E minor and F minor fugues. Written for manuals only, performance is possible on any keyboard instrument; this edition, the first Urtext edition since their original publication, is highly recommended for making these fascinating pieces available, they offer some interesting teaching material.

© John Collins

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