Sunday, August 22, 2010

Milan Kundera on Bach's Art of Fugue


Milan Kundera drew the theme of the "Art of Fugue" in his own hand to support his meditation on the work in his "Improvisation in Homage to Stravinsky," from his "essay in nine parts" written in 1995 called "Testaments Betrayed." Not only the notes but the staff itself was drawn; with quick fast motions. Kundera has a musical hand.

Kundera imagined the history of music dividing into segments at the age when polyphony gave way to the classical style. He heard the Art of Fugue as a "symbolic apogee" that closed the first segment.

"I like very much," wrote Kundera, "Hermann Scherchen's orchestration and recorded interpretation; for example Contrapunctus IV, the fourth single fugue:"



"Immediately, at that slow tempo," wrote Kundera, "the whole of its unsuspected melodic beauty is revealed...what I hear is...elusive, unmemorizable, irreducible to a brief phrase, a melody (an entwining of melodies) that bewitches me by its ineffable serenity."

He views the emotion created as being meditative: in Bach we "contemplate a beauty of being that is outside our moods, our passions and pains, ourselves." He contrasts the romantic melodic ideal which makes us "plunge into ourselves, feel the self with a terrible intensity, and forget everything outside."

The speculative serenity that caused this work to seem "outside ourselves" led Wilhelm Rust, during the preparation for volume XXV of the Bach Gesellschaft, to conclude that it was a purely theoretical work. Even as late as 1896, Jadassohn suggested that the voices be conceived as imaginary; that the work was not meant for practical performance. Consistent with Kundera's inspiration, at the height of the romantic age it was not possible to imagine that this work could even sound.

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