Jan Swafford in Slate discusses the new solo piano recording by Pierre-Laurent Aimard of Bach’s Art of the Fugue (
It’s as if you told a physicist that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was topping the best-seller list. It’s not supposed to happen. This is because the 14 fugues and four canons that make up The Art of Fugue constitute one of the most esoteric musical works ever written. Each fugue bears the severe title Contrapunctus followed by a number, and there is no indication of what instruments are supposed to play them. Every piece is in D minor; all are based on the same melodic theme. It’s as if Bach intended the AOF as a theoretical treatise, to be read and studied rather than performed, to demonstrate some of the more arcane things you can do with the idea of a fugue.
Along the way, in an effort to convey why he considers the album an “unlikely” success, Swafford offers a pretty usable definition of what a fugue actually is, complete with audio examples as he then provides a tour of the piece.
Swafford even compares the Aimard performance with the decades-old, scat-sung version by the Swingle Singers, to which he confesses a nostalgic attachment.
The Aimard recording doesn’t seem to be on Rhapsody, but the Glenn Gould recording is.