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Bach/Simpson: The Art of Fugue

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Product details

  • Conductor: None
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (1 Sept. 2000)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Hyperion
  • ASIN: B00004WMWO
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 430,692 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Contrapunctus 1
2. Contrapunctus 2
3. Contrapunctus 3
4. Contrapunctus 4
5. Contrapunctus 5
6. Contrapunctus 6
7. Contrapunctus 7
8. Contrapunctus 8
9. Contrapunctus 9
10. Contrapunctus 10
11. Contrapunctus 11
12. Contrapunctus 12
13. Contrapunctus 13
14. Contrapunctus 14
15. Contrapunctus 15
16. Contrapunctus 16
17. Contrapunctus 17

Product Description


Bach was still writing The Art of Fugue at the time of his death. The work was intended to explore the possibilities of counterpoint, but Bach never wrote dry academic music. It served its didactic purpose, but always there is warm humanity bursting from it. The Art of Fugue has been arranged for many musical groupings, and is always at best a guess at what Bach had in mind. What Robert Simpson has done here is to transpose the work so that it is playable by a string quartet. He does so without apology--Bach himself was a great transposer--and the results are totally convincing. Simpson knows a thing or two about string quartets (his own are well worth checking out) and he has breathed life into a work that is given a terrific performance here by the Delmé Quartet. To some, Bach's contrapuntal writing is a bit like a musical sewing machine, but when it is given with a true sense of ebb and flow, as it is here, it is magnificent. There are extensive explanatory notes, but you don't need to be a student of counterpoint to get a lift from this music on a pure sit-back-and-enjoy basis. --Keith Clarke

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Peacock on 11 Dec. 2009
Anyone who knows Robert Simpson's music and the deep respect he had for Bach, as manifest in his own use of counterpoint and fugue, will not be surprised by this arrangement of `The Art of Fugue'.

The arrangement transposes the work from D minor to G minor so that it can be played by the traditional string quartet line up; to not do so would necessitate, as Simpson notes, a quartet with either an extra viola or an extra cello at the expense of one of the violins. The four canons on the same musical subject that are usually found in recordings of 'The Art of Fugue' are not included here: Simpson states that he considers them part of a projected 'Art of Canon' by Bach and therefore not intended to be heard within this work. It should be noted also that the Delmé String Quartet do not attempt to bring the tenets of `historically informed practice' to their performances - like Simpson's string writing here, which eschews any "effects", they play the piece straight; they have however a firm grasp of the architecture of the work and communicate the ebb and flow of tension within Bach's music admirably.

Purists may baulk at some of the above but really, when it comes down to it, we have no idea what forces Bach had in mind for the performance of this work - indeed, some have posited the theory (not one I subscribe to, I might add) that the piece was conceived as a work in the abstract and never intended to be played. Given that Bach - along with most other composers of his era - was an inveterate transposer, parodist and arranger of his own and others' music, I don't see that this version goes against either the spirit or the letter of Bach's score.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Bach's "Art" at a Higher Pitch 16 Nov. 2000
By Thomas F. Bertonneau - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Bach's "Art of the Fugue," forgotten after his death and rediscovered only in the nineteenth century, has exerted a powerful fascination on twentieth century composers; indeed, arranging Bach's score-without-instrumentation for greater or lesser forces has constituted a musical cottage-industry, with realizations for chamber orchestra, mixed endemble, brass ensemble, string quartet, and even saxophone quartet appearing in the catalogues and on record. In fairly recent times, the Juilliard String Quartet and the Keller Quartet have committed their renditions to compact disc (Sony and EMC respectively). Along comes yet another string quartet version of "The Art," this time as arranged by the late Robert Simpson (1921-1996) for performance by the Delmé Quartet. Simpson's thoughts about "The Art" deserve close attention, closer perhaps than others, because, as a composer himself of symphonies and string quartets he has shown himself to have deeply assimilated Bach's contrapuntal ethos. Two of Simpson's masterpieces, the Ninth Symphony (1987) and the Ninth String Quartet (1982), exploit the full compass of Bachian polyphonic science, the Quartet in particular constituting all by itself Simpson's very own "ars combinandi tema contra tema." (It consists of thirty-two palindromic variations and a palindromic fugue on a palindromic theme taken from Haydn!) But it would be hard to find a Simpson score, especially among the fifteen string quartets, that did not rigorously exploit fugal and canonic possibilities. In a sense then, in setting his hand to Bach's uninstrumented masterpiece, Simpson simply gives back what he has already taken and internalized and exploited. The Delmé players deserve the honor of presenting the result as they have premièred many of Simpson's essays in the string quartet genre. (And have recorded them for Hyperion.) How does Simpson's arrangement differ, say, from that of the Keller Quartet and what distinguishes the Delmé Quartet's playing from that of other similar ensembles in the same piece? Simpson regards the four canons as anomalous in the context of the fugues - as anticipations, rather, of a follow-on "Art of the Canon" - and so he discards them. He also notes that the scoring of Bach's D-Minor essay exceeds the range of a standard string quartet, so he solves the problem (let purists squirm) by transcribing the work into G-Minor. To ice the cake of his audacity, Simpson adopts Sir Donald Tovey's completion of the finale fugue. This is not one of those performances of "The Art" where the music simply breaks off. We have, as a result, a highly logical sequence of increasingly complex and fascinating fugues on the Ur-Thema and its transformations for a homogeneous medium nevertheless capable of individuating the four voices required by Bach's conception. The Delmé Quartet plays with standard modern vibrato, unlike the Keller Quartet, and in defiance of the current "correct" style for eighteenth century music. To which one wants to say "Gott sei Dank!" Thus the first few measures of Contrapunctus I suggest, in their passion and richness of sound, Beethoven almost as much as Bach. The other fugues confirm the impression. The Delmé produces, in addition, an astonishing range of superbly recorded color (kudos to the Hyperion engineers) which transcends the medium. I will assuredly return to this disc again and again.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Best of the Quartet Versions 13 May 2008
By Stephen Grabow - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I am familiar with the Julliard Qt. performance and recently bought the Emerson Qt. CD on Deutsche Grammofon -- which I quite like -- but now that I have the Delme Qt. recording I realize that the Emersons are, as one reviewer put it, too romantic. This performance by the Delme Qt. is so elegant and carefully constructed that one is constanly aware of the "long line" (which I confess I had forgot about with the Emersons because they are so much more emotional, although the Delme play with great feeling). The Delme recording is simply more beautiful.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
nice to hear a complete version 7 Feb. 2011
By dgg32 - Published on Amazon.com
It must be a great pity for many that Bach didn't complete the last contrapunctus XIV, although some may argue that the incomplete piece is quite complete in its own way. I still feel the abrupt stop of the final very sad and like having a sweet dream but suddenly being waked, the dream scene is still vivid but no closure can be found. At least that is the case when I listened to Emerson's rendition.

Here, Delme Qt presents the complete final provided by Donald Tovey and adds the incomplete fragment as encore. I find Tovey's effort is worthwhile, although without doubt that Bach himself would have surely amazed us if only he could have finished it. The coherence of Tovey's work is so great that I haven't noticed the transit from Bach to Tovey at my first hearing.

Delme's is in a fierce competition. Emerson's performance getting full stars at Amazon clearly has its reason: bright recording and energetic music making. If I put Emerson's version as Yang, then Delme's is the Yin equivalent. Delme's touch is rather soft or tending to be soft. Also, "wo ist der Verfasser gestorben" is smoothed in Delme's and leaves kinda an echo around my ear.

It is not appropriate and not even necessary to decide which of the quartet version takes the upper notch. Just enjoy them both if you have the chance as I do: I put them both in my iphone.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
dense but infinitely rewarding 24 Jan. 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Thick. Rich. Dense. Not to be consumed in one sitting. A source of unending nourishment. The kind of disc you can go back to over and over again without exhausting its treasures. Hans Keller said you could learn a symphony by listening to it repeatedly, but you could learn a string quartet only by playing it. Die Kunst der Fuge is not necessarily quartet music, of course, but it does in fact transcend any genre you could name; so I, for one, find it very satisfying to think I shall never completely know this piece simply by playing it. Only for the most musically-minded.
A minor misdeed 5 Aug. 2013
By Vah-keys - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
As the guy with the overweight paragraph notes, this was translated into G-Minor--which alters completely the mood of the work. (I bought it thinking it wouldn't really matter, but it did.)

D minor is darker, and more--yes-- Art-of-Fuguey. In other words, the Art of Fugue is not so much in D minor (rectus) as D minor is in the Art of Fugue (inversus).

G minor is lighter--which is why it was made for Mozart.

Picture a guy trying to finish Michelangelo's St. Matthew...

And that will give you some idea of the 'finished fugue'.

(Still a good disc to own alongside the Emerson and Juilliard.)
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