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The Art of Fugue: Bach Fugues for Keyboard, 1715-1750 [Kindle Edition]

Joseph Kerman
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Fugue for J. S. Bach was a natural language; he wrote fugues in organ toccatas and voluntaries, in masses and motets, in orchestral and chamber music, and even in his sonatas for violin solo. The more intimate fugues he wrote for keyboard are among the greatest, most influential, and best-loved works in all of Western music. They have long been the foundation of the keyboard repertory, played by beginning students and world-famous virtuosi alike. In a series of elegantly written essays, eminent musicologist Joseph Kerman discusses his favorite Bach keyboard fugues--some of them among the best-known fugues and others much less familiar. Kerman skillfully, at times playfully, reveals the inner workings of these pieces, linking the form of the fugues with their many different characters and expressive qualities, and illuminating what makes them particularly beautiful, powerful, and moving.

Product Description


"It is sweet and fitting that Joseph Kerman, who has given us such insight into William Byrd, one of music's inspiring octogenarians, should have celebrated his own eightieth birthday by completing this rich and constantly surprising study of Bach's fugues. As ever, Kerman's hearing is sharp, his thinking precise and original, and his prose elegant and sapid. Who would have thought that one could write about fugues with such warmth and love, and with such an exhilarating sense of joy?" - Michael Steinberg, author of The Symphony: A Listener's Guide"

About the Author

Joseph Kerman was Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Concerto Conversations, Write All These Down, and Opera as Drama, among other books. He was a founding editor of the journal 19th-Century Music and a regular contributor to the New York Review.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1645 KB
  • Print Length: 198 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition, Includes a CD with New Recordings by Davitt Moroney and Karen Ro edition (25 July 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001JAHG4S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,097,637 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For all that Johann Sebastian Bach had a knack for memorable melodies, he was never more himself than when he was writing fugues. Thousands of hours of practice made him the greatest master of counterpoint since Palestrina, and since his death over two and a half centuries ago, composers who've wanted to understand the art of fugue have gone back to Bach. Mozart was excited by discovering his work, Beethoven studied it, Brahms revered it. Bach's fugues are so intricately designed that it can take expert commentary to reveal their true glories. That's what's provided in this excellent if all-too-short book by the late Joseph Kerman, doyen of American musicologists. Brief though the book is, sit down with it, the PDF scores provided on the accompanying disc and some decent recordings, and you can spend hours listening and re-listening to each piece. Note that although the disc contains recordings of some of the pieces discussed herein, it doesn't contain all of them, so you'll need to stock up on some extra Bach, if you don't already have any, not that you should need an excuse.

Be warned, however, that in spite of the accompanying glossary, Kerman's analyses assume that you can read music and that, when he starts talking about the 'pile-up' of stretti halfway through the Fugue in C Major in Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, you will be able to hear it in the music and see it on the page. This book is accessible to non-musicians insofar as they can read music and understand technical terms; those that can't will be baffled. This is perhaps what has befuddled some reviewers of the book; if you can't understand musical analysis, of course you'll consider it 'pedestrian', even though pedestrians get the most close-up view of any landscape.
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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bach in your face.......... 9 Dec. 2007
Many years ago Joseph Kerman caused a storm in an operatic teacup by
describing "Tosca" as "a shabby little shocker", words that came back
to me reading this book, in which pedestrian analysis is garnished with
artiness - "this music lives on its wealth of exquisite detail, for which
no level of sensitivity can be too hyper". Kerman, who tells us his mother
"sang beautifully, and smiled when she sang" fancies himself as a writer
in the tradition of Tovey, but Tovey would never writen of "Bach's
stupefying modulations" or of the "Chromatic Fantasy" as "Bach at his
most Baroque, Bach at his most extravagant, untrammeled, physical, in
your face". We're in California & we're in decline. The CD is a swiz -
eight short music tracks plus a number of downloadable scores which are
from easily available editions. Four of the music tracks prove that you
can play Bach on just about anything except a modern Steinway.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another gem from Joseph K 10 Sept. 2005
By Eric Wagner - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I loved this book. The technical analysis seemed very dense, but I suspect I will return to this book again and again for the rest of my life, learning more and more about Bach.

I love how the book includes a beautiful cd of many of the pieces analyzed, and how the cd-rom includes the scores for all of the pieces analyzed. What a wonderful learning tool. Bless you, Joseph Kerman, for all of your wonderful books.
18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book, Deceptive Title, Terrible Performances 12 July 2007
By Artusi - Published on
I find Joseph Kerman's writing almost universally elucidating. This book is no exception, although -- when Kerman ventures into areas of performance practice for which he is not prepared -- some small errors are made. Nothing, for example, about the Gigue to the G-minor English Suite suggests a two-manual harpsichord (something about the exoticism of the harpsichord's second manual always arouses pianists, making them want to insist on its necessarity; Elwood Derr makes the same error in discussing the Inventions). But Kerman's lapses are tiny.

But his lapse in taste in choosing second-rate performers for the accompanying CD is more irritating. Karen Rosenak is an unknown quantity who will likely remain unknown. Davitt Moroney is a voice from the past whose mechanical and lifeless manner of playing some still feel is appropriate to fugal counterpoint. I don't in the least, finding his playing, instead, absolutely anaesthetising.

One last quibble: the title is misleading. One expects a book on Die Kunst der Fuge and gets, instead, a compendium of analyses and music-critical pieces on all sorts of Bach fugues, from Gigue-fugues to Die Kunst der Fuge itself and everything in between. The writing suggests an erudite, specialist audience (it is musicology of the best kind: insightful and clearly written. But it is surely not intended for a lay audience) of the kind that might have preferred that he shine his considerable light on the whole of Art of Fugue, or the whole of Well-Tempered Clavier.

Still, I find this a worthwhile purchase. But, by all means, place the accompanying CD straightaway in the dust bin.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is certainly "a" book, not "the" book on fugues 11 April 2014
By Brent Woo - Published on
As someone who, like Max Reger, "lives inside fugues", I can't recommend this book.

The jacket description is accurate. This book is a collection of essays describing in both subjective and objective terms 16 of JSB's fugues. What I mean by this is -- do not be misled by the (in my opinion, overreaching) title, that this is a general work describing abstract fugues and their artistic value. It's a collection of "reviews". The disjoint nature of the essays is not in itself a fault, as this is not marketed as a novel. The author's voice constantly straddles the line between technical and popular, which as a non-professional musician I thought would appeal, but instead feels tedious to read through. This, combined with the essay format, create an odd reading experience, somewhere between erudite academia (say, published in the BACH journal) and casual, recreational reading (like Gardiner's: "Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven").

In the preface, the author states "readers will need the sheet music with the bars numbered". Unless the reader is intimately familiar with all the pieces, this is an absolute prerequisite, given the relative dearth of inline music examples. The scores are given on the CD and are obviously available on the internet, but Kerman could very well have made his most important points with more excerpts throughout the text. I find this problematic, as similar general audience texts (Poli's "The Secret Life of Musical Notation") are much more effective as single-volume, self-contained books that don't require flipping through other texts. (Complicating the matter not trivially is that Kerman's selection comes from four (five?) different major collections--WTC I & II, English Suites, Kunst der Fuge, misc works--meaning that even as someone who owns it all in separate "complete" editions, I had to drag from my piano five different volumes...)

Reading through the essays gives a certain insight to the composition and certainly guides you in what to look for in other pieces. Kerman does a good job at cultivating an appreciation for the technical minutiae and emotive appeal of the fugue to those otherwise underexposed to it. He is unafraid of criticizing pedestrian moments in Bach's music (calling parts of WTCII B-flat major "decidedly anomalous" and "hard to digest"), which is a very positive trait, as putting anyone--long-dead composers included--on a pedestal is harmful and undermines other, genuine assessments.

Overall, it is hard to say that this book really fulfills any need in the literature on either Bach or fugues in general. I suppose it is a nice, casual volume to introduce someone, say, a non-musician who just got into Bach's music, or who enjoys listening to string ensemble arrangements of the Goldbergs, to the aspects of fugues worth investigating and listening for.

For Bach's keyboard works, I would turn to Schulenberg's consistent, if not somewhat clinical, treatment and description of all of Bach's non-organ keyboard music in "The Keyboard Music of J.S. Bach". For an exegesis on fugue in general, well, I would agree with Kerman that the so-called popular literature is lacking outside of austere counterpoint textbooks, but unfortunately his book does not fill that hole. Or, perhaps that is an artificial hole, and fugue is itself a technical notion that must be approached with technical description if we are to say anything more useful about them.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kindle Version does not include necessary support for this book 5 Dec. 2009
By Pat - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The printed version of "The Art of Fugue" includes a CD of the music analyzed in the text. While a reader can supplement the Kindle from her/his own collection, you should be aware that the writer assumes that (a) you have the CD and (b) you have the sheet music for the pieces focused on.

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