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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent but technical introduction to Bach's art
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...
Published 7 months ago by lexo1941

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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bach in your face..........
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...
Published on 9 Dec. 2007 by Andrew D. Crowe


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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent but technical introduction to Bach's art, 3 July 2014
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lexo1941 (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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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.

For those who've never heard of Kerman, he was probably America's most distinguished musicologist, the author of classic studies of William Byrd's masses and motets and also Beethoven's quartets, as well as being co-author of the New Grove article on Beethoven. In spite of his serious achievements in other fields, to a small but unfortunately vocal clique of classical music fans he acquired a reputation for being savagely controversial, because of some comments he made in his first great book, Opera as Drama, which came out as long ago as 1952. The book's argument was that the success or failure of an opera was dependent on its integrity as a drama, which in turn was a function of how well the music served the overall dramatic purpose. From this fairly obvious premise, Kerman went on to heap informed praise on works such as Monteverdi's Orfeo, Mozart's Die Zauberflote and Verdi's Otello, but he was also pretty brutal about Puccini and Richard Strauss, who he viewed as being simply not on the same level as the aforementioned composers and, at worst, guilty of crass errors of taste and artistic judgement, sacrificing dramatic integrity in favour of sensational effects and, in the case of an opera such as Puccini's admittedly unfinished Turandot, producing work that was simply incoherent. As a result, Puccini fans are still foaming at the mouth more than sixty years later, as can be seen from the other review of this book.

I was tempted to dock a star on the grounds of the book's shortness, but there's more than enough here to keep a fugue fan busy for years. Buy it, key up a good recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier -- try Friedrich Gulda or Glenn Gould, each of whom demonstrated that Bach sounds great on the modern piano -- and plunge in. You'll emerge refreshed.
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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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Art of Fugue: Bach Fugues for Keyboard, 1715-1750
Art of Fugue: Bach Fugues for Keyboard, 1715-1750 by Joseph Kerman (Paperback - 19 Feb. 2008)
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