Sunday, September 23, 2012

Marcin Masecki - Die Kunst Der Fuge (2012)

Marcin Masecki 

Die Kunst Der Fuge (2012)

For Marcin Masecki, Bach's Fugues are like the Mount Everest of piano. So how did this young Polish composer and musician manage to scale the heights of this monumental work?

Masecki toyed with the idea of recording the Fugues of Jan Sebastian Bach for many years before he set foot inside the studio. His first attempt at finding a way to perform them in a way that would be appealing to contemporary audiences was in London in 2007. He spent five years playing the fugues in a variety of ways, filtering them through a series of objective and subjective factors, aiming to find a style of performance that would break the convention of classical recordings, while also dusting off the fugues, which have often proved intimidating to most performers of today.

The most challenging element of the process was finding the right instrument on which to play. He tested out a number of possibilities - a Wurlitzer, harpsichord, even his mother's old Steinway that had been specially tuned to produce a similar sound to that of a string instrument of Bach's time. And yet it wasn't enough for Masecki. He had practiced the pieces enough to be sure of how he wanted to perform them, having been fascinated by the Fugues since elementary school, yet he didn't quite know how to record them. Masecki finds that there is something lacking in contemporary recordings of classical music, that they are "too clean, too perfect". With his characteristic tendency to "break" established forms, he decided to record his renditions of the Fugues on a dictaphone. 

He came upon the dictaphone idea during a rehearsal session with his alternative rock band Paris Tetris. A song off their latest repertoire was recorded on the dictaphone, in all its scruffy imperfection, and Masecki thought it might be just the trick for finding the sound he was looking for and Masecki's Die Kunst Der Fugue finally were on their way to the recording studio. 

The full title of the album is Die Kunst der Fuge Bach/Masecki, the pianist recognising the significance of the performer's impact on the essence of a piece of music. For Masecki, the Fugues are a highly scientific sequence of pieces, averring that many of them may sound alike to the untrained ear and that the role of the score in appreciating the work is invaluable. "The noise of the tape and the compression of sound urge the reader to focus on the structure of the fugue. The piece reaches the mind, not the senses, per se". The sweat and effort that Masecki has put into this album is a testament to his vision for taking the sources of the musical heritage of today and giving them new life. He understands and retains the essence of the Baroque, while bringing in his own musical sensibility. 

The Art of Fugue is among the last, unfinished works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). "The governing idea of the work", as Bach specialist Christoph Wolff put it, is "an exploration in depth of the contrapuntal possibilities inherent in a single musical subject". There are two versions of it, the first contained within a 1742 manuscript of twelve fugues and two canons. The second, published posthumously in 1751, includes three new fugues and two canons. The versions also differ in the order and minor changes in the text. The first presents the works as a complete series, while the second breaks off in the middle of the last fugue, where his son famously while the other breaks in the middle of the last fugue, in which appears the famous son of Bach's postscript: "At the point where the composer introduces the name BACH [for which the English notation would be B♭-A-C-B♮] in the countersubject to this fugue, the composer died." 

By Agnieszka Le Nart

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