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Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080
Played by Ton Koopman

A-1

Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge - L’Art de la Fugue - The Art of Fugue

Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080

Ton Koopman (Harpsichord); Tini Mathot (Harpsichord)

Erato

Nov 1993

CD / TT: 75:22

Recorded at Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, Holland.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com | Amazon.de | Amazon.de | Amazon.de | Amazon.com [Box Set] | Amazon.de [Box Set]

AoF by Ton Koopman

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 24, 2001):
I am listening to Koopman's recording of the AoF. I noticed that Don must not have this recording - he didn't review it when he did his AoF reviews a while back.

It's quite interesting, especially because it is played on two harpsichords. All the fugues, except number 8, are played with a second harpsichordist. (The canons are played by Koopman alone, as fugue 8.) I don't think this is out of any need to do so - at least there are no liner notes explaining his choice - but this "arrangement" allows the music to take on a totally different atmosphere at places. I am not yet convinced that this is my vision of the AoF; but this is a unique performance.

It is available on a mid-price disc from Erato; I don't know if it is available outside of Europe.

Not having heard many of Koopman's harpsichord recordings, I wonder if anyone else knows them well enough to say more? Cor, you could jump in, if you want...

Donald Satz wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Right, I don't have it. The last time I saw a copy anywhere was a few years ago. I have a few other Koopman/Bach harpsichord cd's and think very well of his performances. He's quite crisp and tends to shorten note values. The one thing he isn't particularly good at is conveying life's joys; Koopman isn't that kind of guy.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Interesting comment. I find he tends to ornament a bit more than most. But I agree that those ornaments are more for show than for pleasure.

I am curious though to hear some of his other works.

Hey, Don, bigger picture question - give us your top 3 harpsichord and top 3 piano players; those who "convey life's joys", rather than focusing on specific works...

Harry Steinman wrote (May 24, 2001):
AoF by Ton Koopman Re--Specifically ornamentation and vibrato
Bradley Lehman wrote, regarding the ornamentation in Koopman's AOF:
<snip>
"It breaks the moods since the ornamentation draws attention to ITSELF rather than to the music's melodic lines!"

<to which I reply>
Brad...thank-you for putting your finger on something...I've wondered for a long time about the vocal vibrato thing, and there have been many posts about it...I think that this says for me why I don't like vibrato: It takes one's attention away from the music and onto the singer.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 24, 2001):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< I am listening to Koopman's recording of the AoF. I noticed that Don must not have this recording - he didn't review it when he did his AoF reviews a while back.
It's quite interesting, especially because it is played on two harpsichords. All the fugues, except number 8, are played with a second harpsichordist. >
Koopman's wife, Tini Mathot...

< (The canons are played by Koopman alone, as fugue 8.) I don't think this is out of any need to do so - at least there are no liner notes explaining his choice - but this "arrangement" allows the music to take on a totally different atmosphere at places. I am not yet convinced that this is my vision of the AoF; but this is a unique performance. >
Agreed, the atmosphere is quite different in this one.

As I pointed out last week, the whole thing (save one note in #13) can be played by one harpsichordist, but it is much easier to employ a second harpsichordist in the mirror fugues (13 and 12). Bach himself rearranged #13 for two harpsichords, adding new material to it and altering some of the rhythms, and the piece appears both ways: for one harpsichordist or two.

Koopman and Mathot go ahead and play the whole thing with two harpsichords, extrapolating it backwards from #13 and #12, but without adding any new lines as Bach did. Instead, since each of them is usually playing only one line per hand, they have all their fingers free to add signed ornaments (mordents and trills, and a few appoggiaturas) everywhere. Therefore, their texture is filled with their twitchy ornaments to accent some of the notes...I for one think this makes their performance less convincing rather than more. It breaks the moods since the ornamentation draws attention to ITSELF rather than to the music's melodic lines! It's as if they don't trust the music to be beautiful enough on its own when they're not doing something to it.

Koopman tends to have a heavy touch anyway. (On his recordings, and confirmed by friends of mine who have lent or rented their harpsichords to him for concerts.) Mathot as one of his former students gets a similar sound, well matched to his. So, this performance comes across as heavy, driven, and adorned with crisp ornaments that don't sound very melodic. Tempos are fast. The tempos also tend to march on without much rubato, due to the need to stay together with the other player.

< It is available on a mid-price disc from Erato; I don't know if it is available outside of Europe. >
I got mine about six years ago in the US: Erato 4509-96387.

< Not having heard many of Koopman's harpsichord recordings, I wonder if anyone else knows them well enough to say more? Cor, you could jump in, if you want... >
My overall impression of his work, usually, (and again here,) is that he is more entertaining than moving. The heavy touch and the thickets of unnecessary ornamentation really get in the way (for me) of listening to him with pleasure.

As I said above, when I listen to him I get the feeling he doesn't trust the music; he always has to be doing something to it, keeping his fingers occupied. Another player in this mould is Anthony Newman....

Donald Satz wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Okay - top three - off the top of my head:

Piano - Tureck, Koroliov, and Tipo.
Harpsichord - Pinnock, Hill, and Alessandrini.
The Best - Tureck.

Thomas Boyce wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] What about Gould?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Interesting. I don't have any Koroliov or Tipo. Nor Alessandrini...

Thanks,

Francis H.R. Franca wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] In the morning, I had my coffee listening to the Partita No. 1 as played by Rosalyn Tureck (from Philips, Great Pianists of the 20th Century).

That was really a joy.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Which version by Tureck? [correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand she recorded several times over the "long" years]

P.S. Also, do you have favorites on: A. Organ,and B. Other instruments "ensembles"? TKU

Donald Satz wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Thomas Boyce] I don't have any problem with Gould's conveying of joy; it's just that the prime characteristic I associate with his Bach performances is ceremony and heroism.

Donald Satz wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Ehud Shiloni] Well, this was just about overall conveying of joy without reference to any specific work or recording.

Ehud - Are you referencing Tureck's Goldberg Variations?

Ehud Shiloni wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Truth is I was only glancing at the subject line and I overlooked Kirk's question and hence my confusion. I honestly thought you were talking AoF, and although it did seem a bit starnge that I did not have any acute knowledge of an AoF recording by any of the artists mentioned, I thought [superficially, it now appears] that I hit on some unknown treasure....I vaguely recalled that Tureck had re-recorded many Bach's works over her long career and I thought it is wise to ask "which version" before I go shopping...;-)

So here is a revised query: Did she do the AoF?

Donald Satz wrote (May 24, 2001):
[To Ehud Shiloni] I'm not aware of any Tureck AoF on record, but I'll check the VAI label listings; if not on VAI, I doubt it exists.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 24, 2001):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< Interesting comment. I find he tends to ornament a bit more than most. But I agree that those ornaments are more for show than for pleasure. >
Koopman's strength is his rhythmic vitality and his articulation. He also uses historical fingerings. As far as I am concerned, these are all positive factors. His ornamentation is vey abundant, and that is quite controversial. I think he is often going over the top, and I can't always see the reasoning behind his ornamentation. I also believe rhetorics hardly play a role in his performances, or he has a poor understanding of the subject. That's probably the reason I often find his performances pleasant to listen to from time to time, but in the long run a little superficial and therefore unstatisfying. They are a little short on emotion, IMO.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 24, 2001):
Brad Lehman wrote:
<>
< Koopman tends to have a heavy touch anyway. (On his recordings, and confirmed by friends of mine who have lent or rented their harpsichords to him for concerts.) Mathot as one of his former students gets a similar sound, well matched to his. So, this performance comes across as heavy, driven, and adorned with crisp ornaments that don't sound very melodic. Tempos are fast. The tempos also tend to march on without much rubato, due to the need to stay together with the other player. >
Koopman doesn't use much rubato anyway. The reason for that is the lack of understanding (or neglect) of rhetorics.

<>
< My overall impression of his work, usually, (and again here,) is that he is more entertaining than moving. The heavy touch and the thickets of unnecessary ornamentation really get in the way (for me) of listening to him with pleasure. >
That's exactly how I feel, at least in Bach. (I think he is a lot more satisfying in 17th century music. He also made an excellent recording of Sweelinck's keyboard music, to be reissued by Decca shortly.)

< As I said above, when I listen to him I get the feeling he doesn't trust the music; he always has to be doing something to it, keeping his fingers occupied. >
Some time I heard him play a minuet by Bach, which he played so fast that it was hardly recognizable as a minuet....

By the way, he sincerely believes that his way of ornamenting is what Bach was expecting. Difficult to prove, of course.

Philip Peters wrote (May 25, 2001):
Donald Satz wrote:
< Right, I don't have it. The last time I saw a copy anywhere was a few years ago. I have a few other Koopman/Bach harpsichord cd's and think very well of his performances. He's quite crisp and tends to shorten note values. The one thing he isn't particularly good at is conveying life's joys; Koopman isn't that kind of guy. >
It´s amazing how our perceptions can differ sometimes. If there is one disadvantage to Koopman´s cantata series for instance, I feel it is his lightheartedness which sometimes almost seems to deny Bach´s seriousness. I don´t know his AoF but I have his WTC which in my amateur view is marred by too prolific ornamentation and too little *austerity*, especially when compared to my all time favourite, his teacher Leonhardt.

I don´t know Koopman personally but I have heard and read several extensive interviews with him and he is the most gentle, most amiable, often jocular and very entertaining man. Someone who would make good company...

Donald Satz wrote (May 25, 2001):
[To Philip Peters] I don't disagree with Peter that Koopman is sometimes too light, but lightness and joy of life are not the same thing. The expression of joy of life can have great depth to it, and Bach's music often is in that category. I rarely hear it in Koopman.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 25, 2001):
Don Satz stated:
>>I don't disagree with Peter that Koopman is sometimes too light, but lightness and joy of life are not the same thing. The expression of joy of life can have great depth to it, and Bach's music often is in that category. I rarely hear it in Koopman.<<
Perhaps your thoughts about the depth of joy are represented in Albert Schweitzer: J.S.Bach (Dover Edition) Vol.2 p.101, where he discusses motifs and rhythms of felicity in Bach's cantatas. There he refers to a recitative in the Trauerode, "that speaks of the happy death of a princess." This same rhythm and felicity motif appears in the 3rd mvt. (alto aria) of BWV 87 that is being discussed this week on the BCML. This is a mvt. in a minor key, which, in some of the recordings (Richter), is played agonizingly slow, and yet the musical figure, the 'felicity' -motif, resembles, according to Schweitzer, quiet gently-flowing waves that aid in carrying the sighs and moans of the oboes up to heaven. The entire aria sounds as if it belonged to a Bach passion, and yet there is this joy motif that is present throughout the aria.

 

Die Kunst der Fugue BWV 1080: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019
Comparative Review:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
AOF - E. Aldwell | AOF - R. Alessandrini | AOF - M.v. Delft | AOF - J. MacGregor | AOF - Phantasm | AOF - G. Ritchie | AOF - H. Scherchen | AOF - P. Taussig
General Discussions:
Part 1 | MD: The Art of Fugue
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
AOF - T. Koopman
Articles:
The Art of Fugue: Expanding the Limits! [E. Demeyere]

Ton Koopman: Short Biography | Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Recordings of Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Recordings of Instrumental Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Koopman’s Petition | Newsletters
Cantatas::
Koopman on TV | Cantatas Vol. 1 | Cantatas Vol. 6 | Cantatas Vol. 9 | Cantatas Vol. 10 | Cantatas Vol. 13 | Cantatas Vol. 14 | Cantatas Vol. 17 | Cantatas Vol. 22
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 244 - T. Koopman | BWV 247 - T. Koopman
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Ton Koopman’s Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 | Bach Sonatas for Gamba and Harpsichord | Review: Bach Orchestral Suites DVD
Discussions of Instrumental Recordings:
Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080 - played by T. Koopman
Books:
The World of the Bach Cantatas [by C. Wolff & T. Koopman]
Article:
Bach’s Choir and Orchestra [by T. Koopman]
Table of recordings by BWV Number

Tini Mathot: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

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