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Die Kunst der Fugue BWV 1080
Peter Taussig (Disklavier)
Peter Taussig records Bach’s Art of the Fugue

A-1

J.S. Bach: The Art of the Fugue

Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080

Peter Elyakim Taussig (Disklavier Pro 9 Concert Grand)

Crystal Music / Pilgrim Records

2001

CD / TT: 73:23

Buy this album at: Amazon.com

Donald Satz wrote (January 8, 2002):
Summary: A fine Art of Fugue which is inspiring on many levels

Back in the 1970's and 1980's, Peter Taussig was enjoying a fine career in Canada as a concert and recital pianist. He subsequently was stricken by a severe case of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and arthritis which essentially made it impossible for him to perform with his right hand.

At this point, Taussig was faced with only performing works for the left hand. Not satisfied with this prospect and always interested in new technology, Taussig concentrated on the possibility of electronic production of music. However, the problem he identified for taking the electronic route was that digital keyboards had a synthetic sound he found unacceptable.

As it happens, Yamaha came to the rescue with a new type of electronic keyboard named the Disklavier Pro 9 Concert Grand. Only four of these instruments exists in the world, and Bill Gates owns two of them. Mr. Taussig had found just the right instrument to overcome his physical adversity *and* satisfy his artistic requirements.

How does it work? I'm hardly knowledgeable about these matters, but it all seems viable. Taussig starts by putting the music into the computer which drives the Pro 9. He then engages in a process called "musical sculpting" which he controls with a special computer mouse. Taussig can then invest each note with the precise volume, length, and relationship to the beat/rhythm. Once this task is complete, the results are sent by internet to a recording studio where a similar instrument is activated and the recording made. Where this process appears superior to a live performance is that each voice is recorded separately with every note quite audible and pronounced. Now that the Taussig Art of Fugue has been recorded, he is working on a recording of the complete Well Tempered Clavier which should be released in a few months.

Not all responses to the process and recording have been favorable. Taussig has had to contend with the typical charge that the results of musical sculpting are artifical and not artistic. I have not discussed this aspect with Mr. Taussig, but I would assume that he is convinced that he's doing the absolute best he can given the situation he lives with, and that his artistry is conveyed through the Pro 9. Also, he is convinced that the Pro 9 does produce highly musical results with a sound quality and detail impossible on the typical piano.

As for my own opinion, I'm most concerned with the final product, not how it was processed. I am also convinced that the results Taussig achieves are entirely dependent on his sense of architecture and artistry; the process is not a gimmick for the low-skilled pianist. Everything we hear from the equipment comes from Peter Taussig; it's his show.

As it happens, Mr. Taussing gives us a very fine show. His tempos reflect a wide range from among the slowest to the fastest on record. Contrapunctus V and VIII are slower than any other versions I know, while III, IX, and X are very fast. Taussig clearly does not have a cookie-cutter mentality in his performance of the Art of Fugue.

Some of Taussig's fugues are performed superbly such as his jazzy Contrapunctus III, luxuriating Contrapunctus V, throbbing Contrapunctus VII, and the thrilling Contrapunctus X.

I do take issue with few of Taussig's fugues. I would have liked a more relentless and intense Contrapunctus II, greater projection of the French Overture elements of Contrapunctus VI, and more propulsion in Contrapunctus IX. However, I'm being quite picky here; I find every moment of the performance quite enjoyable at a minimim.

Taussig tends to give 'rounded' interpretations with little sharpness or angularity. Although a matter of personal taste, I can't deny that a greater degree of angularity would have made for some favorable contrasts within the work.

Concerning comparison recordings, there are some exceptional piano versions from the likes of Koroliov, Nikolayeva, and Gould. Taussig holds up well to these alternatives, although I do have a small preference for them over Taussig's set. On the other hand, making these comparisons might not be all that viable. Taussig's set comes with special conditions which other pianists don't have to deal with. His set possesses its own unique challenges and qualities, and I have reaped many rewards from the listening experience.

Don's Conclusions: Peter Taussig's Art of Fugue is strongly recommended. Although I don't agree with each of his interpretations, Taussig has given us a thought-provoking set of performances which easily rises above the average. The piano sound is drop-dead gorgeous, Taussig invests each fugue with his own sense of performance style, and the diversity he supplies is admirable.

The primary consideration is that the set is real music-making needing to make no excuses for the special equipment used in the musical process. I eagerly await the issue of Taussig's Well Tempered Clavier and appalud his intense determination and success in finding the best methods to convey musical inspiration to his audience.

 

Feedback to the Review

John Grant wrote (January 9, 2002):

Donald asks of Taussig's "Art of the Fugue":
< How does it work?
"How does it work? I'm hardly knowledgeable about these matters, but it all seems viable. Taussig starts by putting the music into the computer which drives the Pro 9. He then engages in a process called "musical sculpting" which he controls with a special computer mouse. Taussig can then invest each note with the precise volume, length, and relationship to the beat/rhythm. Once this task is complete, the results are sent by internet to a recording studio where a similar instrument is activated and the recording made. Where this process appears superior to a live performance is that each voice is recorded separately with every note quite audible and pronounced. Now that the Taussig Art of Fugue has been recorded, he is working on a recording of the complete Well Tempered Clavier which should be released in a few months." >
In short, Taussig's Art of the Fugue is a MIDI production, although he used the phrase "musical sculpting" to describe it.

MIDI is considered NON-music by many, many pianists. I do not share that view, since what ultimately matters to me from an aesthetic standpoint is the END PRODUCT, not the process by which it was created!

Michael Cooper wrote (January 9, 2002):

John Grant wrote:
< MIDI is considered NON-music by many, many pianists. I do not share that view, since what ultimately matters to me from an aesthetic standpoint is the END PRODUCT, not the process by which it was created! >
Part of what appeals to me about a performance is the human behind it. The difficulty and the struggle, perhaps the human emotion behind the performer. Thinking of these things enriches the performance for me as a listener.

Did anyone ever read a short story about a scientist who built a robot and taught it to play Beethoven? I do not recall it perfectly, nor the title nor the author's name.

The scientist has a recital scheduled and he anticipated how deeply the audience would be moved by the robot's Appassionata. At the end of the story the robot itself cancels the recital, saying that the music was very easy for him... "But it was not meant to be easy."

Len Fehskens wrote (January 9, 2002):

Michael Cooper writes:
< Part of what appeals to me about a performance is the human behind it. The difficulty and the struggle, perhaps the human emotion behind the performer. Thinking of these things enriches the perforfor me as a listener. >
So, if there's a human "behind the MIDI", what's the issue?

Michael Cooper wrote (Jaanuary 11, 2002):

Len Fehskens wrote:
< So, if there's a human "behind the MIDI", what's the issue? >
I was speaking in part of the challenge of performance itself. Understand I am not writing off the validity of a MIDI presentation.

John Grant wrote (January 11, 2002):

I suppose one could say that it's somewhat misleading to say Taussig "records" the Art of Fugue. Perhaps he does, but not in the usual sense. There is no human at the keyboard.

Sequencing (using midi) is a very different kettle of fish from playing the instrument. Since the artist in this case is not, in fact, creating at the piano at all, but entirely at the computer, the "art" is not the art of playing the piano. That does not make the end result anything less, but it certainly makes it something different.

Even Bach, as cerebral as his music is, leaves a keyboard "footprint," as it were, on his keyboard music. It is composed to be played by two hands, and that is part of the fascination (and challenge) of a five part fugue: playing it with only two hands. More than that, it is part of the music itself. Anyone who has, on the one hand, played the WTC with his or her bare hands and, on the other, sequenced it at the computer, is immediately aware of this. Where, for example, one would suppose the separation of voices using the computer to be transparent, in fact, one runs up against exactly the same difficulties (or at least difficulties of the same order) as the difficulties one encounters playing many voices with two hands.

In other words, sequencing is not a nostrum or magic potion for separating and/or carefully delineating the voices of a fugue. Nothing of the kind. Nor is it an easy route to theoretically perfect technique. Nothing could be further from the truth. Scales and the like become utterly wooden when they are merely sequenced. As in the case of all passable or good sequencing, the sequencer must play in the material himself or herself, and use the sequencer after the fact to correct mistakes, or to change the result in some other way, without ipso facto destroying the music. This is why pianists are usually (but not by implication) better at sequencing than non-pianists.

It is unfortunate Taussig and Yamaha do not provide samples on the net, or somewhere else, so that one can hear the music prior to purchase. Correct me if I am wrong on this.

Len Fehskens wrote (January 11, 2002):

John Grant writes:
< Scales and the like become utterly wooden when they are merely sequenced. As in the case of all passable or good sequencing, the sequencer must play in the material himself or herself, and use the sequencer after the fact to correct mistakes, or to change the result in some other way, without ipso facto destroying the music. >
This is demonstrably untrue. "Playing the material in" is simply a more efficient way of creating the raw material. MIDI is, after all, just a data stream. How the values in that data stream are determined has no effect whatsoever on the effect of those values.

Steve Schwartz wrote (January 12, 2002):

[To Len Fehskens] Actually, if I understand you and John correctly, it's more than that. Sequencing can produce a fairly faithful account of human phrasing – the little speed-ups and slow-downs that almost inevitably occur when a human touches a keyboard. On the MIDI software I have, however, there's a setting that allows you to play "as written" or "as recorded." There's a huge difference.

A composer friend of mine was asked to produce a score (a concerto) composed by a jazz musician in town who couldn't read or write music. The jazz man (a pianist, fortunately) played on a MIDI keyboard into a sequencing program. The resulting score was a horror of raw data which needed to be cleaned up, not at least metrically. It sounded fine, but the written notes almost never occurred on the beat, even the ones which were supposed to. A dotted quarter plus eighth (in final published form) had several morphs in the original humanly-played data stream.

William Cooper wrote (January 12, 2002):

As someone who uses midi regularly, but still agrees with those who belittle it, my analogy is that midi is the Sculpey of music – easy to use, fast setting, bakeable(?) -- but not the same as real clay.

My third prelude of 24 preludes & fugues is baked:
http://www.hartenshield.com/copper_prelude_op66_3.pdf (the clay)
http://www.hartenshield.com/copper_prelude_iii.mid (sculpey)

The midi's, by the way, are 'poured in', so there are no discernable bars or beats; see the score for the correct notation.

John Grant wrote (January 13, 2002):

There may be a misunderstanding or terminological confusion. If one "plays in," say, a Chopin Ballade, in what is called "real time," the sequencer acts like a recorder, only better, since it reproduces not only EXACTLY what you play in every detail, but also provides you with notation..

What I was referring to is the standard "midi" versions that one typically hears at sites like the "Classical Midi Archive." These are simply representations of a given piece of music with little or any variation in the length and intensity ("velocity" in midi language) of the note, and with or no change in tempo. In other words, the notes are simple entered into the computer using a mouse, or whatever, and they are monotonously uniform in length and duration. The end-result is non-music. It takes a very skilled sequencer to create music.

Of course, the statement that the result is "non-music" is, I suppose, an aesthetic value judgement and not therefore propositional, analytical, or subject to objective verification!

Len Fehskens wrote (January 15, 2002):

William Copper writes:
< As someone who uses midi regularly, but still agrees with those who belittle it, my analogy is that midi is the Sculpey of music – easy to use, fast setting, bakeable(?) -- but not the same as real clay. >
I think you are mistakenly characterizing the medium by how it is most commonly used, rather than by what it is capable of in the hands of those willing to take the requisite time and effort.

Deryk Barker wrote (January 18, 2002):

[To Len Fehskens] True, but MIDI has limitations, due to the fact that the original standard was created at a time when 8-bit computing was the norm in embedded devices.

Consequently each parameter (volume, attack, decay etc) has at most 256 different possible values.

A few years ago I interviwed a couple of composers of electronic music - damned if I can recall their names though - and they informed me that this was too small a number, that real musicians were capable - and they as composers needed - more than 256 different shades for each parameter.

It reminds me of Artur Schnabel's reply when he was being asked to make piano rolls by - was it Duo Arte? On being informed that their system could reproduce "16 different degrees of touch!" he said "What a pity! You see, I have seventeen."

 

Die Kunst der Fugue BWV 1080: Details
Recordings:
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001
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 - 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]

Peter Elyakim Taussig: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Peter Taussig records Bach’s Art of the Fugue

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Last update: ýFebruary 8, 2009 ý17:30:40