The idea for these arrangements came to me whilst listening to the Hagen Quartet's beautiful recording of the fugues that form part of Haydn's 'Sun Quartets', Op. 20. The spirit and influence of J.S. Bach, in particular his Well Tempered Clavier, Book II, courses through these three miraculous Haydn fugues.
Like the viol consort, the string quartet suits this kind of composition (the fugue), with all four instruments sufficiently similar in character to each other to match the extraordinary unity and economy of the counterpoint. A string quartet playing Bach fugues is a good example of a harmonious relationship between form and content: just as there is a unifying principle behind the construction of the four string instruments, so there is (usually) a single theme or subject that unifies the construction of a four-part fugue. Thus the form enacts the content, telling you something about the text and message within.
Apart from Haydn's and a handful of other composers' wondrous creations, there's little fugal writing for string quartet, at least in comparison with the abundance of other forms. This was another reason to make these arrangements. The quartet offers a melodic independence impossible to achieve on a single instrument. And I believe the technical and interpretative challenges posed by this repertoire – lightness of sound and rhythmic fluidity, for example - will be very valuable to quartets seeking the holy grail: a unified sound.
Perhaps the simplest and most compelling reason for this work is that I just love this music more than I can say. These dazzling pieces, mostly fast, bright and in major keys, show Bach at his most playful, funny and mischievous, composing for an instrument rarely associated with these qualities. And so I'm very happy to offer string quartets these little know fugues, written by my favourite composer - a violinist and violist himself, but above all a master polyphonist – Johann Sebastian Bach.
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