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Noël Akchoté - Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kunst Der Fuge (BWV-1080, 1740-1742) (For Guitar)
French guitarist Noël Akchoté has done the listening public a generous service by making his entire Bandcamp catalog available for €29.36 (that being $31.29 for us lesser Europeans once removed). This body of music consists of over 500 recordings that manage to find their way into all corners of all music. The guitarist spent the better part of 2022 focusing on medieval and baroque choral music all played in his beautifully fractured, often deconstructed style.
Akchoté has spent much of 2023 focusing on the late Baroque, Classical, and early Romantic periods, surveying the music of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. While a wide orbit, the guitarist does establish mini-revolutions around a single composer with J.S Bach presently being addressed. With creative courage, Akchoté turns his attention to that composer’s final experimental work, Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art Of Fugue - TAOF). TAOF, BWV 1080, is thought to have been composed between 1740 and 1746, remaining incomplete at the composer’s death in 1750.
Written in an open score, where each voice is written on its staff, it has been theorized that the composition was more of an intellectual exercise than a piece of music to perform. While thought to have been composed for keyboard, TAOF has been interpreted in several formats, including, harpsichord, organ, piano, string quartet, woodwind quintet, brass quintet, and orchestra. That now Akchoté interprets it with guitar is no surprise, save for how long it took.
The guitarist recorded the piece using his electric guitar, a Gibson ES-175-D, the same style of guitar favored by Joe Pass and Pat Metheny. Semi-acoustic, the guitar has a light, even tone, allowing articulation that does not stumble over itself in the faster tempo sections. Contrapunctus I reveals a chaste Akchoté playing the familiar melody straight sans his fractured invention and revelatory vision. That comes later in the more complex contrapuntal pieces.
On Contrapunctus XV (Canon Per Augmentationem In Contrario Motu), the guitarist divines a pastoral folk quality from Bach’s musical thought that is brought to completion on the final and incomplete Contrapunctus XVIII (Fuga a 3 Soggetti). Akchoté reverently dissects and deconstructs the final fugue, presenting it as a parlor piece made for everyone. Bach may have just been indulging in an intellectual exercise, but it is fortunate that so many artists after him took up the challenge of the music, which has proven as robust as it is long-lived.