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Among Liszt’s most famous works for organ, the Fantasy and Fugue on BACH takes up the challenge to use Bach’s famous moniker in a musical way. Liszt begins by overtly spelling out B-A-C-H in an ostinato in the pedals. Loud, thick chords followed by rapid scales and arpeggios combine, develop, and expand into a peripatetic declamatory style, mostly derived nevertheless bluntly from B-A-C-H.

Although the Fantasy actually does move whimsically from one idea to the next, Liszt takes the four-note idea seriously as an anchor melody that frequently stands on its own. The Fugue subject adds more to the four-note idea to construct a more usable melody, but still creates a highly chromatic harmony that sonically saturates the otherwise careful contrapuntal writing. A series of loud descending scales suddenly interrupts, announcing a change of character. In this way, the Fugue reinvents itself, this time employing augmentation, followed by an extended cadenza-like coda.