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At-A-Glance

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Composed: 1845

Length: c. 5 minutes

Orchestration: solo organ

About this Piece

Complementing a reputation for innovation in Romanticism, Robert Schumann (1810-1856) turned to more conventional music forms late in his career with encouragement from his wife, Clara. That included an intensive study of fugues.

In 1845, he composed his Six Fugues on the Name BACH, Op. 60. It was his only work for organ, although he specified it could also be played on the pedal piano. Because B-flat in our solfege system is the German B and our B is the German H, Bach was able to employ a chromatic four-note motive to symbolically sign his name in the ultimate fugue of his unfinished Art of the Fugue. One of many composers since Bach’s death to rework the B-A-C-H theme in his own music, Schumann took the diminutive subject seriously enough to write six fugues on it.

The first fugue introduces the cycle slowly and reflectively, with the stark introduction of Bach’s name. It continues with a conventional fugue structure, building upon reverie to a deliberate and forceful ending.

-Gregg Wager is a composer and critic. He is author of Symbolism as a Compositional Method in the Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen. He has a PhD in musicology from the Free University Berlin and a JD from McGeorge School of Law.