Book 2 - No. 17 - A flat major - Fugue
music || notes || words || images prelude


This fugue is like the musical incarnation of stained glass: hearing it feels somewhat like visually scanning the rich, interwoven, fractured and facetized gems, rich in color and light but spelling bigger patterns as they meld into a higher-level mosaic. Like pane after pane of detailed but bedazzling narrative, four different fragmented voices intertwine until the combined texture itself becomes the focal point: stepping back to let the pointillism blend. Music rich and continuous as fabric, as the organic growth of tender young ivy up the inscrutable wall of a great old cathedral.

Why untangle the threads? Rest luxuriously in the flowing braid of light, light as wave far more than particle.

If you look at Siglund Bruhn's wonderful block diagram of this fugue, you will see this quality in an interesting way. (She includes two different countersubjects). Subject and countersubject entries are mixed among the voices with surprisingly little episodic departure. It is dense, nearly always built of primary materials, constantly rearranged and re-juxtaposed. The distribution of facets, including the episodes, reveals no obvious patterns, symmetric balance or orderly progression. Its integrity and coherence is undeniable. Its nature at any particular point is nebulous, daunting to ponder. But it rolls ever along, making perfect sense by virtual of its mere existence.

With such an unarticulated rush of musical brocade, how can Bach draw this to an effective close? A dramatic climb up a slope of darker, daring chords stems the flow until the momentum nearly teeters, and the blessed bright watery light flows once more, graciously down to a more graceful, beneficent closure.