Op 87 - No. 4 - E minor - Fugue
music || notes || words prelude


I think Eric Altschuler would like this fugue. Within the wide universe of Shostakovich's Op. 87, he would likely rank it in his top favorites list.

E minor. Adagio. Very softly: a slowly rising subject sketches a distant foggy mountain range, three ascending peaks ending in the remote plateau valley of the fifth. A wistful fugue grows out of this song, complete with a countersubject containing a sequence that journeys into canonic episode. This is a complete fugue in itself, rich with counterpoint as the recurring subject becomes profound. And then, it fades. . .

Suddenly, but quietly, a second subject appears, like rain, a more swiftly moving, lyrical subject. We have entered new country, and an entirely new fugue. It also has at least one countersubject of its own, which, again, yields to a sequence echoed, eventually, in three-part canonic imitation. The contrapuntal texture blossoms again as this second fugue within a fugue climbs up and up, raising the pitch, the volume and the tension.

You can feel it approaching until its strikes like Thor's hammer: the epiphany of simultaneity. The first subject returns with deep octave doublings, striking at the very instant where the second subject and its countersubject begin. The mountain range now looms, sharp and dark. It is like mighty stone vaulting over the stained-glass shimmer of the secondary material. It is like a mallet that sparks and shatters the world into splintered song.

This is an epic fugue, a masterpiece. It is a supremely tonal work from a Russian 20th Century composer of enormous stature. I think Bach would be very proud, and reverent of this fugue. Shostakovich, standing on Bach's shoulders, and, yet, on his own two feet as well.

From my own vantage on Altschuler's shoulders, I would like to thank him for everything he has taught me through his own Well-Tempered Clavier: his meta-music has richly influenced earsense. I write this with him in mind.