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Die Kunst der Fuge › How long is DKdF? (or: Research of Exceptions)
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How long is DKdF? (or: Research of Exceptions)

Carceri. G.P. Piranesi How long is the Art of Fugue?

It depends, of course, on the instrumentation and interpretation. Looking at the total-time indications of several recordings, we find that the duration of a complete recording of the printed version ranges between one hour and a little less than two hours, between 60 and about 110 minutes.

Probably the shortest recorded version is a very new one by the Wiener Saxophon-Quartet: it takes one hour minus a few seconds - but it is far from being the fastest presentation! Others that last some minutes longer sound much faster and, what a damage, in some movements even hasty (e.g. a live recording on piano, played four-handed by Clarissa Graf Costa and Hans Graf, or the chamber orchestration of The Amsterdam Bach Soloists; both recordings include the chorale BWV 668 and take about 72 minutes.) The objectively measured amount of time hardly ever correlates with the sensation of tempo - this might be the case in sports, but tempo is not the same as speed, and we are talking about music.

The longest DKdF-versions seem to belong, quite logical, to two different instrumentations that both also require a bigger space than others: the organ, and a large orchestra. (There are very few complete organ recordings which are short enough for one CD, as Hans Fagius’ and André Isoir’s.) There are at least three organ recordings that take, without counting the chorale, some 105 minutes each: two of them have been released in Prague - by Josef Popelka 1992 and Jaroslav Tuma 1999 - and Wolfgang Rübsam’s 1992 recording at Flentrop University.

(So far the records in my DKdF-collection; I know that there are many more, especially organ recordings that quite often cannot be found on the current market, sometimes only in the churches where the organ is located, or to be obtained from the organists themselves. If you find another one that is breaking the rules, or is to be recommended in any other sense, please let me know.)

At about the same duration - some 105 minutes without the chorale - is Herrmann Scherchen’s Viennese recording of his own orchestration from June 1965; as a guest conductor of orchestras in other places all over the world, he never reached this longitude anymore…

Two remarkable exceptions can be found in the longest-recording-category: one version for string quartet which is much longer than any other string-or-whatever quartet recording: once more some 106 minutes. It has been the last recording of the first violinist and mentor of this cast, Paolo Borciani, taken from a live concert in May 1994. Another one with 106:03 (+ three long chorale versions added) is special in any sense: Miodrag Azanjac’s Flute Choir (sic!) celebrating a an extraordinary KdF performance, loaded with density; recorded live in Belgrade in the early eighties.

So we can sum up in our small Book of Records:

- The shortest DKdF recording: 59:37, played by a saxophone quartet;
- The longest - less surprising: organ versions that run up to 111:27, and large orchestra: 109:18; these timings all include the chorale “Vor Deinen Thron…”; and, as a little exception: a string quartet version with 106:29.

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.
(Wystan Hugh Auden)

Whether all these “short” or “long” recordings are also “fast” or “slow”, in fact the further consequences of tempo generally, this is going to be the item of another discussion, to be continued on some of the later pages. For this purpose, it would be a funny experiment to construct a hypothetic “longest” as well as a “shortest” version of DKdF by collecting the longest, or shortest takes of Cp.1, Cp.2, Cp.3 etc., without regarding provenience, instrumentation and other neglectable details; a somewhat respectless, sportslike method - but the result could be at least interesting, not only considering the total time that each would count, but how it sounds. (These compilations even could be offered to a special audience, as “DKdF for monday mornings”, “DKdF for galactic journeys”, “DKdF for rush hour”, “DKdF for immortals” etc.) Once I’d have the technical possibilities to combine such a copy, I’ll inform you about the result.

Naturally, life is much more than living according to the rules that we find when we come to our being. Each step towards creativity, any innovative or transcendental activity is due to an individual enlarging, varying, breaking of rules, finding individual ones, develop new ones and change them whenever we can hear the call. Living life is, actually, research of exception. Learning to look beyond the rules, to search for anything that cannot be categorized, for wild seeds, undiscovered insects, hidden minerals and loudly talking tiger-lilies whose words have never been percepted before…

On one of the following pages I will try to describe the various qualities of a DKdF-interpretation that has been recorded 1993 by the pianist Anton Batagov. As the others mentioned here, the record covers the complete printed score, but without chorale. It runs 147 minutes and 44 seconds.