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Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546


Mozart neither disparaged Bach, nor considered it in any way retrogressive to be influenced by Bachian counterpoint. In 1782, as director of Baron van Swieten’s Sunday concerts in Vienna, he played Bach fugues, made transcriptions of Bach fugues and wrote fugues of his own in tribute to his connoisseur patron’s enthusiasm for Baroque music. In 1789, en route to Berlin, he visited Bach’s Thomaskirche in Leipzig where he improvised for an hour on the chorale Jesu meine Zuversicht. Bach’s Leipzig successor, Cantor Doles, sat beside him at the organ, pulling the stops and saying ‘old Sebastian Bach has risen again.’

The visitor, it was observed, was ‘a young, modishly dressed man of medium height,’ who played ‘beautifully and artfully for a large audience.’ The choir sang Bach’s fine motet, Singet den Herrn, in his honour, and Mozart examined Bach’s autographs: ‘The parts spread all around him, held in both of his hands, on his knees, and on the adjoining chairs.’ Two years later, in The Magic Flute, he would give the Two Armed Men stern, beautiful, hauntingly Bachian music to sing.

The Fugue in C minor dates from six years earlier, when Mozart was first immersed in contrapuntal studies. Originally written for two pianos, it was arranged in 1788 for strings and given the slow, sombre introduction which so strikingly adds to its intensity, yet which Mozart described as no more than ‘a short adagio for two violins, viola, and bass, for a fugue I wrote a long time ago.’ The Adagio is filled with bold, expressive harmonic progressions. The Fugue, once set in motion, rolls on relentlessly to its close. The music, playable by string quartet or string orchestra, has a hard-edged severity quite uncommon in Mozart, but confirming how the Baroque and the Rococo could co-exist in Classical Vienna. A dark, somewhat spooky, conductorless performance of it was given at Herbert von Karajan’s funeral in 1989.

from notes by Conrad Wilson © 2003


Rossini, Mozart & Beethoven: LCO Live
SIGCD201Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD201 track 8

Recording date
18 April 2007
Recording venue
St John's, Smith Square, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Raphaël Mouterde
Recording engineer
Mike Hatch & Mike Cox
Hyperion usage
  1. Rossini, Mozart & Beethoven: LCO Live (SIGCD201)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: May 2010
    Download only
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