CD-release: Febel's 18 Studies on The Art of Fugue

CD-release: Febel's 18 Studies on The Art of Fugue

The first recording of Reinhard Febel's Studien nach Bachs Kunst der Fuge, played by the renowned piano duo Tal & Groethuysen, is out now on Sony Classical. Commissioned by the pianists and Bachwoche Ansbach, Febel developed an exceptional adaptation of Bach's last work, Kunst der Fuge. The press was impressed by Febel's work for two pianos, which quickly became a best seller: “Here Febel dedicates to Bach  frivolous, cunning, humorous, infernal commentaries that do not approach the original insolently, but rather - in the sense of counterpoint  - question it and arch it over  in his own compositions”  (Die Zeit). The work was also presented live on stage recently: Duo Tal & Groethuysen played a selection of the studies on 22 August in Marburg and on 3 September at Klavier-Festival Ruhr.

Listen to the recording

On 2 October, a new Bach-infused piano work by Febel will be premiered at the Pianola Museum in Amsterdam, where Vivianne Cheng, one of the five youngest Steinway Artists, will perform his 24 Preludes. The soloist is also featured on the new work’s recording, to be released on CD by Mozarteum Salzburg.

Studien nach Bachs Kunst der Fuge (2014)

for 2 pianos solo
World Premiere: 07.08.2015, Ansbach
Duration: 80'

View score on nkoda

About the work

"From the outset, he was at pains to produce more than just a mere transcription of Bach’s score but wanted to create a new version that would constitute a conceptual advance on the work and provide a kind of personal commentary on it. In Febel’s view, the specific character of The Art of Fugue lends itself to this approach: “Bach’s music operates on a relatively even keel. It is extremely unified music, which makes it fantastically suited to reproducing certain processes: you can add overtones, for example, or you can introduce rhythmic shifts. All of Bach’s notes are included here, I’ve not left any of them out. In other words, I’ve made only a number of additions. Many of these processes are like overpainting of the kind you can find with Anselm Kiefer or Gerhard Richter.”
Excerpt from the booklet by Michaela Fridrich

„Bach's "Art of Fugue" with its fourteen fugues and four canons, all evolving from the same theme, expose a magnificent plethora of constructrual variation. For every counterpoint Febel chooses a specific principal of manipulation. In many cases - simply put - he pulls apart the single parts of the composition, freezes them and assembles them in a new way. In that way every fugue turns into a unique event, a little drama or a joke; a series of scenes that follow each other like in a play or novel.“

Sony Classical

Picture of Reinhard Febel
Reinhard Febel

The congenial pianists Tal and Groethuysen performed together for the first time in 1985 and became one of the most renowned and repeatedly internationally rewarded piano duos of today. Their work has been honoured five times with the "Echo Klassik" award and ten times with prizes such as the "Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik" and "Cannes Classical Award". Tal and Groethuysen stated: “Febel’s work fascinated us from the outset, while at the same time confronting us with tremendous challenges of a pianistic and above all a musical nature. The rhythmic demands in particular take your breath away. One also needs optimal acoustic conditions as the two performers have to be able to hear each other and react to one another with seismographic accuracy in a way that we’re not familiar with from any other piece that we know. In a certain sense these Studies are the counterpart to Ligeti’s Studies for piano solo, except that they are scored for two performers.”

Press quotes

“Febel, who like Tal and Groethuysen teaches at the Salzburg Mozarteum, has spent many years abroad: in Peru, Cameroon, New Zealand, Latvia, Uruguay and Scotland. He has also extensively studied Bach. Here he dedicates to Bach frivolous, cunning, humorous, infernal commentaries that do not approach the original insolently, but rather - in the sense of counterpoint - question it and arch it over in his own compositions. At the beginning, in "Contrapunctus 1", it seems as if the CD laser is stuck. Later, one has the feeling that two pieces are running side by side; in reality, it is the original and its shadow, its echo. It sounds as if the overpainting artist Arnulf Rainer has seeped into the music. And finally, in the ludicrously swinging Presto feroce, we hear a rhythmic etude that could have been written by György Ligeti.”

"The famous pianists succeed in perfectly communicating Febel's radiological  precision, subtle sensuality and his humor. New music? Oh no, you hear that several times in a row and you want even more". 
RP Online

"[In his studies] Febel applies contemporary techniques to the fugues in one and a half hours, which can only be realized on two grand pianos: He places them on top of each other in a phase-shifted manner, lets both pianists play them simultaneously at different volumes, keystrokes and even tonalities, or lets notes from one resonate in the pedal of the other. Tal & Groethuysen are thus challenged to the limit, and shine by maintaining clarity through their characteristic soft and round sound.”
Süddeutsche Zeitung

Photos: Michael Leis, Shahriyar-Farshid