The Art of Prelude and Fugue: CODA


A week has now passed since the conclusion of The Art of Prelude and Fugue last Monday night. The night was emotionally charged for me, sharing this incredible music after such a long journey with it; some of it so well-known and loved, and some of it almost unknown... and juxtaposing the two with compelling connections that touched emotional extremes. What started as a cool idea morphed into an odyssey that completely exploded my expectations in the degree to which it inspired and motivated me, challenged and frustrated me, excited and rewarded me. A bit like a long and taxing physical challenge - say, walking the Appalachian Trail or the El Camino, climbing Mount Everest, or biking from the Yucatán to Vancouver, it brought equal parts stress, anxiety, and injury, revelation, joy, and triumph.

I thought I’d share some of my takeaways, for those of you with interest in me or the project, or both.

I definitely underestimated the density of the work and the amount of time and effort it was going to require. Though I spent more than two years preparing, I actually would have loved and benefited from another year for the music to rattle around in my brain, for more study, more research, and more listening. 

I’ve become much more aware of the wide range of freedom in the preludes, both Bach’s and Shostakovich’s -  from passacaglia to French overture, invention to fughetta, Baroque dance to dirge, they present a stunning array of what is possible in a brief contrapuntal piece.

I have also come to understand the structure of fugues in a more intuitive way: I can sense now when it is time for an episode. Expositions now feel like paragraphs to me, as comprehensible to me as language in an odd way. When I began the project, some of Bach’s longest and most complex fugues felt like they stretched on with no real architecture, aimless, wandering... and now after time and study, the various episodes and expositions and codettas feel like rooms of a large building of whose boundaries and orientation I remain always aware.

The great Bach interpreter Angela Hewitt says beautifully in one of her interviews: “It takes a tremendous amount of work before you can really absorb it and become free with it in yourself… You have to get to the point in your work where everything is so secure that then you can become free.” I resonate with this very much, know that my growth journey with this music is not over, and feel much gratitude for the musical and personal milestones that lie ahead.

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

Lura Johnson