JS Bach's last work, at last


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The Independent Culture

An aura of magic looms around Johann Sebastian Bach's The Art of Fugue. It is the composer's last masterpiece, left unfinished on his death in 1750.

The Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, much celebrated for her Bach playing over some 25 years, has never tackled the work – until now. She is performing it in two recitals at the Royal Festival Hall, half in each programme.

"I've always put it off," she admits. "Many performances I've heard of it have been dull – and I can't believe that Bach reached the end of his life and wrote something boring! I feel a duty to delve into it and find as much life in it as possible."

It remains a huge challenge. Bach specifies no instrument for the work and some theories suggest he never intended it to be played. Others opine that it is full of numerological symbolism. But it has turned out that he probably composed much of it earlier than previously thought, possibly before 1740.

Perhaps, in the end, its mystery has been overstated at the expense of its delights.

Angela Hewitt, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1, 2 October (www.southbankcentre.co.uk)