Bach/Göncz, completion of BWV 562.2 and Contrapunctus 14

By: | Post date: October 15, 2009 | Comments: 4 Comments
Posted in categories: Music

Amazing what you find in the googles. I googled idly at work to see if any of the completions of Bach’s Contrapunctus 14, from the Art of Fugue, are online. If you don’t already know about it, you may not care to find out, but the final fugue in the Art of Fugue is incomplete, just after Bach brings back all three fugue subjects. The legend is that Bach died before he could go on; revisionist history has contested this, and the piece we do know he wrote on his deathbed, “Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit” BWV 668, is what typically concludes performances of the Art of Fugue.

Many a musician has tried their hand at completing the unfinished fugue—particularly once they worked out that the theme running through the work is missing from this fugue, and fits with the other three subjects—so it must have been intended as a four-subject fugue: a fitting culmination to Bach’s tour de force. Not that Contrapunctus 14 is deficient for being incomplete: the first theme is a fugue of such… humane sorrow, it outweighs anything that came before it.

Completing the unfinished fugue has a touch of hubris, but it’s far from impossible: once Bach put the music of the spheres in motion, a lot of it is lining up the themes and staying consistent to the style. Far from impossible, but harder than it looks. The version I’d heard was Helmut Walcha‘s, and it’s just wrong: the completion lapses into the 19th century, it’s not identifiable as Bach.

The Wikipedia article mentions Zoltán Göncz‘s proposed completion, based on his theory that this was intended to be a permutation fugue, because of the order in which the subjcts are introduced in the four voices. As it happens, YouTube user Matrix141414 (who is either Göncz himself or a huge fan) has put this version online, with the score scrolling alone, and the permutation matrix illustrated.

(Göncz takes over at 2:04 of the second clip.)

My impression? At around 2:40, I think it starts sounding a bit lost, like Walcha’s did; but it gets back on track by 3:00, and the quadruple fugue is just great. (Hard to go wrong when, as Göncz has theorised, Bach had the matrix all planned out.) The five-voice bit at the end is not what Bach would have done—he was purist about the number of the voices he’d use; but the densing up of the texture is a very nice touch.

I still need to find the Tovey version someone recommended online once as the simplest and therefore the best. But I have to mention also the practice run Göncz did for the final fugue: the fugue of BWV 562.

The first tape of Classical music I ever bought was Walcha doing Bach. The Toccata & Fugue in D minor BWV 565, which everyone knows, and which is why I bought it in oh, 1983? The St Anne Prelude and Fugue in E♭ Major BWV 552. The *other* Toccata & Fugue in D minor, the Dorian BWV 538. The G Major Fantasia BWV 572. And rounding off the tape, the melancholy, slow, lachrymose Fantasia in C minor, BWV 562.

I was 12, and I was bewildered by what I’d just bought. (My mother was less bewildered by the racket: “My fault for giving you the $15 in the first place!”) I eventually worked out what was going on, though I must admit, I never quite warmed to the Fantasia: the music is deep, but rendering it on the organ is somehow oppressive.

To my astonishment, I discovered today that there was a fugue to the fantasia: it doesn’t just end in tearful contemplation of its mortality, as I’d assumed. And Bach never finished the fugue; the musicologists’ guess is, the fugue wasn’t really working for him. So Göncz thought he’d give it a go in 1989.

The results are also on YouTube thanks to Matrix141414, and Göncz has also published some notes on it:

(Göncz takes over at 1:31 of 5:32. He’s good—I didn’t notice the seam at all.)

Göncz has turned this fragment—which I think really was running out of steam—into a double fugue at 1:51. And God strike me down for saying this, but I think he’s improved the piece. A lot.

The real hubris, though, is following up the C Minor Fantasia with any fugue, even this improved fugue; and that offence was Johann Sebastian’s. I find it oppressive, I don’t seek it out, but the fantasia ends crying, alone, staring into space. It should be followed by silence. By not finishing the fugue, maybe J.S. agreed after all…


  • Unknown says:

    I have to disagree with you about Bach not wanting a 5th voice at the end of Contrapunctus 14. At the ends of Contrapuncti 5,6,7 and 11 Bach adds a 5th voice, so I see no reason why he would not have taken advantage of this technique to show the full range of his contrapuntal mastery in his final fugue.

  • The score for the Goncz completion of Contrapunctus 14 is available from Carus Verlag. The web address is and the number is 18.018. The score is beautifully printed on two staves in landscape format. Hope this helps.

    John Cleaveland

  • Anonymous says:

    Goncz really is very good and I am sure this has been asked of you before, but does anyone know if there is his score of Contrapunctus 14 online or do I need to transcribe it myself?


  • Anonymous says:

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Bach's Contrapunctus 14. You mentioned wanting to find the Tovey completion of it. Maybe you have found it already, but if not, it is available on Peter Billam's website at There are a few mistakes, such as m. 254, beat 3, bass should be f, not d, and in m. 290, beat 3, tenor should be d, not e. We're grateful to Peter for making this available online.
    Best wishes,
    John Cleaveland

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