Lyonel Feininger, Fugues

By Richard Wilson

Written for the concert Bauhaus Bach, performed on Oct 21, 2011 at Carnegie Hall.

I have chosen three of Feininger’s twelve fugues to arrange for full orchestra: one numbered IV, written in Weimar in 1921; one numbered III and subtitled “Gigue,” written in Weimar soon after; and “Fugue in D,” the third version from Dessau of a fugue begun in Weimar in 1922. In orchestrating these works I faced certain questions: which instruments should play what line and at what level of loudness or softness; should their notes be smoothly connected or short and pungent; should instruments work as groups or individually; should changes of color come dramatically or in a subtle manner? Volume, color, relationship of line, and proportion are considerations as important in music as in painting—as Feininger well knew. I have tried to let his notes lead me to the right orchestral guise without being concerned either with musical fashions prevailing in the Germany of the1920s or with his pictorial or graphic manner. It is remarkable that this artist apparently began his composing career at age 50, wrote over a period of six years a dozen intricate works in a single genre, and then stopped.

Mr. Wilson is the Composer-in-Residence of the American Symphony Orchestra and the Mary Conover Mellon Chair in Music at Vassar College. Winner of an Academy Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, he has composed over 100 works.