Between 1979 and 1981, the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould collaborated on a series of documentary films with the French violinist, writer and filmmaker Bruno Mansaingeon. In the scenes presented here, Gould plays a pair of movements from Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Art of Fugue.
Gould was nearing the end of his life when he gave these performances. He died of a stroke on October 4, 1982, only a few days after his 50th birthday. Similarly, The Art of Fugue was one of Bach’s final projects. He worked on it over the last decade of his life, and the unfinished manuscript was published after his death, perhaps also from a stroke, in 1750 at the age of 65.
The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, is made up of 14 fugues and 4 canons, each exploring the contrapuntal possibilities of a single musical subject. Gould plays “Contrapunctus I” in the video above. Below, he plays “Contrapunctus IV.”