The Art of the Fugue

Bach, the master, tagged the words
Soli Deo Gloria—Glory to God alone—
onto the end of every piece he wrote.
Well, all except one. Contrapunctus 14,
From the Art of the Fugue, stops mid-measure.
His son, the composer C.P.E. Bach, appended these words:
Über dieser Fuge … ist der Verfasser gestorben—
“At this point in the fugue…the composer died.

I’m not sure about Glory to God alone.
There is so much glory to go around—
Rhubarb pie and lilacs, elephants and mossy streams—
that it is hard to say what owns the glory,
unless you call it all God, which works for me.
Take it or leave it.

What captivates me is the elderly Bach,
superceded in fame by his son,
slipping gently into the Art of the Fugue,
into writing pieces less for the glory of God
than for the teaching of the young,
which is, quietly, also the glory of God.

I like to think of the great man in his declining years,
tinkering with small melodies, turning them
this way and that, building with small blocks
a laborious legacy for children to practice
centuries on. I like to think of how the fugue
repeats and turns and leads you on
around the corner to something
which is the same, but different, which is
the nature of every journey.

“At this point in the fugue…the composer died.”
But not the fugue. It continues to ripple
like the mossy stream, like the lilacs,
like the great, waving ears of the elephants,
teaching the children, giving glory to God.

–Lynn Ungar 6-24-19