When discussing the possibility of recording J.S. Bach’s "Die Kunst der Fuge" (The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080) with those in and outside the classical music world, the question of playing this great masterwork on saxophones invariably arises early in the conversation! After all, the saxophone was not even invented until nearly 100 years after Bach’s death. However, there are two interesting points which should allay any concerns as to the appropriateness of the music of Bach to the saxophone. First, Bach, who was known to be a man of precision regarding instrumentation and other musical issues, did not indicate any instrumentation for "The Art of Fugue." Neither did his son C.P.E. Bach, to whom he dictated this, his final work. Second, the saxophone quartet is the only modern chamber ensemble designed as a true consort. The entire family, from sopranino to contrabass was conceived by its maker, Adolphe Sax, as an extension of a single acoustic design, uniform and complementary throughout the range. Thus the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones represent a pure consort, more consistent in tone color from top to bottom than the brass or woodwind quintet, and even the string quartet.
It was in fact a member of one of the world’s most well known string quartets who convinced NCSQ to look at this music, leading eventually to this recording. In 1994 the New Century Saxophone Quartet and the Julliard String Quartet performed in Los Angeles’ Ambassador Auditorium on consecutive nights. In a backstage conversation, the Juilliard’s cellist, Joel Krosnick, suggested that New Century explore "The Art of Fugue," feeling it might be a good match for the sonority of a saxophone quartet. This was not the first time the quartet had heard this. Five years earlier, in 1989, Philip Dunigan, the well known flutist and teacherat the North Carolina School of the Arts, had also encouraged the quartet to play "The Art of Fugue," however it took the advice of a second great musician, Krosnick, to get the Quartet to overcome it’s natural hesitation to take on this challenge.