I went into Wayne McGregor's latest piece, Tetractys - the Art of Fugue - feeling rather confused. I'd planned to do some light background reading in preparation for this performance. This reading turned out to be a lot more difficult that I expected...
As the subtitle suggests, Tetractys is based on Bach's The Art of Fugue. Composed in the last decade of his life, it is considered by many to be Bach's greatest achievement. Consisting of 14 fugues, it is an extremely complex piece of counterpoint, mirror counterpoint and retrograde counterpoints (and if you want to learn more about this, Radio 3's Early Music Show recently did a really interesting program about it).
But McGregor dug deeper, unearthing theories concerning geometry, numerology, and the Pythagorean theory of numbers. This is where the idea of the tetractys comes in. A tetractys is a triangular figure consisting of ten points arranged in four rows like a pyramid. It is a mystical symbol that was important in the secret worship of the Pythagoreans. It represents unity, power, harmony and kosmos. This is about where I started to get lost...
|Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson|
|Paul Kay, Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb|
© ROH / Johan Persson 2014