Throughout the nineteenth century composers and music scholars were interested in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750), resulting in the establishment of the Bach Gesellschaft, which initiated in 1850 the publication of collected works by the baroque composer. The series, known as the Bach-Gesellschaft-Ausgabe, was continued until 1900. In the end, forty-six volumes of Bach’s compositions were published. Some well-known musicians were involved with the project, including Johannes Brahms, who served on the editorial board. The pursuit of the understanding of Bach’s music was carried into the twentieth century, resulting in a number of composers’ reworking Bach’s compositions. The list of the composers who arranged Bach’s works includes Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern (1883 - 1945), the pioneers of atonal music.
Between 1934 and 1935 Webern orchestrated the second ricercar from Bach’s Musikalisches Opfer (Musical Offering), BWV 1079, which was first published in 1747. The piece is a fugue in six parts, whose main subject was created and provided by Frederick the Great (Frederick II of Prussia). One of Webern’s aims for arranging Bach’s rather complicated composition was to reveal the complexity of Bach’s numerous interwoven motifs. As a result, Webern does not let one instrument play through the relatively long fugue subject that lasts eight measures. Its opening statement, for instance, is broken up into seven short segments performed by three different brass instruments.