Listening to Beethoven #3 – Fugue for organ in D major


The organ of the Minorite Church in Bonn, which Beethoven played at the age of 12. Photograph from 1905, in the collection of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Fugue in D major WoO 31 for organ (1783, Beethoven aged 12)

Dedication not known
Duration 2’15

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Although Beethoven regularly played the organ in his years at the Bonn court, he wrote virtually no organ music – and what survives is certainly not well known. The DG notes for their complete Beethoven edition describe it as a ‘rather modest two-voice fugue in D, written at the age of 11 or 12’ – and that’s it.

Thoughts

Yes it may be modest – and in the end it is relatively unmemorable – but there is something very impressive about the sure-footed way this fugue goes about its business. The thematic entries are textbook, Beethoven following the rules when it comes to writing a fugue, but the arrival at the big held note on the pedals towards the end feels inevitable – as does the conclusion.

Recordings used

Simon Preston (DG), Janette Fishell (Naxos)

Whereas Simon Preston’s version keeps moving it has quite a remote tone, recorded at more of a distance. Janette Fishell (Naxos) gives the fugue a warmer registration on the organ and brings it to life more. The final cadence feels more impressive in her hands.

Spotify links

Simon Preston

Janette Fishell

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4BJCc2kWe7McJUVsR7t7bF?si=yrxRSnPxTe6qtJRREUNSLQ

Also written in 1782 AlbrechtsbergerMass in D major Albrechtsberger was Beethoven’s teacher for a while, and you can read about him here

Next up Rondo in A major

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