Listening to Beethoven #65 – 4 3-voice fugues

Beethoven-Medaille, große Fassung © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

4 3-voice fugues, Hess 237 for piano (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

no.1 in G major
no.2 in F major
no.3 in E minor
no.4 in D minor

Dedication not known
Duration 4′


Background and Critical Reception

The second collection of Beethoven’s academic studies with Albrechtsberger are the fruits of some three-part exercises. There are four of these, scored once again for piano – and once again they are drawn from Gustav Nottebohm‘s invaluable research.

The Unheard Beethoven website, a mine of information for these lesser known works, talks of Beethoven as ‘the lion condemned to a diet of only vegetable soup’. Their point is that the composer, keen to learn and broaden his technique, was prepared to write dutiful music that satisfied his teacher, but also gave him a clearer understanding of counterpoint in the long run. We would see the fruits of this work deep into his late works.


Again there is a fascination in hearing the results of Beethoven’s studies presented in such a bare way. The music is almost completely devoid of emotion, and you can feel the drudgery of academic learning – but there is still room for the odd surprise, such as an unexpected move to a more distant key in the first fugue.

The second is sparkier, the third on the sorrowful side and the fourth a dogged exercise but confidently worked.

Recordings used

Tobias Koch (fortepiano) Deutsche Grammophon

Tobias Koch continues with his deliberate approach, studied but accurate – reflecting the nature of the short pieces.

Spotify links

Tobias Koch

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

Also written in 1795 HaydnPiano Trio in G major XV:25

Next up 6 fugues for 4 voices Hess 238

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