Listening to Beethoven #66 – 6 4-voice fugues


Beethoven Medal from Fürstenberg Porcelain © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

6 4-voice fugues, Hess 238 for four instruments (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

no.1 in E minor
no.2 in D minor
no.3 in C major
no.4 in A minor
no.5 in B flat major
no.6 in A minor

Dedication not known
Duration 9’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Presenting six more of the fruits from Beethoven’s studies with Albrechtsberger in Vienna, in which he shows himself an adapt composer of counterpoint in four voices.

Again we are indebted to Gustav Nottebohm for the assembly of these fascinating excerpts from lessons in his publication Beethovens Studien.

Thoughts

The four-part fugues show Beethoven in assertive mood, satisfying the brief set for him by his teacher. Once again the level of emotional investment is more distant, but hearing the four-part works on strings gives them a bit more colour.

The first two pieces are straight-faced, the second one with sacred undertones, ending as it does with a sweetly-voiced major chord. The third fugue is matter-of-fact, the fourth – back in a minor key – rather more plaintive. By the fifth fugue Beethoven’s music has acquired a jaunty swing, with the notes tightly knitted together before a relaxed final cadence. This and the straight faced final piece have a most natural flow, despite being little more than a minute long.

Recordings used

Covington String Quartet [Frank McKinster, Greg Pinney (violins), Luke Wedge (viola), William Hurd (cello)] Deutsche Grammophon

The Covington performances are forthright, striding forward confidently. In the minor key works less vibrato gives the overall sound a timbre towards that of a viol consort.

Spotify links

Covington String Quartet

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 F# minor XV:26

Next up 2 chorale fugues Hess 239

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