Listening to Beethoven #68 – 5 Double Fugues

Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven – silver medal, based on designs by Jean-Marie Delpech and Lancelot, made by Bescher, Paris, early 20th century © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

5 Double fugues, Hess 243 for four parts (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

no.1 in C major
no.2 in F major
no.3 in C major
no.4 in C major
no.5 in D minor

Dedication not known
Duration 9′


Background and Critical Reception

As we rustle through Beethoven’s composition papers under the watchful eye of his teacher Albrechtsberger, we come to the tricky discipline of the double fugue.

As with previous counterpoint exercises this is a difficult one to write with feeling – but here Beethoven as a pupil was trying merely to satisfy his brief.


The five double fugues are lively pieces, Beethoven fulfilling his obligations with a lot more obvious energy than in previous bits of homework we have recently examined. The C major is brightly voiced, while there are signs of adventure on the second with a trill figure on the cello.

Beethoven returns to C major for the substantial third piece, which gives notice of a composer who really knows how to work his thematic material. This is busy, quite bracing music and the instruments work well in pairs before a thoroughly convincing final cadence. The fourth piece is also in C, recreating the same mood with plenty of activity.

Finally the sombre world of D minor returns – seemingly a favourite key for these lessons. This example is a full-bodied affair.

Recordings used

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

The versions for string quartet were arranged by the Dutch musicologist Albert Willem Holsbergen and are given sprightly performances here.

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 Thomas HaighThree Keyboard Sonatas Op.10

Next up 2 Triple Fugues Hess 244

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