Listening to Beethoven #72 – Prelude and Fugue in C major

Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven, 1927 – Silver medal from the Bavarian Main Mint based on a design by Josef Bernhart, Munich, 1927 © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Prelude and fugue in C major, Hess 31 for string quartet (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Duration 5′


Background and Critical Reception

A third Prelude and Fugue from Beethoven’s lessons with Albrechtsberger in Vienna, 1794-5. By way of a reminder, Beethoven was taking lessons from the Austrian composer, whose relatively rigorous approach to working with counterpoint complemented the vocal teaching he was receiving from Salieri.

Beethoven had worked writing fugues in two or more parts, and here is another in four – with a short prelude added to the front.


During his lessons with Albrechtsberger it seems that Beethoven opens up a little more with every piece. This attractive Prelude and Fugue are outgoing from the start, with a very solid ground note on the cello beginning proceedings. After that the Prelude proceeds on its genial way, compact and very approachable. It ends on an open chord (G major)…

…which allows Beethoven to lead straight into the energetic fugu, back in C major. There is a strong pointer here towards one of his true masterpieces of counterpoint, the String Quartet in C major Op.59/3 ‘Razumovsky’, which he would publish in eleven years’ time.

Recordings used

Fine Arts Quartet (Naxos)

Endellion Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon)

Both ensembles give a full-bodied account of this piece, the Fine Arts noticeably louder while the Endellion have a bit more light and shade.

Spotify links

Fine Arts Quartet

Endellion 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 Hyacinth Jadin 3 Piano Sonatas Op.4

Next up Prelude and Fugue in C major Hess 31

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