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′

Listen

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.

Thoughts

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

Listening to Beethoven #64 – 5 2-voice fugues


Beethoven medal von Otto Vogt © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

5 2-voice fugues, Hess 236 for piano (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

no.1 in D minor
no.2 in E (Phrygian mode)
no.3 in F major
no.4 in B flat major
no.5 in D minor

Dedication not known
Duration 5’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

By 1795, Beethoven was becoming a household name in Vienna – but he was diligently continuing his studies with Salieri and Albrechtsberger.

Salieri was teaching him all about expression in a vocal style, but Albrechtsberger was teaching him the nitty gritty of counterpoint. As anyone studying music for ‘A’ level or beyond knows, this could begin with a musical theme provided by the teacher, with the pupil encouraged to work it into a longer piece through tried and tested methods.

The fugue was one of these methods, perfected by Bach and Handel among many Baroque composers, and seen as the ultimate proof that a composer knew how to work their music. Lesser composers could make it sound like the solving of a mathematical equation, but the good ones knew how to rise above that so that their fugues still had human expression.

Some of the fruits of Beethoven’s ‘homework’ with Albrechtsberger in Vienna were preserved by the musicologist and composer Gustav Nottebohm in his Beethovens Studien, a 19th century publication giving us a fascinating insight into the composer’s background work.

These five two-voice fugues are built on themes written by Albrechtsberger himself, and are realised on the piano.

Thoughts

These musical sketches are fascinating because they sound so dutiful. It is as though Beethoven has taken his art to bits and laid it bare on the music room floor, before picking up the bit marked ‘counterpoint’ and taking it over to the piano.

The music is not always particularly involving but shows the workings of the inner mind – and the fragments are often left unfinished. If it were from the pen another composer it would doubtless be discarded, but because it is Beethoven it stands as an interesting collection of sketches, essential to his later development.

The two minor-key fugues are very solemn.

Recordings used

Tobias Koch (fortepiano) Deutsche Grammophon

Tobias Koch plays a fortepiano in these accounts of Beethoven’s exercises. The approach is a deliberate one, where you can sense the pupil feeling for the notes and not always reaching them.

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 Haydn – Trio in D major XV:24

Next up O care selve (first version)

On Record – Rick Wakeman & The English Rock Ensemble: The Red Planet (Snapper)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Red Planet marks a much-heralded return to progressive rock for Rick Wakeman. The prolific keyboard player and composer has been working on the album for a good while, having been captivated by the three missions currently in progress from Earth to Mars, not to mention some of the pictures received by NASA.

Wakeman, who has made three albums previously about the universe beyond Earth’s orbit, has enlisted the talents of three prodigious talents – guitarist Dave Colquhoun, bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Ash Soan. The English Rock Ensemble, as they are known, are given equal billing with the keyboard player.

What’s the music like?

Some of Wakeman’s strongest in years. There is a great deal of passion and imagination here, with Wakeman’s characteristically brilliant keyboard work more than matched by his protagonists and friends. It is important to recognise the connection of personalities, because as Rick told Arcana in an extensive interview, their creative spirit and comradeship were big elements of The Red Planet’s success.

The album works really well because of a really good balance between excess and restraint! The familiar strengths of progressive rock are exploited in prodigious drum fills, creative keyboard solos, twisted bass lines and epic guitar work, but each of the four musicians knows when to pull back and concentrate on evocative scene-setting. The latter quality means the likes of Arsia Mons and The North Plain, both portraits of their respective areas on Mars, are more descriptive and have the necessary light and shade.

As Wakeman admits, a lot of fun was had with the making of this album, and it comes through right from the off, and the imposing church organ of Ascraeus Mons. Meanwhile in the final and most extensive picture, Valles Marineris, the spirit of Holst is channeled through the oblique rhythms and stabbing counterpoint.

Between the two imposing outposts there is much good music. The descriptive Tharsis Tholus has attractive flute voicing, while Arsia Mons has one of the album’s most memorable riffs, not to mention superb drumming from Soan. Wakeman himself comes right to the fore on Olympus Mons, with some typically probing keyboard athletics near the end, while he leads with a soaring synthesizer on Pavonis Mons. Meanwhile a wonderfully gritty keyboard sound takes over on The North Plain, shaking off the mysterious, ghostly piano of its opening strains.

Does it all work?

Yes. Anyone with an interest in Wakeman or his on / off band Yes will recognise the keyboard style but will also applaud the attention to detail and relative restraint shown in the course of this hour-long triumph.

Is it recommended?

Yes, as a thoroughly enjoyable album. Anyone with an interest in progressive rock will want to hear it – but happily The Red Planet gives us the notion of getting away from our own habitat for a while, which I’m sure we’ve all fantasized about in the last few months!

Stream

Buy

You can buy The Red Planet from Rick Wakeman’s website here

Listening to Beethoven #63 – O care selve WoO 119


Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

O care selve WoO 119 for voice and piano (1795, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Text Pietro Metastasio
Duration 1’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

This is Beethoven’s second song to be set in Italian, a possible side-product of his studies with Salieri. The Italian composer’s influence on his pupil extended to a more operatic approach.

Very little is known or written about this song, but it is part of a clutch of short works completed in Vienna in 1795. We are effectively peering into the engine room, beneath the bonnet of Beethoven’s large-scale works.

Thoughts

This is a short and tender song in a lilting triple time, with a winsome melody that is easy on the ear. O care selve (O beloved forests) is as dreamy as its words imply, quite a wistful number with a faraway mood.

In fact this is a surprisingly relaxed utterance from Beethoven, a lullaby in all but name.

Recordings used

Hermann Prey (baritone), Heinrich Schütz Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)
Peter Schreier (tenor), Walter Obertz (piano) (Brilliant Classics)

Two chaste accounts, especially from Hermann Prey by way of the Heinrich Schütz Kreis Berlin, dreaming of their escape.

Spotify links

Hermann Prey, Heinrich Schütz Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson

Peter Schreier, Walter Obertz

Also written in 1795 Salieri Palmira

Next up 2 Triple Fugues

Switched On – Fhloston Paradigm: Right Where You Are (Cosmic Lounge Music)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Floston Paradigm is one of the many aliases for King Britt, and has been active since 2012. The celebrated Philadelphia musician and producer describes it in his Bandcamp biography as ‘is a manifestation of afro-futurist ideals, based in an electronic music landscape. The purpose is to transmit the omni-versal message of divine abstractions into aural pleasing tones’.

The time would seem right for its revival, and this new four track album was released to coincide with Bandcamp’s day of sharing their royalties with artists. Dedicated to ‘a world of peace, love and equality for all’, the music is designed to think along the same lines as the blue sky and heady clouds of the cover.

Whether that can be achieved in real life, of course, is another matter – but it is a reminder of the hugely important part music continues to play as the Coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of letting up.

What’s the music like?

Not surprisingly, very relaxing indeed. King Britt has all the assurance of an experienced hand in this repertoire, and the four tracks between them make an extremely calming whole lasting just under an hour.

There is no rush to go anywhere, and as the 22-minute opening track Friday Sombers develops we fall slowly under the spell of its bubbling bass part and slow moving treble lines, which occasionally glint at the edges as though caught by a particularly intense ray of sun. There are little acidic synthesizer sounds that flicker around the picture, like the embers of a fire, while the harmony remains grounded to an omnipresent pitch centre of C. Gradually the track breaks up, like those embers on the fire, until we are left with fragments of indistinct melody.

Mercury’s Portal returns to the same pitch centre with pure tones, birdsong and what sounds like footsteps crunching leaves and / or snow. The pure tones soon give way to a probing piano line, but the textures remain full of light until broader and more jagged tones make themselves known. Now the shadows lengthen, but the music remains airy.

A Moment For Self is more propulsive, with broad strokes around the edges while a more probing synth line forces its way through in mid-range. Again the musical breaths are long, as they are in the final ReBalancing The Theory, which starts with rain and a watery, sustained loop. This is more mellow, the music sinking back to earth gradually, where it becomes more noise-based and fades to the distance.

Does it all work?

Yes – because all of it is just the one track, and with absolutely no hurry or pressure King Britt creates the safest of musical spaces. It is one the listener can completely give over to, or they can apply a more critical ear and appreciate the subtle movements and texture changes. Either way it works well.

Is it recommended?

Yes. From personal experience Right Where We Are achieves exactly what its maker wanted – bringing the listener to a ‘place of center’. If only it could do the same to all those causing friction on the planet at the moment!

Stream and Buy