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′

Listen

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.

Thoughts

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.

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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

Listening to Beethoven #71 – Prelude and Fugue in F major

Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven, 1927 – silver medal based on a design by Karl Goetz © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Prelude and fugue in F major, Hess 30 for string quartet (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Duration 6′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Here we have more from the pen of Beethoven via the careful scrutiny of Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. This is another more substantial piece suggesting he has reached the required standard of counterpoint writing and that his teacher is now encouraging him to apply it to a bigger scale.

Thoughts

Beethoven must have studied the organ works of J.S. Bach at some point while under Albrechtsberger – at least, that is the natural conclusion of thought while enjoying the busy, breezy prelude to this pair of movements. The music bustles along happily, each of the four instruments interacting closely but with the whole piece in mind.

The fugue is equally upright, Beethoven’s confidence in his part writing clear for all to hear. The main subject is bold and colourful, and dominates proceedings – but there is plenty going on behind the scenes, the accompaniment full of references to the main tune.

Recordings used

Fine Arts Quartet (Naxos)

Endellion Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon)

The Fine Arts Quartet give a clearly voiced account of the Prelude, with plenty of gusto – which they also apply to the Fugue. Their new Naxos recording is brightly lit, more so than the Endellion Quartet, who are a little bit more relaxed at the start of the Prelude, allowing the energy to build over a greater span.

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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 Friedrich Witt Horn Concerto in E flat major

Next up Prelude and Fugue in C major Hess 31

Listening to Beethoven #70 – Prelude and Fugue in E minor


Commemorative medal for Ludwig van Beethoven, 1927 – bronze medal based on a design by Karl Goetz © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

Prelude and fugue in E minor, Hess 29 for string trio (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

Dedication not known
Duration 6′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven’s counterpoint lessons with Albrechtsberger were starting to bear substantial fruit, the composer now producing fugues he considered to be public-facing, rather than the dutiful exercises we have witnessed up until now. This example sees quite a meaty prelude added to the front of a such an exercise to make a relatively substantial piece for string trio.

The excellent Unknown Beethoven resource goes into impressive detail on the unpublished work, recognising that the theme of the fugue itself must be by Beethoven, since ‘it does not occur on the list of themes which Albrechtsberger gave to his pupils’.

Thoughts

Beethoven’s prelude gives a hint of what is to come in the fugue. There may only be three instruments on show but the writing is dense enough to simulate at least four. The trio exchange their ideas but as the prelude moves on so the viola’s longer notes become both prominent and profound.

The fugue has a great deal of nervous energy, a tentative subject floated by the violin but gradually exerting itself with greater authority. Beethoven works his ideas through several chromatic harmonies, with a compact design and some neat trickery between the parts. The pair make an impressive and convincing piece that could easily be used as a concert opener or encore with rarity value.

Recordings used

Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt (violins), Clemens Hagen (cello) (Deutsche Grammophon)

An excellent performance, rich in sound but with impressive clarity too.

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Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt, Clemens Hagen

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 Hummel Piano Sonata no.8

Next up Prelude and Fugue in F major Hess 30

Listening to Beethoven #69 – 2 Triple Fugues


Medaille: Wyon, L. C.: Beethoven-Gedenkmünze (Philharmonic Society London, 1870) © Beethoven-Haus Bonn

2 Triple fugues, Hess 244 for four parts (1794-5, Beethoven aged 24)

no.1 in D minor
no.2 in F major

Dedication not known
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

These two triple fugues were written for four parts, though the exact instrumentation is not known. All three themes of the first piece are by Beethoven, while the second piece is collaborative between the composer and his teacher Albrechtsberger.

Thoughts

Writing a triple fugue means that a good number of musical parts are in play. Beethoven achieves his aim with music of impressive craftsmanship which will surely have satisfied Albrechtsberger.

The result for the listener is more admiration at the process than anything else, for this is clearly music that was not meant to be performed in concert. The first fugue is dutifully played out and a little downbeat as we return to D minor, while the second is more energetic and has a busier theme.

It is fascinating listening to these exercises though – and we will see much later in Beethoven’s life how they bear considerable fruit.

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.

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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 Hyacinthe JadinThree String Quartets Op.1

Next up Prelude and Fugue in E minor Hess 29

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′

Listen

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.

Thoughts

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