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.

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 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

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

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)