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Beethoven's Grosse Fugue

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Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Op. 133 is one of the great artistic testaments to the human capacity that was conceived as the final movement of the quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130. It is a single movement composition by the legendary Ludwig van Beethoven between the years 1825 to1826. The abiding faith in relevance of visionary struggle in human lives then informs the structure and character of music. This was one of the most inspiring achievements of the composer. The work was followed by cavatina, a love ballad.  Beethoven had originally composed the massive fugue, string quartet No. 13 (known as Op. 130) but turned out to be unpopular among audiences at the time. Matthias Artaria who was his publisher urged him to write a new finale for the string quartet. Beethoven was known to be a stubborn fellow but on this occasion he accepted the challenge and published the fugue as a separate number, Op. 133. Beethoven revised his works and set aside completed sections incorporating movements like recasting and deleting the Grosse Fuge (Solomon, 1977).  

Beethoven’s quartet in B flat major, Op. 133 (Gross Finale, as finale) was developed from the String quartet in B flat major, Op. 130. The Grosse Fuge was however a complete entity on its own. It was issued in May 1827, a year after Beethoven had already died. The Grosse Fuge is normally played independently (Berger, 2001).

Grosse Fuge has a lot of intensity with great leaps, frenzied rhythmic drive and contradicting dissonances. All these qualities have baffled many of its listeners, who are often left confused by its wide array of proportions and its elements of symphony. However, they can’t deny its brilliance in incorporating a wide range of fugal techniques. Grosse Fuge has two main sections: the Overtura and the Fuga (Berger, 2001).

Overtura is the opening act of the Grosse Fuge. Unlike the conventional introductions of most operas, the Overtura sets out four statements; the first statement is played in loud, broad and nice accented tones, the second statement is a bit faster when compared to the first and its rhythm is also altered, the third is slower and smooth while the last statement involves playing the violin alone before revealing the melody in fragmentations note by note (Berger, 2001).

Fuga is the main act. A violin flings out a subject in an increasingly high melody. A viola then pounds out the key subject against this melody. For more than 100 measures, the Grosse Fuge maintains a very loud relentless dynamic level. The wild nature of this music is powered by accents. After this crescendo, the music will slow suddenly as the key is changed to introduce another new fugal episode. This episode is very soft. The tempo will then pick up in the next episode as there is a transformation of rhythm of the main Fuge. The last section is varied and it is just the summary of the act although it is creatively done in different forms and shapes. This also resembles the first episode where the act reaches and maintains a climax before coming to an abrupt end (Berger, 2011).

Grosse Fuge in Context

The Grosse Fuge proved to be a divisive piece of music due to its unconventional nature as Beethoven strings had been known to be at the time. It has challenged as well as baffled many music lovers and performers long after it was conceived. Grosse Fuge is absolutely contemporary and many perceive that it will remain so forever. Beethoven had recognized its unique qualities during its composition and let his fans know why. Its structure is full of paradoxes and has confused music students and performers alike. Perhaps it is this complexity that has made it so popular even up to this day as performers and musicians try to come up with a more harmonious piece (Levy, 2007).

The texture of Grosse Fuge is quite unforgiving and jagged. The energy it demands is so great. It is challenging to get it right, either when listening and dancing or performing. However, it can be said that Beethoven perhaps wanted just to make a piece of music that will force people to forget their worries and dance and hence be happy. It preaches happiness through and through. This piece was rare because it represents hope and triumph, unlike other genres of the time that mostly represented feelings of despair. Additionally, some parts can be taken out to form another piece that continues with the same theme (Steinberg).  There are other pieces of music that closely resemble the style of the Grosse Fuge nowadays, chief among them rock n roll. Such inventions are welcome and will ensure that Beethoven’s spirit lives on.

Conclusion

Ludwig van Beethoven may have composed the Grosse Fuge op.133 while partially deaf. Many critics have pointed to this fact that probably would have led to compose such a piece. In its first performance, Beethoven himself failed to attend the show (Stanley, 2000). However, it should not be lost that it was indeed a great and unique composition. The fact that it has been described as contemporary attests to its longevity. The piece will stand the test of time, long after its composer passed away. Therefore, rather than complain about its energy demands, extremely high pitch and abrupt changes, people should just try to enjoy the music. After all, this is what its composer had envisioned.

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