Ludwig van Beethoven: The Great Fugue, Opus 133

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

I’ve devoted the last several posts to Beethoven’s late string quartets. The reason is that they came into my life in the fall of 1973 and I became fixated on them. I’m sure a musicologist could write reams on each one–not only by analyzing their structure but also on how their influence shows up in the works of later composers. In Stravinsky’s book, Themes and Conclusions, for example, he notes how Wagner wrote glowingly of the quartets, and how some phrases turn up in Tristan und Isolde.

Beethoven wrote The Great Fugue as the finale for his Quartet in B Flat Major Opus 130. He had written that piece under commission to Prince Nicolas Glitzin, whose father was the Russian ambassador to Vienna in 1826. It turned out to be too “dissonant” for the listeners of the time and for performers too difficult. For that reason, Beethoven’s publisher suggested he…

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