Thursday, October 13, 2005

Grosse Fuge And Beethoven's Concern For His Legacy

"Heather Carbo, a matter-of-fact librarian at an evangelical seminary outside Philadelphia, was cleaning out an archival cabinet one hot afternoon in July. It was a dirty and routine job. But there, on the bottom shelf, she stumbled across what may be one of the most important musicological finds in years.

It was a working manuscript score for a piano version of Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge," a monument of classical music. And it was in the composer's own hand, according to Sotheby's auction house. The 80-page manuscript in mainly brown ink - a furious scattering of notes across the page, with many changes and cross-outs, some so deep that the paper is punctured - dates from the final months of Beethoven's life....

Any manuscript showing a composer's self-editing gives invaluable insight into his working methods, and this is a particularly rich example. Such second thoughts are particularly revealing in the case of Beethoven, who, never satisfied, honed his ideas brutally - unlike, say, Mozart, who was typically able to spill out a large score in nearly finished form.

What's more, this manuscript is among Beethoven's last, from the period when he was stone deaf. It not only depicts his thought processes at their most introspective and his working methods at their most intense, but also gives a sense of his concern for his legacy. The "Grosse Fuge," originally part of a string quartet, had been badly treated by a baffled public, and he was evidently eager to see it live on in a form in which music lovers could play it on their pianos at home."

Daniel J. Wakin "A Historic Discovery, in Beethoven's Own Hand" October 13, 2005.

Photo Credit: Shiho Fukada for The New York Times


The Takacs String Quartet performs Beethoven's Grosse Fuge on Sunday October 23, at 6:30 PM, at the National Gallery of Art. A program note to the free concert is available at:

Now, if only we could nationalize the Washington National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.


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