View Poll Results: Was Beethoven's Grosse Fuge The First "Contemporary" Music Ever?

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  • Loosely speaking, yes

    9 33.33%
  • No

    14 51.85%
  • I have not listened to the Grosse Fugue yet

    0 0%
  • Unsure

    3 11.11%
  • Who cares

    1 3.70%
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Thread: Was Beethoven's Grosse Fuge The First "Contemporary" Music Ever?

  1. #1
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    Default Was Beethoven's Grosse Fuge The First "Contemporary" Music Ever?

    Igor Stravinsky said of Beethoven's Grosse Fugue: "[it is] an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever."

    Although it was an expansion of the Baroque grand fugue, to many unsuspecting listeners especially if listened to on its own, it may sound like a very contemporary piece of music.

    I am interested in your view of it, especially of how it sounds whether formally or just as any piece of music you may care to listen.

  2. #2
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    I voted "yes" purely based on how it sounds, nothing more, nothing less. It is immensely difficult to study and understand. I think any recording of it needs to master the intricacies of the lines. There's something about performing it by a SQ that makes it sound dramatically contemporary.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I think that for listeners who come upon it unprepared it is a very difficult piece to "place" as to composer and period. I knew it was Beethoven when I was first discovering the late quartets at a fairly early age, and though I found it wild and exciting I just assumed that that was what late Beethoven should sound like. But I played it for a friend in college, a fellow music student, and his guess was Stravinsky - who, given his own assessment of it, might not have been displeased!

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  5. #4
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    Wow! You even played the Grosse Fugue!

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    Stravinsky was not a native speaker of English, and words like 'contemporary' could possibly be picked up and learnt incorrectly from its wide misuse by people who believe that jarring dissonances and ambiguous harmonies = contemporary classical music.

  7. #6
    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    "My Grosse Fuge is not modern, it's just plain gross. " -Beethoven

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    It is certainly contemporary in Beethoven's time, hence my yes vote.

    But I know what you are asking. Is it contemporary to our time? Well - it's not exactly pretty, so that makes it sound similar to some contemporary in the same way his boogie-woogie rhythm in the last (or next to last?) piano sonata sounds like ragtime or jazz, but it's not. As to that, Schoenberg and John Cage are not really contemporary either.

    I think much of the music that stands out from the crowd pushes the envelope of its time so it's a little facile to say it is before it's time, but we all like to make these comparisons.

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    Senior Member Heliogabo's Avatar
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    In Beethoven's time, it was a very advanced work, which connects Beethoven's late quartets with... Let's say Bartok's quartets. In this sense, perhaps it is a modern work.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Well, I don't think there is any "first contemporary music ever". If there was I think someone like Carlos Gesualdo is a better candidate. He was even more harmonically adventurous than Beethoven nearly a few centuries before him.
    Last edited by tdc; Aug-04-2015 at 13:49.

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    I voted Unsure. The last Agnus Die from Josquin's L'Homme Armee Mass sounds like Philip Glass, so that could be considered closer to our version of contemporary.

    Maybe Stravinsky called it contemporary meaning it will never sound dated. And it doesn't sound dated yet. It's all about intervals and rhythms. It has 2 contrasting themes in 3 sections, and its rhythms pit 3s against 2s. Its development is not thematic nor harmonic but rhythmic. (There's a marvelous passage at Letter A in the score where all four voices are playing separate rhythmic cells.) It gives the impression of something bursting at its seams. I've heard it a ton of times, and I'm still amazed by it, so I don't see it as being something I'll put aside because I've heard everything there is to hear in it.

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    I still find this piece more challenging than a lot of 20th century music, and I don't think I'm alone. If that's what Stravinsky was getting at, then I guess the answer is yes.

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    The Arditti used to programme it with modern music, there's even a Cd of them playing it next to some Nancarow and other stuff. But when asked why, they said in an interview that they programmed it to put bums on seats and sell CDs. I can't imagine why anyone thinks it was the first piece of contemporary music, to me it sounds like a look backwards not forwards - to big baroque fugues.

    But IN CONTEXT there may be something contemporary about shoving it on the end of op 130 like that. It's like telling the consoling cavatina to bugger off, and what could be more modern than that? As modern as Mathew Arnold

    Ah, love, let us be true
    To one another! for the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-04-2015 at 19:21.

  20. #13
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    Contemporary music is nothing more than music of the time; so basically all music that goes beyond blatant pastiche (e.g. Deutscher) is contemporary music.

    Therefore, the first contemporary music was the first music.

    Thus, I voted "no".

    It would seem that Art intended to ask something more along the lines of "Was the Grosse Fugue the first modernist work?" - to which I would still vote "no".

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    Senior Member Skilmarilion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Manxfeeder View Post
    The last Agnus Die from Josquin's L'Homme Armee Mass sounds like Philip Glass...
    Really?

    .

  23. #15
    Senior Member GreenMamba's Avatar
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    I suspect Stravinsky was just trying to say the Grosse Fugue would never sound old or out of date.

    As nb says, contemporary isn't a designator or style, but of time. Of course, the issue could be "does it *sound* contemporary, even today?" I'd still say the answer is no.

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