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Thread: Beethoven SQ op. 130 - with or without the Great Fugue?

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    Senior Member RobertJTh's Avatar
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    Default Beethoven SQ op. 130 - with or without the Great Fugue?

    Yesterday I was listening to the 1952 Vegh Quartet performance of Beethoven's op. 130 (great btw) and it stuck me that in the old days, the quartet was almost always played with its replacement finale, not with the Great Fugue as the original last movement.

    It's true that the Great Fugue didn't get recognized as a masterpiece until well into the 20th century, so maybe its neglect made the old school quartets choose the published edition instead of the original version.

    In modern days, the opposite seems to be the case, the quartet is more often played in its original form, with the Great Fugue, than with the new finale. The audience grew to expect it too, I think many people nowadays will be disappointed if they attend a performance of op. 130 and find out the replacement finale is played, not the Great Fugue.

    It could be interesting to list which recordings of op. 130 - old or modern - chose which version. Almost all do include the Great Fugue, but not all as part of the quartet. Conversely, many recordings give you the new finale as a bonus track after the Great Fugue - which always sounds terrible. The Great Fugue can stand alone, but not the poor orphaned finale.

    So, what do you prefer when listening to op. 130?

    Arguments pro Great Fugue as last movement:
    - original conception of the quartet
    - gives the impression of a series of short preludes before a huge contrapuntal "main course", formally resembling Bach's d-minor partita for violin, and it works very well when played accordingly
    - Beethoven was allegedly pressured by his editor to compose a new finale, for commercial reasons

    Arguments contra:
    - Beethoven's last word on the quartet, he could have removed the Great Fugue because he felt it was incompatible himself, not because of his publisher telling him to do it. Good luck telling Beethoven to do anything anyway. The fact that he made a four-hands version of the Great Fugue alone - and not of the rest of the quartet is an indication that he wanted it separated too.
    - leaving the finale out leaves the last piece that Beethoven ever wrote unheard.
    - the new finale is a perfectly fine-tuned composition that rehabilitates the preceding movements, and turns the quartet into a much more balanced, albeit conventional, composition as a whole.

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    I knew the members of a young professional quartet for most of its two-decade life, and was surprised when one of the violinists towards the end remarked that they didn't know the alternate finale because they had never payed it That struck me as almost criminal because it was a complete, fully formed Late Beethoven quartet movement, that any real quartet should have played through at east once.

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    I don't really agree with the parallel to Bach's d minor partita because with the obligatory repeat the first movement of op.130 is almost as long as the Fugue (if played quickly) whereas the chaconne is longer than the rest of the partita together. But otherwise you summarized the arguments for either side very well and I cannot add much.

    I used to be firmly in favor of the Fugue as finale although I always liked the alternative finale as well. After >30 years listening to this stuff I think there is a lot to be said for having the Fugue separately. The divertimento-style of movements 2-5 fits better with the rondo whereas the Fugue threatens to overwhelm everything. This is different in the other late Beethoven work ending with a huge fugal movement, op.106 because the first movement and slow movement are as large as the finale.

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    With. Formally, I think that the first movement of Op. 130 (with it's repeat observed) is balanced by the fugue. Also, the Grosse Fuge sounds to me like a full piece inside the full piece, a daring conception that I think Beethoven was exploring also in the ninth symphony, with the Ode to Joy - a weighty, powerful finale. I think that the fugue as an end to Op. 130 also seems logical if we hear the late quartets as a cycle, because it's a connection with Op. 131, that begins with a fugue.

    I don't hear, and don't want to hear, Op. 130 without the Grosse Fuge.
    Last edited by Xisten267; Jan-10-2022 at 16:27.

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    Senior Member RobertJTh's Avatar
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    Very good points by Kreisler and Xisten - but I never really felt the first movement provides a proper balance to the GF. If you look at the number of measures, the GF has 741 measures, that's more than the rest of the movements combined (643)!

    Wikipedia: "Robert Simpson argues that Beethoven's intentions are best served by playing the quartet as a seven-movement work, with the Große Fuge followed by the replacement finale."
    I see what he's trying to do, having the replacement finale act as sort of a "divine" comment on the complexities of the GF (like the relationship of the fugue and the final Menuet in the Diabelli Variations), but this seems to me the most zany idea ever. It doesn't even work on a cd, when they add the finale as a bonus after the quartet in its original form...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xisten267 View Post
    Also, the Grosse Fuge sounds to me like a full piece inside the full piece, a daring conception that I think Beethoven was exploring also in the ninth symphony, with the Ode to Joy - a weighty, powerful finale.
    Yes, this seems another striking parallel, almost as if Beethoven wanted to make 3 big finale statements, each in a major genre. Interestingly, the instrumental fugato section after the "tenor stanza" (Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen) is also in Bb major as is the largest fugue in the Missa solemnis (in vitam venturi saeculi, amen)

    I think that the fugue as an end to Op. 130 also seems logical if we hear the late quartets as a cycle, because it's a connection with Op. 131, that begins with a fugue.
    The parallel I have read about somewhere was a bit different, namely having op.130 as the last of the 3 quartets written for Prince Golyzin ending with a fugue, just like the last Razoumovsky quartet ended with a fugato movement.

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    Senior Member Livly_Station's Avatar
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    Definitely with the fugue and without the replacement movement.

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    Having silly numbers of Beethoven SQ cycles you'd think I'd have a strong opinion on this but I haven't. At the end of the day, the more music Beethoven wrote for string quartet the better. I often play the substituted ending (If recorded) then finish with the GF. I'm not really bothered where the GF is as long as its there somewhere. Most ensembles include the GF anyway (but not all include the replacement ending).

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    I think some ensembles used to play the quartet with the fugue and then the alternate finale as an encore!

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    by the way.... was the fourth movement of the 13 sq (the one that replaces the fugue) Beethoven's last composition??

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    yes, it was the last completed composition.
    Maybe there are some sketches that are later, I don't know.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tarneem View Post
    by the way.... was the fourth movement of the 13 sq (the one that replaces the fugue) Beethoven's last composition??
    Yes, but like Kreisler wrote, there are some later sketches, most significantly for a String Quintet in C major, of which the first movement (or just the introduction thereof) survives in arrangements for piano and piano duet. The original String Quintet version is lost, but has been reconstructed from the arrangements.



    I find the music rather underwhelming, compared to the great quartets that preceded it, but it's interesting to note a certain classical, Haydnesque spirit emerging that was already noticeable in the op. 135 F major Quartet.

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    Op 130 is a sprawling piece without the Grosse Fuge. While I am not satisfied with the alternative finale, I think the Grosse Fuge functions better as a stand-alone piece.

    Recordings of Op 130 should include both endings so the listener can choose which finale to play after the cavatina.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tarneem View Post
    by the way.... was the fourth movement of the 13 sq (the one that replaces the fugue) Beethoven's last composition??
    String Quartet no. 13 has six movements, with the finale being the last. The cavatina is the fifth movement.

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    With the fugue, Beethoven's 13th quartet is my favorite string quartet of all time. I love how it erupts from the conclusion of the sublime Cavatina and seems like an immense release of all the pent-up energy contained within the brooding, lyrical music of the first few movements. The original finale is more in keeping aesthetically with the rest of the quartet but is not top-notch Beethoven IMO, and my interest usually flags.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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