A pianistic reflection on Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue.
For Solo Piano, Advanced Level
“In my student days I made dozens of [fugues]… but [imagination] also wishes to exert its privileges… and a new and really poetic element must be introduced into the traditional form,” Beethoven wrote, (according to his foremost biographer, Alexander Wheelock Thayer in LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVENS LEBEN).
There have been hundreds of scholarly interpretations of Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, and many of them reflect profound insights into the challenges and the continuing brilliance that characterized Beethoven’s later years. In paying tribute to this monumental composer and his most enigmatic composition, I have relied on these insights as well as on my own subjective reactions to this startling work—especially in its pianistic form.
Homage to Beethoven includes five main themes which overlap fugally to some degree, however this music is not intended to directly reflect the tantôt recherchée elements of Beethoven’s composition. It is more specifically inspired by the tantôt libre angularity, the exquisitely controlled chaos, and the agonized outrage I hear in Beethoven’s controversial Fugue.
To my ears, Beethoven seems to be darkly determined in expressing this outrage towards a Divine power who has appeared to betray him in a profoundly cruel way. To me, Beethoven is playing with creative fire here, and he is risking his entire life’s trust of Divine favor in this bold flaunting of his own self-determinism. At a time when his creativity is arguably at its height, Beethoven is twisting the cerebral structure of the fugal form, shaping it to express bitterness as well as triumph in the face of this apparent betrayal by God. In Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, I believe we are hearing him claim his own personal freedom from the limitations imposed by increasing deafness. Unlike some musicologists, I do hear wit within this flamboyantly unsettling enterprise. Wit and, at the same time, a raw innocence that cannot accept the apparent waywardness of Divine power. It is to this combination of outrage, bitterness, triumph and dark wit that I am paying tribute in my Homage. The final Lento section is intended to express uneasy grief over the price of Beethoven’s newfound independence: the death of innocence.—Theresa Koon
Homage to Beethoven received its world premier performance at the National Composers Association USA Conference in April, 2021. Because of constraints associated with Covid 19, the NACUSA Conference took place entirely online, so Homage to Beethoven was pre-recorded. Many thanks to Colleen Adent, Pianist.
Homage to Beethoven