The Große Fuge (or Grosse Fuge, also known in English as Great Fugue or Grand Fugue), Op. 133, is a single-movement composition for string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven. A massive double fugue, it originally served as the final movement of his Quartet No. 13 in B♭ major (Op. 130) but he replaced the fugue with a new finale and published the Grosse Fuge separately in 1827 as Op. 133. It was composed in 1825, when Beethoven was completely deaf, and is considered to be part of his set of late quartets. It was first performed in 1826, as the finale of the B♭ quartet, by the Schuppanzigh Quartet.
The Große Fuge is famous for its extreme technical demands and its unrelentingly introspective nature, even by the standards of his late period. It is the largest and most difficult of all of Beethoven's string quartet movements.
Most 19th-century critics dismissed the work. Daniel Gregory Mason called it "repellent", a reviewer writing for Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1826 described the fugue as "incomprehensible, like Chinese" and "a confusion of Babel". However critical opinion of the work has risen steadily since the beginning of the 20th century. The work is now considered among Beethoven's greatest achievements. Igor Stravinsky said of it, "[it is] an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever."
History of composition 
Beethoven originally composed the Große Fuge as the final movement of his String Quartet No. 13 (Op. 130). When the work was first performed, the audience demanded encores of only two of the middle movements of the quartet. Beethoven, enraged, was reported to have growled, "And why didn't they encore the Fugue? That alone should have been repeated! Cattle! Asses!"
However, the fugue was so demanding of contemporary performers and unpopular with audiences that Beethoven's publisher, Matthias Artaria, urged him to write a new finale for the string quartet. Beethoven, although notorious for his stubborn personality and indifference to public opinion or taste, acquiesced to his publisher's request on this occasion. He composed a replacement finale in late 1826. In May 1827, about two months after Beethoven's death, Artaria published the first edition of Op. 130 with the new finale, and the Große Fuge as Op. 133, as well as a four-hand piano arrangement, Op. 134.
Philip Radcliffe suggests regarding the Große Fuge "not as a highly eccentric fugue, but as a kind of symphonic poem". Some parts are strictly fugal while other parts are not fugal at all. Radcliffe points out that by Beethoven's time fugal music could easily degenerate into a "fluent but dull imitation of an earlier idiom", and that Beethoven was not interested in writing conventional fugues. In his largest late works, such as the Diabelli Variations and the Große Fuge, Beethoven seems to make a deliberate contrast between fugal and non-fugal music.
The Große Fuge opens with a 24-bar Overtura, which introduces one of the two subjects of the fugue, a tune closely related to the one which opens the String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132. The music of the Overtura consists of a series of unresolved fragments separated by long pauses. The fragments anticipate the main sections of the fugue, but in reverse order.
Beethoven then plunges into a violent and dissonant double fugue, with a second subject of dramatically leaping tones, and the four instruments of the quartet bursting out in triplets, dotted figures, and cross-rhythms.
After this first section the music shifts from B♭ to G♭ and a quieter, more tentative, sometimes ethereal mood. This second section is mostly a sustained pianissimo, in sharp contrast with the relentless fortissimo of the first section. As Joseph Kerman puts it, "after the strenuousness of the B♭ Fugue [first section], the effect is of an almost blinding innocence." A third section is marked by a return to B♭ and a faster tempo. The meter changes to 6/8. The section is essentially a scherzo featuring a lively dance rhythm but no fugal writing. Complications soon arise as the first fugue subject returns with fragments of its counter-subjects. The trill on the last note of the first subject becomes increasingly prominent, lengthened, and aggressive. This climax of this section involves a frenzied succession of trills and is followed by an abrupt modulation and a complete change of mood. At this point the second fugue subject reappears for the first time since the first long section. It is accompanied by the fugue's first subject, but highly transformed. Earlier sections begin to reappear, including the "scherzo" and an extended ethereal section. Finally, the music pauses. The angular second fugal subject begins fortissimo, but quickly breaks off as if it was a mistake. After another pause the quiet and tentative theme from the earlier G♭ section starts up, but it too breaks in mid-statement. The work's final section follows, marked by a statement of the first fugue subject, played in unison octaves, fortissimo. At this point in the work, however, the mood has become too serene for this dramatic return to be more than a passing recollection, and soon the music drops back to a pianissimo calm punctuated by trills. Finally, as Philip Radcliffe puts it, "having so perfectly rounded off his enormous design, Beethoven ends unceremoniously, with a few bars of matter-of-fact tonic and dominant."
Like some of Beethoven's other late finales, such as the Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony, the Fugue can be seen as a multi-movement form contained within a single large movement. Each of the smaller sections is built on a transformation of the original theme. In addition, the Große Fuge is an example of a compositional process Beethoven explored late in life: a combination of elements of variation form, sonata form, and fugue. The lyrical section in G♭ has the weight of an independent slow movement; some commentators have even attempted to analyze the entire piece in terms of sonata form.
During the 20th century, quartets came to play Op. 130 with the original Große Fuge finale. Opinion today is decisively in favor of using the fugue; most musicians would agree that the quartet is stronger in its original form.
The finale that replaced the Große Fuge in Op. 130 is a rondo that is considerably shorter and lighter in character than the fugue. The change radically alters the nature of the B♭ quartet, causing the preceding Cavatina movement to become the dramatic focus. In contrast, in the quartet with the Große Fuge finale, known as the Galitzin version, the heartful and lyrical Cavatina, of which Beethoven said the mere thought brought him to tears, is suddenly and vehemently rejected by the harsh opening of the Große Fuge. The fugue then proceeds, at great length, to establish a radically new vision, overwhelming the rest of the quartet. As the finale of the B♭ quartet, the Große Fuge resembles the choral finale (the Ode to Joy) of the 9th Symphony. Both are among Beethoven's most radical works. Both the Große Fuge and the Ode to Joy seem to reject their preceding movements while transforming and transcending them, both are constructed of smaller movements combined using variations into a composite form, and both make use of sophisticated musical symbolism to evoke premonition and reminiscence.
Reception and musical influence 
The Große Fuge was and remains widely considered one of the less immediately accessible of Beethoven's compositions (if not the most inaccessible), because of its combination of dissonance and contrapuntal complexity. It is "as incomprehensible as Chinese," wrote a critic of the first performance of the work. "The attitude of mind in which most people listen to chamber music must undergo a radical change" in order to understand this piece, wrote Joseph de Marliave almost a century later. Joseph de Marliave also wrote of it, "this fugue is one of the two works by Beethoven—the other being the fugue from the piano sonata, Op. 106—which should be excluded from performance." Marliave admits the fugue is "one of the greatest works of genius in existence", but that reading and studying the score "gives more pleasure than hearing". He further writes, "abandoning himself with an almost demoniacal pleasure to his mighty genius, Beethoven heaps one discordant effect upon another, and the general impression of tiresome waste cannot be dispelled by the marvel of its technical construction, nor by the perfection of detail".
Despite the difficulty many people felt, the work epitomizes the profound, complex character of Beethoven's later works. It is quoted in Alfred Schnittke's third string quartet, as well as in other contemporary compositions. There have been numerous orchestral arrangements of the fugue, including by conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and by Felix Weingartner.
Arrangement for piano duet 
When Beethoven detached the movement from the quartet, he still wanted the music to be as accessible as possible. The way to do this in the days before electronic or mechanical sound reproduction was to make an arrangement for piano four-hands; many of his larger-scale scores were made available for home music-making in this fashion. The publisher commissioned someone to make this arrangement, but Beethoven was so unhappy with the result that he undertook his own version, which was published as op. 134.
Rediscovery of manuscript 
In July 2005 an authentic 1826 Beethoven manuscript titled "Große Fuge" was found by a Pennsylvania librarian at the Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. The manuscript was authenticated by Dr. Jeffrey Kallberg at the University of Pennsylvania and by Dr. Stephen Roe, head of Sotheby's Manuscript Department. This work, adapted for four hands, is known as Op. 134. The manuscript had been missing for 115 years. It was auctioned by Sotheby's Auction House on 1 December 2005; it was bought for GBP 1.12 million (USD 1.95 million) from a then unknown buyer. The purchaser of the manuscript has since revealed himself as Bruce Kovner, a publicity-shy multi-billionaire who donated the manuscript—along with 139 other original and rare pieces of music—to the Juilliard School of Music in February 2006. It has since become available in their online manuscript collection. The manuscript's known provenance is that it was listed in an 1890 catalogue and sold at an auction in Berlin to a Cincinnati, Ohio industrialist, whose daughter gave it and other manuscripts including a Mozart Fantasia to a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1952. It is not known how the Beethoven manuscript came to be in the possession of the library.
Literary influence 
The abstruse, difficult character of the piece is exemplified in Kim Stanley Robinson's novel, Fifty Degrees Below. In one scene, a main character maniacally vacuums his house while listening to the Große Fuge and the fugal movement from the "Hammerklavier" Sonata at the same time, playing on different stereos in separate rooms, both cranked up to ear-splittingly high volumes. The Große Fuge also figures in a chapter in Rose Alley, a novel by Jeremy M. Davies, in which a character whose perception of sound is augmented by a traumatically induced form of sensorineural hearing loss, has her first orgasm "aurally induced" by a performance of Beethoven's composition. Davies' reference of the piece functions on multiple levels of meaning to combine several themes built throughout both the chapter and the novel as a whole, including measurement and value (Große), perception, attraction, counterpuntal composition, sexuality, différance, and identity. The poet Mark Doty wrote of the feelings engendered by the Große Fuge:
What does it mean, chaos
gathered into a sudden bronze sweetness,
an October flourish, and then that moment
denied, turned acid, disassembling,
- Mark Doty, Grosse Fuge (1995)
See also 
- Kerman, in Winters and Martin (1994), p. 27.
- Kinderman, William (1995). Beethoven. University of California Press. pp. 301–307. ISBN 978-0-520-08796-5. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
- Kerman, Joseph (1979). The Beethoven Quartets. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 294. ISBN 0-393-00909-2. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
- Solomon, Maynard (2003). Late Beethoven: music, thought, imagination. University of California Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-520-23746-9. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
- Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Dialogues and a Diary (New York: Doubleday, 1963), p. 24.
- Solomon (1977) p. 447
- Not the well-known publisher Artaria & Co. For a full account of Beethoven's decision to publish the fugue separately, see Solomon (1977), pp. 448–449
- Lockwood, Lewis (2005). Beethoven: the music and the life. W. W. Norton. pp. 459–461. ISBN 978-0-393-32638-3. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
- Radcliffe, Philip (1978). Beethoven's string quartets. CUP Archive. pp. 138–147. ISBN 978-0-521-29326-6. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
- Kerman, Joseph (1979). The Beethoven quartets. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 287. ISBN 978-0-393-00909-5. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
- Winter, Robert (1994). The Beethoven Quartet Companion. University of California Press. pp. 151, 239. ISBN 978-0-520-20420-1. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
- Miller (2006), p. 44.
- de Marliave (1928), p. 220
- Joseph de Marliave (2004) [1925 (French), 1928 (English)]. Beethoven's Quartets. Trans. Hilda Andrews. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 221–222. ISBN 978-0-486-43965-5. OCLC 56214611. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
- Daniel J. Wakin (2005-10-13). "A Historic Discovery, in Beethoven's Own Hand". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- "Handwritten Beethoven score resurfaces". Canada: CBC. 2005-10-13. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- Robinson (2005)
- Davies, Jeremy M. Rose Alley. Counterpath Press; Denver, 2009.
- Mark Doty, "Grosse Fuge" in Atlantis (1995) Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-06-095106-0
- First published edition of the fugue was by Matthias Artaria, 1825. The fugue was republished by Breitkopf and Hartel in 1866 in Ludwig van Beethoven's Werke Series 6. An Urtext edition is also published by Henle.
- de Marliave, Joseph, Beethoven's Quartets (1928), reprinted 1961 by Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-20694-7
- Kerman, Joseph, The Beethoven Quartets. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1966. ISBN 0-393-00909-2
- Miller, Lucy, Adams to Zemlinsky (2006) Concert Artists Guild, ISBN 1-892862-09-3
- Robinson, Kim Stanley, Fifty Degrees Below (2007) Bantam, ISBN 0-553-58581-9
- Solomon, Maynard, Beethoven (1978) Granada Publishing, ISBN 0-586-05189-9
- Winter, Robert and Martin, Robert (editors) The Beethoven Quartet Companion (1994) University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-20120-4
- Stowell, Robert, editor (2003). The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80194-X.
- David B. Levy, "Ma pero beschleunigend": Notation and Meaning in Ops. 133/134" in Beethoven Forum 14/2 (Fall 2007), pp. 129–149 at .
- Alex Ross at "Great Fugue: Secrets of a Beethoven manuscript," at The Rest Is Noise (originally published in The New Yorker, 2006-02-06).
- Brødrene Gahl og jakten på Beethovenkoden, the film about die Große Fuge by the Oslo String Quartet
- Große Fuge, Op.133, Große Fuge for Piano Duet, Op.134: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Große Fuge accompanied by an animated score at youtube.com
- Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 130, with the Grosse Fuge as the final movement, performed by the Orion String Quartet