The Escher Quartet and Beethoven’s Grosse  Fugue.


Last night I went to see The Escher Quartet play Beethoven’s Opus 130 String Quartet. To my great delight they played The Grosse Fugue rather than the Presto at the end.

To see The Grosse Fugue played live is a great experience- the energy and sheer majesty of the music doesn’t quite come across the same on a CD or mp3 file.

Lots has been written about the Fugue- what on Earth  could I add to all that? All I can say is how I responded to it- there were fireworks exploding in my mind, images of Beethoven saying, “I’ve got more to give!” And his great presence filling his music with his determination and drive; moments of humour in which he seemed to be saying, “Ah you didn’t expect that did you?” and chuckling at the perplexed faces of those who hear this magnificent Fugue for the first time. It certainly perplexed me last year the first time I heard it. I expect people in this century find it as unique and strange as they did back in the 1820s. It is not an “easy” listening experience, nor is it meant to be one. 

To me it is an expression of pure energy; life energy. At this time, Beethoven’s health was not good; it is as though he was showing through this piece that he still had more life to live, more energy within, more music to give- he was not done yet.

The slow movements, are like a gentle repose, the themes in there slowed down, perhaps indicating times he was ill in bed and unable to work, but yet, his music would flow through his mind. The music came to him, waited until he was able to rise out of bed, recovered and able to work again.

There is a sort of melancholy feel  in the slower parts of the Fugue and they are followed by the almost jolly faster themes which precede the launch into the frenetic fast movements of the Fugue. He is pleased that his health has been restored and so this jolly theme is almost mimicking him humming the theme, lathering the soap  in the morning at his wash stand! I can picture this vivid image very clearly. ( That’s the poet/writer) in me.

All those voices in the Fugue seem to be a musical representation of difficult conversations/communications in Beethoven’s life; the need to make his voice heard, self expression of the inner world of one who was often so misunderstood.

Here he is- in his truth, his honesty. There is nothing pretentious or false about the Fugue- it is like the composer- authentic. It had to be created. It cannot be anything else. Every note has its own importance- each one part of a greater whole; as we too are part of nature; we belong to a greater whole, yet each one of us has our own value.

Strange is often a good thing! One thing is certain, The Grosse Fugue is never boring- it will always challenge you, enthral you, take you to uncharted realms…if you let it.

Here is the website of The Escher Quartet:


Also, I found a nice blog page on The Grosse Fugue– great musical artwork there!


And another great article on The Grosse Fugue: