When programming the cycle we had the idea that it would be interesting to frame it with two performances of the op.130 with the two alternative endings - saving the more spectacular one - the famous and infamous Grosse Fuge for the last concert.

We therefore close our first concert with the op.130 with a finale which Beethoven wrote under the pressure of his publisher and fellow musicians, who were all perplexed by the Grosse Fuge - originally intended to end the work.

The op.130 quartet certainly BECOMES a different piece of music with the two different finales. WIth the lighter spirited replacement finale the centre of gravity shifts to the cavatina, whereas with the Grosse Fugue it is almost difficult to talk about a "centre of gravity" as the Grosse Fuge is and, I believe, was meant to be a sort of "nuclear explosion" aimed at threatening the very idea of "structure" and "gravity". To say, therefore, that the Grosse Fuge is the climax of the whole work is a euphemism...perhaps only the finale of the 9th symphony mirrors this situation with its proportions and the force of its impact (however widely different this impact is).

In this sense the combination of the op.74 and the op.130 without the Fugue in the first programme of our cycle gains some significance.

Both works seem to be part of Beethoven's ongoing experiment with the idea of "anti-climax".

The overgrown scherzo of op.74 assumes  a surprisingly  "significant" role. It is in the dark key of c minor and it is characterised by an excessive number of repetitions. It also features a manic trio which on the page looks like a piece of very academic and solemn fugal writing straight from an oratorio, but here it is accelerated beyond any recognition. It is almost as if the composer's intention is to plant a seed of doubt in the listener: Will this piece ever end? Is this a trap? Has the composer gone mad? - not the only example of such device in Beethoven's music. When finally an exit is found, "on the other side" we have a movement of unassuming lightness - not unlike the replacement finale of the op.130.

It is these proportions that give us this uneasy sense of an "anti-climax". Getting to know Beethoven better and better, it is difficult to imagine that this is a result of his "miscalculation" - more a sign of his playing with common expectations and poking fun at convention. I think that the fact that to this day we are puzzled by this would delight Beethoven.

There is a moment in the supposedly "well-behaved" replacement finale of the op.130 where in the early stages of its development a very serene and gracious new idea is introduced and developed for quite some time. The transition back to the main material initially seems to follow convention and just as we are expecting the reassuring return of the opening idea, a brusque ff unison is played - brutally mocking the movement's main motive -and then a brilliant fugato unfolds. It feels like Beethoven has built this sudden jolt into the piece as a purely theatrical device, a joke at the audience's expense: "for those of you who by now completely lost the thread and are not with us anymore, time to wake up!

It is moments like this that show so vividly that Beethoven simply took delight at playing his subversive game with us and that this game was not always a very high-brow one.

 

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