In the second of two articles, Belcea Quartet violist Krzysztof Chorzelski paints a vivid picture of the dissolution and resolution in the second half of this great work
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After the chaos, destruction and redemption achieved in the first half of this piece, how does one move on to anything else? In the slow G flat major movement, bars 159–232 (covered in the January 2022 issue), the composer has given us the most earnest and profound moment of the whole work, with all trickery and artifice suspended. What follows at the beginning of the second half of the Grosse Fuge is a series of switchback turns through some of the least substantial material of the piece. Both styles of writing are uniquely Beethovenian at the same time as being completely incongruous, and to hear them one after the other is disturbing and hard to digest, even to this day.
These juxtapositions are difficult to understand but I think you must take them at face value as an expression of the strangeness of life and of our world. This is how it happens – the comedy, the tragedy, the grotesqueness, all mixed up in our lives – so Beethoven’s approach is incredibly fresh and honest. It’s the most modern way of thinking of art and no one else at the time came close to writing like this…
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