Visions de l’Amen for two pianos (1934)
Ludwig van Beethoven:
Große Fuge (Great Fugue) for piano two hands op. 134
Duo d’Accord: Lucia Huang · Sebastian Euler
In its new CD, the Duo d’Accord once again presents musical rarities:
Messiaen’s spiritually motivated Visions de l’Amen appear next to Beethoven’s
mysterious counterpoint masterpiece, the Great Fugue, in Beethoven’s own
piano version for four hands. The manuscript of the Great Fugue in the fourhanded
piano version was rediscovered in 2005. Beethoven’s publisher released
it in 1827 as Nr. 134 of his opus. Originally, the work was composed as the closing
movement of his String Quartet in B flat major op. 130, and was premiered in this
form by the Schuppanzigh Quartet; but the publisher Mathias Artaria suggested
to lift it as a single from the piece (published as op. 133) and to compose another
closing movement. Beethoven followed this suggestion, as well as the recommendation
to arrange a four-handed version for the piano.
Visions de l’Amen for two pianos
“Amen” has four different meanings:
1. Amen, so be it! The act of creation.
2. Amen, I subject myself to you, I accept. Thy
will be done!
3. Amen, the desire, the yearning that everything
may happen; that you may dedicate
yourself to me as I dedicate myself to you.
4. Amen, it is so. Everything is predestined in
all eternity and will be fulfilled in paradise.
In that I have accepted the life of beings who
say “Amen” simply through their existence,
I wanted to express the entire richness of
Amen in seven musical visions.
I. Amen of Creation
And God said, Let there be light! And there
was light. Over a double glockenspiel ostinato
in the first piano, the second piano intones
the subject of creation: the main theme of the
work. The entire composition is a crescendo,
beginning from an absolute pianissimo of that
original fog in which the power of light is already
contained. All bells quiver in this light
– as well as in life.
II. Amen of the stars and the planet with the
Brutal and wild dance of the planets. The
stars, sun and Saturn spin in unrestrained
frenzy. God calls and they answer: Amen, here
we are! All of the different movements reflect
the life of the planets and the wonderful rainbow
that enables Saturn’s rings to shine.
III. Amen of Jesus’ agony
Jesus suffers and cries. My father, if it be possible,
let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless
not my will, but thy will be done. He accepts
his fate – so be it, Amen. Three musical
ideas: first, the curse of the Father concerning
the sins of the world, second, a scream, third,
a heartrending cry. Christ’s suffering brings
man forgiveness and renewal. Unspeakable
suffering, of which blood and sweat give only
a faint intimation.
IV. Amen of yearning
The word “yearning” must be understood here
in its highest spiritual meaning. There are two
themes that refer to longing. The first is slow
and characterized by deep tenderness: the
peaceful fragrance of paradise. The second is
much more tumultuous: the soul is filled with a
terrible love that increases until it breaks into
ecstasy. The two main voices seem to melt together
in the coda, and nothing remains but
the harmonious stillness of heaven.
V. Amen of the angels, the saints, the song of
Song of the immaculacy of the saints: Amen.
The jubilant vocalises of the birds: Amen. The
angels fell before the throne: Amen. At first,
the songs of the angels and saints: completely
concentrated on the essence, and very pure.
Then, a middle section based on the songs of
the birds, in which a brilliant piano passage
can unfold. Then, a changed recapitulation of
the song of the angels and saints, with a nonreversible
rhythmic canon at three levels.
VI. Amen of Judgment Day
Three icy tones, like the bells of clarity. Truly
I say unto you: Amen. Depart from me, ye
cursed! A deliberately short and brusque
VII. Amen of fulfillment
The life of the transfigured bodies in a glockenspiel
of light, from clarity to clarity, Amen.
The entire rainbow of the gems of the apocalypse
that ring, collide, dance and submerge
the light of life in their fragrance.
(Shortened version of
foreword to the score,
with kind permission of
Editions Durand Paris)
Ludwig van Beethoven
Grosse Fuge op. 134 for Piano Four Hands
Much has been written on the Grosse Fuge
and its singular status in the history of music.
As Beethoven’s certainly most difficult
to grasp work, under the motto tantôt libre,
tantôt recherchée (as freely as artistically),
it has been the object of transcendental observations
such as that of Schoenberg pupil
Erwin Ratz: “In it, the opposition in which the
ego first stands to the world is overcome; the
ego now experiences the prevailing of those
spiritual-godly powers that are in effect in the
entire visible and invisible world.” As an old
man, Igor Stravinsky even called it “the most
perfect musical wonder”.
The path to enlightenment can be rough –
and was in this case as well. Premiered by the
Schuppanzigh Quartet on March 21, 1826, the
Grosse Fuge was still the Finale of the B-flat
Major String Quartet op. 130. The audience reacted
with great agitation; reviewers spoke of
a “Babylonian confusion” and the four musicians
were unhappy that they could not fulfill
the extreme demands of the fugue. Finally,
Beethoven wrote a new Finale. Simultaneously,
he removed the fugue from the quartet,
making it an individual piece (op. 133) and
also arranged it for piano four hands, giving
the latter the opus number 134. Amazingly, this
manuscript was not unearthed until July 2005,
when a librarian discovered it while dusting.
Beethoven thus found it worth his effort to
publish his avant-garde work in two versions,
each with its own opus number. With only a
few exceptions, the music is identical, but despite
this, much in opus 134 seems new: the
work sounds much more compact; especially
the forte and fortissimo passages are more
spacious due to the stronger bass, the immediacy
of the piano attack makes many rhythmically
tricky passages more precise. Nothing is
lost in this transcription, however, especially
not the added, almost tangible exertion of the
performers who are acting as the mouthpiece
of the late Beethoven in his deep, existential
battle to create music. In addition, the sophisticated
counterpoint of the four individual
voices gains in vertical strength, balanced
harmony and purity of sound.
In this connection it is noteworthy that for
some time, Beethoven considered transcribing
the entire op. 130 for piano duo. We do not
know the extent to which pressure from his
publisher, Artaria, or possibly financial considerations
may have played a role in these
thoughts, but they do reveal an important trait
of all Beethoven’s late works: his music is now
liberated from the medium it is performed with.
Beethoven’s spirit prevails in the absolute – as
freely as artistically.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler