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Variations on the

Grosse Fuge 


 for String Quartet and Orchestra

or Piano Quintet

January 6—March 22, 1987 (synth version),
Las Cruces, New Mexico
revised 2003-2005, revised and orchestrated 2007,
 edited 2014

Duration: about 18 minutes

in memoriam Ben Marcato

Cover photo; me in Amsterdam, 2000


Allegro: Slow: Allegro Bigga Fuga: Largo: Allegro Bigga Fuga:

Moderato I: Piu Mosso:  Moderato II: Fugato Bordello: Really Really Largo: Allegro: Big Slow Ending    


Orchestral Version;

        Finale Score       PDF Score       Cover       PDF Parts


Piano Quintet Version;

Introductory talk (Eric Pritchard at premiere; the quartet played the original Grosse Fuge before the VGF)  Performed by the Ciompi Quartet and Randall Love, piano, at the NC Museum of Art, January 2009

MP3  (premiere performance)  

 PDF Score          Score (Finale)        PDF parts


          While a student at Eastman School of Music in 1973-74, I listened every other night to Beethoven’s opus 133 string quartet Grosse Fuge with a couple of friends for at least two months. (The alternate nights were usually spent with Hammerklavier.) As a result this string quartet was branded on my brain, which may not have been the best thing for my early composition style—which tended to the too noisy and too crowded with notes, not to mention horribly hard to play.

          I went to NTSU (now UNT) in Denton Texas in the fall of 1974, and started working on a string quintet/string orchestra piece that would be a variation on the Grosse Fuge—re-writing the piece in my own idiom and with significant differences. After about two years of work it was premiered at my senior composition recital in 1977. The performance was rather rough and the recital failed; I left school without a degree. (I returned to NTSU in the early ‘80s and got a BM in 1984.)

          I took a break from composing in the fall of 1985 to start work on an experiment in transcendental physics. After moving to Las Cruces New Mexico in the fall of 1986, my project was at a standstill, and I livened up my life in a desert trailer slum by composing a completely new variation on the Grosse Fuge, disposing of the string quintet and using instead five synthesizers. I had written new and arranged older works for five synths. With this experience, but not having a synth or any electronic equipment myself, I simply imagined what I would like the piece to be like and designed it for live performance. The composition took from January 6 to March 22, 1987. I could neither find performers nor afford equipment to sequence or record the synth scores I’d written.

          In 2003 I started using Finale which allowed synthesis, and so put a recording on my first CD in September 2003. I revised the score in January 2005 but still did not have a performable piece. I then realized in early 2007 that a string quartet could take on the most difficult passages, leaving more playable material for an orchestra with a reasonable skill level. A decent college orchestra should be able to play this work; the quartet will have to be of professional quality. During the orchestration I recomposed some sections and made several improvements. In late 2014, I revised the layout of the orchestral score and extracted a fresh set of parts.

          There is also a version for piano quintet where the string quartet takes on considerably more material. As a result it is not simply a version with piano taking orchestral parts, but rather is a unique and separate rendition. Not surprisingly, considerable skill for all performers is required for the chamber version. The piano quintet was premiered by the Ciompi Quartet with Randall Love, piano, at the NC Museum of Art in January 2009.

          With no apology, this music is intense, hypercomplex, and maybe just a little crazy—as such not so different from the original; but if a focused listener someday can achieve some familiarity with the music, I do hope that the sweat required for its production will have been worthwhile.


 Whoever tells a lie cannot be pure in heart—and only the pure in heart can make a good soup.  

        ---L. v. B.