Organ Trios

Chapter IV: The Organ Trios

Editions

The organ trios have long been an area of confusion and controversy. There are four trios, published in two groups. The first three trios, in the keys of G minor, E-flat minor, and E minor respectively, were first edited for organ by Charles Tournemire and published in 1938, bearing the title “Pièces en trio de claviers.” [1] They have appeared in subsequent editions by H. W. Gray and Le Grand Orgue. [2]

The fourth trio was first published for organ in 1942 in an edition by Marcel Dupré. [3] Despite its title, “Fugue en MI mineur,” it is stylistically very similar to the three Tournemire trios. It has also appeared in editions by Le Grand Orgue and Edition Musicus. [4]

Sources Used by Tournemire and Dupré

Tournemire states in his preface that the trios come from pages 5-18  of volume two of a “totally forgotten work” entitled Études de Beethoven, by François Joseph Fétis, published in 1833. [5] Actually the Études is only a French translation by Fétis of Ignaz von Seyfried’s work, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Studien im Generalbasse, Contrapuncte und in der Compositions-Lehre, published in Vienna in 1832. [6] The three trios appear in the original Seyfried publication, [7] as well as in the French translation. Seyfried lists the trios as “Nachahmungen à tre, mit einer fortlaufenden freyen Stimme.” [8]

The fourth trio (edited by Dupré) also appears in the French translation of Seyfried, as well as in the original German version, bearing the title “Fuga à due Violini e Violoncello.” [9] Dupré very likely used the French translation as the source for his Fugue en MI mineur.

Seyfried’s Studien

At the auction of Beethoven’s estate in 1827, the Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger purchased five packages of contrapuntal exercises, listed in the action catalog as item 149. [10] Haslinger commissioned Seyfried, musical director at Schikaneder’s Theatre in Vienna, to compile them. The resulting Studien of 1832 was a sloppily edited publication that became a continuing source of confusion.

Nottebohm, in the final chapter of his Beethoveniana of 1872, was the first to discuss the errors and identify actual sources of the contents of Seyfried’s work. Nottebohm pointed out that many of the exercises were not by Beethoven, but by other theorists and composers, including John Joseph Fux, Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, and Daniel Gottlob Türk. In addition, Seyfried had introduced numerous alterations not found in Beethoven’s original manuscripts. [11]

Nottebohm identified the exercises contained in the five packages auctioned to Haslinger as the Materialien zum Generalbass prepared by Beethoven during the summer of 1809 to teach composition to the Archduke Rudolph. In the Materialien Beethoven included his own exercises as well as examples from the works of earlier composers and theorists mentioned above. [12] He did not intend to plagiarize their works, but wanted to use them as models for the archduke to imitate. He neglected to identify the sources of many of the borrowed examples, a practice common during the period. Therefore, when Seyfried compiled the exercises for his Studien, he mistakenly attributed works by other composers to Beethoven. [13]

The True Identities of the Trios

Trios no. 1 and 2

The first and second organ trios edited by Tournemire come from examples copied in the Materialien. According to Nottebohm:

Die bei Seyfried S. 160-167 abgedruckten Stücke liegen auch in Beethoven’s Handschrift vor. Die Stücke sind aber nicht von Beethoven. Beethoven hat nur sie abgeschrieben. Sie sind von Ph. E. Bach und stehen in dessen “Sei Sonate per Cembalo, Op. 2”. (Das Stück in G-moll ist der 2. Satz der 4., das in Es-moll der 2. Satz der 5. Sonate.) Zu bemerken is, dass Beethoven die Stücke nicht, wie Ph. E. Bach, auf zwei, sondern auf drei Linien-Systeme geschrieben hat. [14]

Bach’s Sei Sonate per Cembalo, op. 2, commonly known as the “Württemberg” Sonatas (Wq. 49), were first published in Nuremberg in 1744. [15] A comparison of the slow movement of the fourth sonata with the first organ trio reveals them to be one and the same piece (figs. 54a and 54b).

Fig. 54a. C. P. E. Bach's fourth "Württemberg" Sonata (Wq. 49, no. 4), movement 2, mm. 1-5
Fig. 54a. C. P. E. Bach’s fourth “Württemberg” Sonata (Wq. 49, no. 4), movement 2, mm. 1-5
Fig. 54b. Beethoven's Organ Trio No. 1 in G Minor, mm. 1-5
Fig. 54b. Beethoven’s Organ Trio No. 1 in G Minor, mm. 1-5

The second organ trio is likewise the same as the slow movement of Bach’s fifth sonata (figs. 55a and 55b).

Fig. 55a. C. P. E. Bach's fifth "Württemberg" Sonata (Wq. 49, no. 5), movement 2, mm. 1-5
Fig. 55a. C. P. E. Bach’s fifth “Württemberg” Sonata (Wq. 49, no. 5), movement 2, mm. 1-5
Fig. 55b. Beethoven's Organ Trio No. 2 in E-flat Minor, mm. 1-7
Fig. 55b. Beethoven’s Organ Trio No. 2 in E-flat Minor, mm. 1-5

Trio no. 3 and Fugue en MI mineur

Manuscripts for the third trio appear three times in Beethoven’s hand. The first two, a sketch and a fair copy corrected by Albrechtsberger, are in Beethovenautograph 75 in the archives of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. The third, a final fair copy with yet further alterations, was recently discovered by Hess in Beethovenautograph 78 in Vienna; neither Seyfried nor Nottebohm was aware of the third source. [16]

In his book entitled Beethoven’s Studien: Beethoven’s Unterricht bei J. Haydn, Albrechtsberger und Salieri, Nottebohm observes that in the the first fair copy the trio is followed by the words “attacca Fuga.” The fugue that follows turns out to be the trio-fugue edited by Dupré. After the fugue are the words “mit einem Presto endigen,” suggesting still a third movement. The presto movement is not extant. [17] Included in the manuscript are indications that the piece is for a string trio (two violins and cello). [18]

An edition by Hess of the two extant movements has recently been published as a prelude and fugue for string trio. [19] A comparison of the third Tournemire trio and Duprés trio-fugue with Hess’s edition reveals them to be the same piece (figs. 56a-56d ). Yet Hess, in tracing the history of the prelude and fugue in his preface, makes no mention of the organ trios, perhaps because he is unaware of their history? [20] This is another example of the obscurity and confusion surrounding the organ trios.

Fig. 56a. Beethoven's Organ Trio No. 3 in E Minor, mm. 1-3.
Fig. 56a. Beethoven’s Organ Trio No. 3 in E Minor, mm. 1-3.
Fig. 56b. Beethoven's Prelude in E Minor for String Trio (Hess 29), mm. 1-3
Fig. 56b. Beethoven’s Prelude in E Minor for String Trio (Hess 29), mm. 1-3
Fig. 56c. Beethoven's Fugue in E Minor for Organ (Dupré), mm. 1-4
Fig. 56c. Beethoven’s Fugue in E Minor for Organ (Dupré), mm. 1-4
Fig. 56d. Beethoven's Fugue in E Minor for String Trio (Hess 29), mm. 1.4
Fig. 56d. Beethoven’s Fugue in E Minor for String Trio (Hess 29), mm. 1.4

Variants in Published Sources

Trios no. 1 and 2

As observed by Nottebohm, the chief difference between the original C. P. E. Bach version and the later editions attributed to Beethoven is that the later editions were written on three staves, probably due to the large amount of crossing between the upper parts. Other variations primarily concern accidentals, ties, and rhythmic alterations. [21] Although the most noticeable differences occur between the original Bach and the first edition of Seyfried, there are a few discrepancies between the Fétis version and the Tournemire edition of the organ trios.

The most significant changes occur at the ends of the trios. In the first trio Beethoven expands the final two measures of the Bach version to three (fig. 57).

Fig. 57a. C. P. E. Bach's fourth "Württemberg" Sonata (Wq. 49, no. 4), movement 2, mm. 33-35, with cadenza.
Fig. 57a. C. P. E. Bach’s fourth “Württemberg” Sonata (Wq. 49, no. 4), movement 2, mm. 33-35, with cadenza.
Fig. 57b. Beethoven's Organ Trio No. 1 in G Minor, mm. 33-36
Fig. 57b. Beethoven’s Organ Trio No. 1 in G Minor, mm. 33-36

He follows the same procedure in the second trio (fig. 58).

Fig. 58a. C. P. E. Bach's fifth "Württemberg" Sonata (Wq. 49, no. 5), movement 2, mm. 50-54, with cadenza
Fig. 58a. C. P. E. Bach’s fifth “Württemberg” Sonata (Wq. 49, no. 5), movement 2, mm. 50-54, with cadenza
Fig. 58b. Beethoven's Organ Trio No. 2 in E-flat Minor, mm. 50-55
Fig. 58b. Beethoven’s Organ Trio No. 2 in E-flat Minor, mm. 50-55

It was common for contemporary performers to improvise a cadenza when performing the slow movements of Bach’s sonatas. Perhaps it was with this in mind that Beethoven lengthened the cadences.

Trio no. 3

Variants in the editions of the third trio are by far the most numerous. This is due primarily to the many alterations made by Beethoven himself as he twice reworked the piece. The Hess version is the most authentic because it is the only one based on Beethoven’s final manuscript copy, in which entire measures were rewritten. The Tournemire edition is the least authentic edition. It incorporates not only Seyfried’s errors, based on Beethoven’s earlier versions, but additional errors original to the organ edition.

The most striking example of this occurs at the end of the trio. In the Hess version the piece ends on the dominant and proceeds directly to the fugue (fig. 59a).

Fig. 59a. Beethoven's third trio (Hess 29), Hess edition, for string trio, mm. 61-66
Fig. 59a. Beethoven’s third trio (Hess 29), Hess edition, for string trio, mm. 61-66
Fig. 59b. Beethoven’s third trio (Hess 29), Seyfried version, mm. 61-72
Fig. 59c. Beethoven’s third trio (Hess 29), Tournemire edition, for string organ, mm. 61-72

Seyfried was unaware of its connection with the fugue and so, realizing that the piece could not end conclusively on the dominant, added six measures to make the piece sound more decisive (fig. 59b). [22] Tournemire further altered the original final chord (the dominant located seven measures from the end of the Seyfried version) to something like an incomplete leading-tone seventh chord with b’ in the top voice suspended (fig. 59c). All three versions give very differing effects.

Fugue en MI mineur

The fourth trio was the most faithfully transcribed of all the trios. Its most significant variant occurs at the cadence. Seyfried attached an additional measure at the close to make the cadence more conclusive (fig. 60).

Fig. 60a. Beethoven's Fugue in E Minor for String Trio (Hess 29), mm. 65-69
Fig. 60a. Beethoven’s Fugue in E Minor for String Trio (Hess 29), mm. 65-69
Fig. 60b. Beethoven's Fugue in E Minor (Seyfried), mm. 65-70
Fig. 60b. Beethoven’s Fugue in E Minor (Seyfried), mm. 65-70

Conclusion

The so-called organ trios seemingly have been ignored by the bulk of Beethoven scholars. Likewise the origin of the trios is unknown to most organists. Some organists, however, seem headed in the right direction. Wilhelm Krumbach, in his recording entitled Ludwig van Beethoven: Music for Organ, properly omitted the first two trios. But he included the third trio and the trio-fugue (Dupré), played as a group: he realized their connection, but ignored or overlooked the fact that they are not organ works. [23]

Investigation of the so-called organ trios has long since been completed, but being scattered throughout sources of greater or lesser authority, has lacked a synthesis. With a correlation of available sources, it may be stated with certainty that none of the organ trios is an authentic organ work. The first two trios are not by Beethoven, but by C. P. E. Bach, and are intended for harpsichord. The third trio and the trio-fugue are not separate pieces for organ, but are the first two movements (and only ones extant) of a three-movement composition, prelude-fugue-presto, for string trio.

Footnotes

[1] Ludwig van Beethoven, Pièces en trio de claviers, ed. Charles Arnould Tournemire (Paris: Max Eschig, 1938).

[2] Id., Three Trios for Organ, ed. Robert Leech Bedell (New York: H. W. Gray, n.d.); id., Original Works, ed. Robert Leech Bedell (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Le Grand Orgue, n.d.), pp. 2-13.

[3] Id., Fugue en MI mineur, ed. Marcel Dupré, Anthologie des maîtres classiques de l’orgue, no. 3 (Paris: Bornemann, 1942).

[4] Id., Original Works, pp. 14-18; Robert Leech Bedell, ed., Bach, Beethoven, Brahms: Original Works for Organ (New York: Edition Musicus, n.d.). The author has been unable to locate page numbers for the latter reference.

[5] Ignaz von Seyfried, Études de Beethoven, trans. François Joseph Fétis, 2 vols. (Paris: Schlesinger, 1833), 2:5-18.

[6] Id., Ludwig van Beethoven’s Studien im Generalbasse, Contrapuncte und in der Compositions-Lehre (Vienna: Haslinger, 1832).

[7] Ibid., pp. 161-71.

[8] Ibid., p. 160. In French they are entitled “Imitation à trois parties avec le mélange d’une partie libre.” Id., Études, 2:5.

[9] Ibid., pp. 47-53; id. Beethoven’s Studien, pp. 197-203.

[10] Elliot Forbes, ed., Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, rev. ed., 2 vols. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967), 2:1066 (hereafter cited as Thayer-Forbes). The MSS now comprise Beethovenautograph 75 in the archives of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.

[11] Gustav Nottebohm, Beethoveniana (Leipzig: C. F. Peters, 1872; reprint ed., New York: Johnson Reprint, 1970), pp. 154-203 passim.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Warren Kirkendale, Fuge und Fugato in der Kammermusik des Rokoko und der Klassik (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1966), pp. 246-50. See also Thayer-Forbes, 1:467.

[14] Nottebohm, Beethoveniana, p. 183.

[15] The “Wurttemberg” Sonatas were dedicated to Bach’s pupil at the Berlin court, Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg. William S. Newman, The Sonata in the Classic Era, 2d ed. (New York: Norton, 1972), p. 416. Published editions of the sonatas are listed elsewhere on this site.

[16] Ludwig van Beethoven, Praeludium und Fuge in E-moll für Streichtrio, ed. Willy Hess (Kassel: Nagel, 1955), foreword.

[17] Kirkendale, p. 268, suggests that Beethoven never composed the Presto.

[18] Nottebohm, Beethoven’s Studien, p. 70.

[19] Beethoven, Praeludium und Fuge in E-moll; and id., Supplemente zur Gesamtausgabe, 6:32-41.

[20] Hess does, however, mention the following: Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonata a tre, in Six Movements, ed. Alfred Pochon (New York: Carl Fischer, 1926). The sonata’s second movement is the same as the first organ trio; its fourth movement, the second organ trio; its fifth movement, the third organ trio; and its sixth movement, the trio-fugue. See Beethoven, Praeludium und Fuge in E-moll, foreword, and Willy Hess, Verzeichnis der nicht in der Gesamtausgabe veröffentlichten Werke Ludwig van Beethovens (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1957), p. 22.

[21] A list of variants is found elsewhere on this site.

[22] Nottebohm, Beethoveniana, p. 182.

[23] Ludwig van Beethoven, Music for Organ (Complete), performed by Wilhelm Krumbach (Musical Heritage Society MHS 1517), side 1, band 2.

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By Weldon Whipple