I've been looking some more at the first page of Beethoven's piano arrangement of the Grosse Fuge, which was recently donated to Juilliard. My
uneducated guess, on briefly studying the document back in December, was that
in writing out the beginning of the piece Beethoven first imitated what
had done in the quartet and then decided to amplify the octave G's
in various ways — by adding extra bars, piling on more octaves above
below, and bringing the dynamics up to ff. The fact that some staff lines in the third bar have been redrawn suggests that the composer
first attempt, and the "squeezed" look of the barlines suggests that
new material was added later. I still think this is how it went, but
it's hard to be sure. I probably should have written
"Beethoven seems to have replicated...." Best to say "seems" when dealing with a man like Beethoven.
Several readers have commented on Beethoven's decision to tie two eighth-notes together in the first soft statement of the theme at Allegro. The composer's practice of writing tied notes where a single note might have sufficed has long puzzled scholars and performers; Jonathan Del Mar recently wrote an entire article on the subject for the journal Early Music. Ian Hampton of the Langley Community Music School, in British Columbia, observes that a string player can "'suggest' these ligatures [slurs] even in the heat of battle in ways that the piano cannot." He also notes that the keyboard action of instruments in Beethoven's time would have allowed the player to hint at the breaks between notes. To answer Hampton's question, the slurred notes are indeed carried over into the piano arrangement. As I said in the column, Karl Holz twice asked Beethoven about the slurred notes in the Conversation Books. The first time was in early January 1826, when Opus 130 was being rehearsed. The second time was in April 1826, when the four-hand arrangement was in preparation. Evidently Beethoven's notation was as puzzling then as it is now. Incidentally, my copies of the Conversation Books once belonged to Claudio Arrau, as I relate here.
Finally, I'd like to mention two essays that offer rich ideas about the quasi-operatic aspects of Opus 130, especially the relationship of the Cavatina and "Overtura" of the Fugue. They are Lewis Lockwood's "On the Cavatina of Beethoven's String Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 130," in Liedstudien: Wolfgang Osthoff zum 60. Geburtstag (Tutzing, 1989) and Richard Kramer's "Between Cavatina and Ouverture: Opus 130 and the Voices of Nature," in Beethoven Forum 1 (University of Nebraska Press, 1992). Lockwood writes: "By taking so intense an operatic aria-type into the string quartet, Beethoven shows in the most palpable way that this late quartet is itself a transcendent composition of a new type...." Kramer writes of the dramatic G's: "The effect is [close] to some fantastical scene from the fictions of E. T. A. Hoffmann. The mock cavatina is shown to be just that: an act of fantasy, not really a cavatina. The repudiation is all the more painful because the music is in any case very real. The beauty of the thing is real, not simulated."