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Liebesfreud: Music

Edvard Grieg (1843–1907); Fugue in F Minor (Allegro con fuoco) (1861)

Grieg wrote this enterprising little fugue as an exercise for his counterpoint class at the Leipzig Conservatory, an institution—whose founder and first director was none other than Felix Mendelssohn—against which he held a life-long grudge.
Apparently, you were only taken seriously there if you composed symphonies and string quartets and Grieg, whose genius expressed itself in lyric, epigrammatic utterances, must have had a rough time of it. In his maturity he did assemble (more or less laboriously) several large-scale works—including one complete String Quartet (much admired) and two movements of another—but he never forgave Carl Reinecke for making him sweat over a symphony and a quartet in those Leipzig years.

This fugue, however, sounds as if he had a blast composing it. He seems justifiably proud of his subject’s capacity to combine with itself (in different tonal and rhythmic positions) and with other materials, and he is already enough of a composer to sense the moment when counterpoint can yield to the kind of rhetorical wind-up that turns an exercise into a piece.
I am particularly delighted by the way he manages to sneak a few seconds of genuine, Grieg lyricism into the contrapuntal shenanigans; four years later he achieved a subtle kind of payback when a little fugal passage crept into the Finale of his beautiful F Major Violin Sonata.