Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue found its way out of Palmer Seminary’s basement, all the way to London where it brought in $1.7 million, and made its way back to Wayne, Penna. where it was performed at a crowded Church of the Saviour by Eastern’s piano quartet.
Eastern’s 3rd Annual Music Gala on Friday, April 28, highlighted the rare find, which music professor Ron Matthews described as “out there.” Matthews cited the way Beethoven incorporated elements of jazz and bebop long before either genre officially took shape.
“[Beethoven] explored to the edge of tonality,” Matthews said. “And in that way it is prophetic.”
Matthews was joined by David Bryant, James Correnti and Jung Mi Kim, turning the Fugue from its original four-hands to eight.
“We’ll offend all musicologists tonight,” Matthews said.
Heather Carbo, the librarian at Palmer who first discovered the manuscript, was on hand to hear the piece for the first time. Although the Fugue was played at Sotheby’s in New York before being sold in London, she was unable to attend the performance.
“It’s very exciting,” Carbo said. “It makes it more real. It’s great to see it in this environment at Eastern.”
The Grosse Fugue shared the limelight with another miraculous discovery from the vaults of the seminary: Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Minor, a manuscript discovered in 1990 and sold for enough money to launch Eastern’s music department.
Bryant, professor of music history at Eastern, played in both pieces and said he was both “terrified” and “satisfied” to be a part of the performance.
The evening was filled out with robust performances by the Eastern University Choir, conducted by Rick Frost and accompanied by the English department’s Nancy Thomas. Students Alina and Natallia Hancharonak, sisters from Belarus, elicited screams from the audience when they took the stage to play Handel’s Passacaglia.
President Black opened the evening with prayer and mention of a potential auditorium on Eastern’s campus suitable for future Galas, which drew a few “amens” from the music department.
Proceeds from the concert went to Eastern’s music department.