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The Greatest Fugue

American composer Elliott Sharp's new opera, 'Die Grösste Fuge' is to receive its first USA performance in English


One may imagine Ludwig von Beethoven in the 1820s in ill health and nearly deaf, bitter and lonely with his economy in tatters, and clinging to his delusions of nobility. He must escape but it is impossible. Yet escape he does but not by his own agency. He becomes unmoored from the tethers of his daily life and mind to travel in time to an incomprehensible future, surprisingly both magnificent and horrendous. Once he has returned to his normal life he processes his experiences in 'this greatest fugue' (die grösste Fuge) and begins to create a string quartet, Die Grösse Fuge.

On Thursday 13 June 2024 at 8pm, American composer Elliott Sharp presents the first US performance in English of his opera Die Grösste Fuge (The Greatest Fugue) at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, New York. This opera features the virtuosic bass/baritone Nicholas Isherwood as Ludwig van Beethoven with DGF String Quartet, prerecorded electroacoustic backing tracks, and projection design by Janene Higgins.

In writing the libretto for Die Grösste Fuge, Elliott Sharp drew inspiration from Beethoven's letters and notes as well as from works by Schiller and Goethe. These excerpts were never used verbatim but translated, often multiple times from German to English and back again using AI translation software. In addition, some texts were run through 'cut-up' software that would simulate strategies invented by Brion Gysin and often used by William Burroughs to reveal layers of meaning within a text by literally cutting up the printed words and phrases on a page and resequencing them. Some of these same strategies were employed in creating the music. Melodic materials would be extracted and turned into seeds that could then be expanded and layered to form vocal melodies and contrapuntal accompaniment. Rhythmic motifs would be looped and reversed, recombined and transformed. However, first and foremost, the settings of the songs are designed to flow from the words themselves so that the meaning, while layered, is always in bas-relief.

Tickets are available, US$25 in advance ($20 student/senior with ID) and $30 at the door, at

A live stream will be available free of charge on YouTube at 8pm on the day of the performance and will be archived for future viewing.

Recently, Infrequent Seams released the double CD of Die Grösste Fuge, which is available for streaming at

Elliott Sharp: 'Die Grösste Fuge' double CD
Elliott Sharp: 'Die Grösste Fuge' double CD

It received rave reviews from sources such as The Moderns: 'The performances are every bit as grand and in-your-face as the work's subject deserves' and Touching Extremes: 'Isherwood masterfully portrays Beethoven's torment'.

Posted 27 April 2024 by Keith Bramich



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