Recorded on 05/02/2009, uploaded on 05/02/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
95 string quartet, subtitled Quartett
Serioso by Beethoven himself, is the final quartet of his so-called middle
period as well as the last before the fourteen year hiatus he took from the
medium. The manuscript bears the date of October 1810, the year following the
op. 74 quartet, though it was not published until 1816. It was in 1810 that
Beethoven's engagement to Thérèse von Brunswick was broken off and brought him
much sorrow. When Bettina Brentano visited Beethoven in May of that year, she
wrote to Goethe:
"His power is the strength of maturity; careless of
everything, he abandons himself to his own fierce riot of emotions, without a
thought for the world's little opinion, or the forms and conventions of others.
What forces has he to guard against, to contend with, now that love and
ambition are forever buried? All that is left to him is the splendor and joy of
his genius, and the craving to exercise his creative power and to spend it
Indeed, it would not be many years hence before Beethoven
embarked on that strikingly unique path of his late period.
The quartett serioso serves as a link to
that forthcoming period of Beethoven's music. In it, he experimented with many
of the techniques he would draw on later, particularly in the late string
quartets. The first movement exemplifies an unmistakable characteristic of
Beethoven's middle period-a continuous sonata form without repetitions.
However, the actual structure of the movement looks forward to the unified
forms of his late period in which the strict divisions of the sonata form are
broken down to create an artistic whole in which an idea continuously evolves
from beginning to end. Another unmistakable foreshadowing is the expanded use
of foreign tonal centers. The keys of A major and D major, not in the slightest
way theoretically related to the tonic of F minor, both make brief appearances.
unusual use of the key of D major carries over and becomes the tonic of the
middle movement. However, the original key of F minor casts an ominous shadow
over the movement in the recurrent flattening of the sixth scale degree (B
natural to B flat). Like so many examples from Beethoven's late period output,
this movement nearly escapes any impression of a tradition form, yet at the
same time there is no moment in which the flow of ideas seems haphazard. Even
the fugato middle section presages
the later contrapuntal nature of Beethoven's music. In character, as well as in
technique, this movement alone presents the most convincing link to Beethoven's
third movement, beginning without break from the second movement, is best
described as a serious scherzo-an oxymoron to say the least and a perfect
example of Beethoven's "joking seriousness." The trio is repeated twice like in
the scherzo of the later Seventh Symphony. With the scherzo in the key of F
minor, the trio makes use again of the foreign tonality of D major.
The last movement begins unusually
with a larghetto introduction. These
seven measures are remarkably unique, looking forward not only to the late
quartets fourteen years later, but, according to Joseph de Marliave, also
foreshadow Schumann's symphony in C and even Wagner's revolutionary Tristan. The finale proper, in an allegretto tempo, begins with a
straightforward melody but is not lacking in emotional content. The plasticity
of the theme makes it perfect for development. After the final reprise of the
theme, a brilliant Allegro molto in F
major concludes the piece. This coda holds the same relationship to this finale
as the triumphal F major march of the Egmont
overture (also written in 1810) to what preceded it. With it, the quartett serioso comes to a jubilant,
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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