Recorded on 07/28/2007, uploaded on 02/08/2012
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Beethoven composed his sixteenth string quartet in 1826, a mere few months before his death. Only one other completed composition, the alternate finale for the op. 130 quartet in B flat major, postdates this work. In this sense, the String Quartet in F major represents the culmination of a lifelong dedication to music.
Of the late string quartets, the F major is the shortest, the simplest in construction, and the only other quartet to follow the standard four movement plan besides the op. 127 quartet in E flat major. While in technique the F major quartet no doubt deserves its place among the other late quartets, it does not seem to burden itself with the same weighted discourse. Instead, as Joseph de Marliave stated, it is a "fluent play of brilliant but irresponsible wit," much like the alternate finale Beethoven composed for the op. 130 quartet which seems oddly out of place in that magnificent work.
The first movement presents an instance not often met with in Beethoven's output-a sonata movement that is quite markedly "themeless." Instead, the movement is built up almost entirely of short motivic ideas. Beethoven was one of music's greatest masters of thematic development and it is common in his music to find themes broken down into their smallest fragments. However, in this instance, Beethoven has employed almost the reverse process by starting with a collection of melodic fragments from which to make a musical whole.
The second movement, a scherzo though simply marked "Vivace," follows in the footsteps of the first movement, and even surpasses it, by presenting a wholly unmelodious opening theme. At best, it can only be concluded that the opening eight measures as a whole constitute the melody as no one voice can be singled out as being "melodious." The lively rhythmic syncopation and the rise and fall of the bass line are developed to considerable extent throughout the movement. There is no trio per se, only a brilliant A major melody accompanied by a reiterated rhythmic motive taken from earlier in the movement.
The third movement touches briefly on the emotional and psychological discourses of the other late quartets. It is a short movement in free variation form. The theme is decidedly simple, like many of Beethoven's great melodies, and breathes a somber air of heightened emotions. Though mostly in the key of D flat major, many phrases invoke a feeling of bittersweet mourning. The only sense of immediate pain comes during an episode in the parallel minor key.
The final movement is perhaps the most famous part of the quartet largely due to the interesting philosophical question it purports to raise: "Es muss sein?" (Must it be?) The answer that Beethoven gives is simply, "Muss es sein." (It must be.) Because of the obvious ambiguity of this question-answer pair, many solutions to this enigma have been given, each more ardently than the rest trying to pull out an inherent meaning that may not even be there. One of the more well-known explanations, and at least the most comical, comes from Anton Schindler. Schindler states that Beethoven's housekeeper, the only person allowed to disturb him while he was working, would ask him for money with which to buy food and other necessities. Beethoven would reply "Es muss sein?" (Must it be?) The housekeeper would then emphatically reply, "Muss es sein." (It must be.)
This question and answer are translated into musical terms by the use of two connected motives, the answer motif being simply the inversion of that for the question. The question, in F minor, is introduced in a grave tempo by the viola and cello. In this regard, the passage is akin to the cello and bass recitative in the opening of the finale of the Ninth Symphony, as if Beethoven is asking the question for himself through his instruments. The answer then comes in the brighter key of F major, an allegro tempo, and voiced by the violins. The answer motif is given much consideration throughout the movement. The question makes only a short, though highly dramatic, reappearance during the middle of the movement which sparks a close dialogue between the two motives. Ultimately, it is the answer, proclaimed by the entire quartet that closes the work
Beethoven titled the last movement Der schwer gefaβte Entschluβ ("The Difficult Decision"). Whatever was Beethoven's prompting will probably never be known for sure. Yet, the movement is not without significant meaning for listener's today and it is best that we are not privy to Beethoven's personal intentions. The meaning of the question rests of the principle of absolute music itself. Whoever the listener maybe, he or she is sure to find something to which they may ask the question, "Must it be?" To which the answer, for the listener's contemplation, comes: "It must be."
String Quartet in F Major, Opus 135 Allegretto Vivace Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo Grave, ma non troppo tratto – Allegro courtesy of the Steans Music Institute
The Steans Music Institute is the Ravinia Festival's professional studies program for young musicians.
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