Late string quartets (Beethoven)

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Manuscript of Beethoven's Große Fuge, arranged for piano four hands

The following set of string quartets is generally referred to as Beethoven's late string quartets, including the Große Fuge (which also exists in a piano transcription, opus 134):

These six quartets (counting the Große Fuge) comprise Beethoven's last major, completed compositions. Although dismissed by the musicians and audiences of Beethoven's time, they are widely considered to be among the greatest musical compositions of all time, and have inspired many composers and musicians. Igor Stravinsky described the Große Fuge as "an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever". Richard Wagner, when reflecting on Op. 131's first movement, said that it "reveals the most melancholy sentiment expressed in music". The quartets have been performed and recorded by string quartets worldwide.

Overview[edit]

Prince Nicholas Galitzin commissioned the first three quartets (numbers 12, 13 and 15) and in a letter dated 9 November 1822, offered to pay Beethoven "what you think proper" for the three works. Beethoven replied 25 January 1823 with his price of 50 Ducats for each opus.[1] Beethoven composed these quartets in the sequence 12, 15, 13, 14, 16, simultaneously writing quartets 15 and 13.[citation needed]

Beethoven wrote the last quartets amidst failing health. In April 1825 he was bedridden, and remained ill for about a month. The illness—or more precisely, his recovery from it—is remembered for having given rise to the deeply felt slow movement of the Fifteenth Quartet, which Beethoven called "Holy song of thanks ('Heiliger Dankgesang') to the divinity, from one made well." He went on to complete the quartets now numbered Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Sixteenth. The last work Beethoven completed was the substitute final movement of the Thirteenth Quartet, which replaced the difficult Große Fuge.[citation needed]

Appraisal[edit]

The quartets went far beyond what musicians or audiences were ready for at that time. One musician[who?] commented that "we know there is something there, but we do not know what it is." Composer Louis Spohr called them "indecipherable, uncorrected horrors." Opinion has changed considerably from the time of their first bewildered reception: these six quartets (counting the Große Fuge) comprise Beethoven's last major, completed compositions and are widely considered to be among the greatest musical compositions of all time.[2] The musicologist Theodor Adorno, in particular, thought highly of them,[3] and Igor Stravinsky described the Große Fuge as "an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever".[4] Their forms and ideas inspired and continue to inspire musicians and composers, such as Richard Wagner and Béla Bartók. Wagner, when reflecting on Op. 131's first movement, said that it "reveals the most melancholy sentiment expressed in music".[5] The last musical wish of Schubert was to hear the Op. 131 quartet, which he did on 14 November 1828, five days before his death.[6] Upon listening to a performance of the Op. 131 quartet, Schubert remarked, "After this, what is left for us to write?"[7] Of the late quartets, Beethoven's favorite was the Fourteenth Quartet, op. 131 in C minor, which he rated as his most perfect single work.[8]

Other versions[edit]

Transcriptions of some of the late quartets for string orchestra have been made by Arturo Toscanini and Felix Weingartner, among others.

Recordings[edit]

Ensembles that have recorded all the late string quartets by Beethoven include:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 'Life of Beethoven' by Alexander Thayer, Page 447
  2. ^ Morris, Edmund. Beethoven: The Universal Composer. New York: Atlas Books / HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 0-06-075974-7
  3. ^ 'Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music' by Theodor W. Adorno, pp. 123-162
  4. ^ Miller, Lucy, Adams to Zemlinsky (2006) Concert Artists Guild, ISBN 1-892862-09-3, p. 44.
  5. ^ Berger, Melvin (2001). Guide to Chamber Music, p. 67, Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-41879-0
  6. ^ Winter, Robert (1994). The Beethoven quartet companion. University of California Press. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-520-20420-1. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Woolfe, Zachary (8 August 2011). "At Mozart Festival, Dvorak and Others Shine". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  8. ^ Morris, Edmund (2010). Beethoven: The Universal Composer. HarperCollins. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-06-075975-9. Retrieved 3 August 2011.