String Quartet No. 14 (Beethoven)

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String Quartet No. 14
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven - Sketches for the String Quartet Op. 131. (BL Add MS 38070 f. 51r).jpg
Beethoven's sketches for his Op. 131 quartet
Key C minor
Opus Op. 131
Form String quartet
Composed 1826
Dedication Baron Joseph von Stutterheim
Duration About 40 minutes
Movements Seven

The String Quartet No. 14 in C minor, Op. 131, was completed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1826. It is the last-composed of a trio of string quartets, written in the order op. 132, 130 (with the Große Fuge ending), 131.

It was Beethoven's favourite of the late quartets: he is quoted as remarking to a friend that he would find "a new manner of part-writing and, thank God, less lack of imagination than before".[1] It is said that upon listening to a performance of this quartet, Schubert remarked, "After this, what is left for us to write?"[2] Robert Schumann said that this quartet and Op. 127 had a "...grandeur [...] which no words can express. They seem to me to stand...on the extreme boundary of all that has hitherto been attained by human art and imagination."[3]

This work is dedicated to Baron Joseph von Stutterheim as a gesture of gratitude for taking his nephew, Karl, into the army after a failed suicide attempt.

Music[edit]

About 40 minutes in length, it consists of seven movements played without break:

No. Tempo indication(s) Key Meter Length
I. Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo C minor cut time About 7 minutes
II. Allegro molto vivace D major 6
8
About 3 minutes
III. Allegro moderato – Adagio B minor common time About 45 seconds
IV. Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile – Più mosso – Andante moderato e lusinghiero – Adagio – Allegretto – Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice – Allegretto A major 2
4
About 14 minutes
V. Presto E major cut time about 5​12 minutes
VI. Adagio quasi un poco andante G minor 3
4
About 2 minutes
VII. Allegro C minor cut time About 6​12 minutes

The Op. 131 quartet has been described as a monumental feat of integration.[by whom?] While Beethoven composed the quartet in six distinct key areas, the work begins in C minor and ends in C major. The finale directly quotes the opening fugue theme in the first movement in its second thematic area. This type of cyclical composition was avant-garde for a work of that period. Joseph Kerman wrote: "blatant functional reference to the theme of another movement: this never happens".[4] (It had happened in some other Beethoven works such as the Piano Sonata Op. 101, Cello Sonata Op. 102 No. 1, and the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies; it had even happened before in Joseph Haydn's Forty-Sixth Symphony. Nevertheless, Op. 131 is the first Beethoven work in which the quotation is integrated completely into its new context instead of appearing like an explicit quotation, though even this effect had been anticipated the previous year in the young Felix Mendelssohn's Octet, and much earlier in Christian Latrobe's A major Piano Sonata dedicated to Haydn.)

Op. 131 is often grouped with Opp. 132 and 130. There is motivic sharing among the three works. In particular, the "motto" fugue of the leading note rising to the tonic before moving to the minor sixth and then dropping down to the dominant is an important figure shared by these works. This intervallic material is descendent from Bach, and has been used by other notable composers, including Haydn and Mozart.[citation needed]

This quartet is one of Beethoven's most elusive works musically. The topic has been written about extensively from very early after its creation, from Karl Holz, the second violinist of the Schuppanzigh Quartet, to Richard Wagner, to contemporary musicologists today. One popular topic is a possible religious/spiritual genesis for this work, supported by similarities to the Missa Solemnis. In the first movement of Op. 131, the continually flowing texture resembles the Benedictus and the Dona Nobis Pacem from the earlier work. In addition, whether purposefully or not, Beethoven quotes a motivic figure from Missa Solemnis in the second movement of the quartet.

The piece was featured in the plot of the 2012 film A Late Quartet. It also featured in the Band of Brothers episode "Why We Fight".

Analysis[edit]

I. Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo[edit]

A fugue based on the following subject, which contains (bars 2–3) the second tetrachord of the harmonic minor scale, the unifying motif of Beethoven's last string quartets:


\relative g' {
 \key cis \minor \time 2/2
 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 2 = 44
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = "violin"

 \partial 4 gis(\< |
 bis2 cis) | a2.\sf\> gis4\p( | fis a gis fis | e fis) gis2\laissezVibrer |
}

Richard Wagner said this movement: "reveals the most melancholy sentiment expressed in music".[5] Joseph Kerman (1967, p. 330) calls it "this most moving of all fugues".[6] J.W.N. Sullivan (1927, p. 235) hears it as "the most superhuman piece of music that Beethoven has ever written."[7] Philip Radcliffe (1965, p. 149) says "[a] bare description of its formal outline can give but little idea of the extraordinary profundity of this fugue ."[8]

II. Allegro molto vivace[edit]

A delicate dance in compound duple meter in the key of D major, in compact sonata form based on the following folk-like theme:


\relative d' {
 \key d \major \time 6/8
 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 2. = 80
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = "violin"

 \partial 4. d4.\pp( |
 d'4.)~ d4( cis8) |
 cis4( ais8 b4 cis8 |
 d4 cis8 e d b) |
 b4( a8 d4 e8 |
 fis4 e8 d4 cis8) |
 cis4\( ais8 b4 cis8 |
 d4\< cis8 e(\> d) b-.\) |
 a4\!
}

III. Allegro moderato – Adagio[edit]

In the spirit of recitativo obbligato following the key of B minor; the modulation from B minor to E major functions as a short introduction to the next movement.

IV. Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile – Andante moderato e lusinghiero – Adagio – Allegretto – Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice – Allegretto[edit]

This, the central movement of the quartet, is a set of 7 variations (6 complete and 1 incomplete, with coda) on the following simple theme in A major shared between the first and second violins:


\relative a' {
 \key a \major \time 2/4
 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 4 = 60
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = "violin"

 <<
 {r8\p a4^\markup { \italic dolce }( b16 a | gis8) r8 r4 | r8 d'4( e16 d | cis8) r8 r4 | r8 a'4(\< g16\> eis)\! | eis8( fis) r4 | r8 e16( d cis8) r | r fis,16( e dis8) r | r8 }
 \\
 {r8 cis4.( | d8) gis4( a16 gis | d'8) b,4.( | a8) cis'4( d16 cis | a'8) r r4 | r8 fis4(\< e16\> cis\! | dis8)\noBeam b,( cis)\noBeam b'16( a | gis8) r r d16( b | a8) }
 >>
}

This movement is the apotheosis of the 'Grand Variation' form from Beethoven's late period.

V. Presto[edit]

In E major, this is a brilliant scherzo (though in duple rather than triple time), based on the following simple idea:


\relative b' {
 \key e \major \time 2/2
 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 1 = 116
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = "violin"

 b4-.\p gis-. e-. gis-. |
 b2( e) |
 dis4-. e-. fis-. gis-. |
 a4 r r2 |
 gis4-. fis-. e-. dis-. |
 cis2( fis) |
 gis4\f gis gis gis |
 gis r4 r2 |
}

Towards the end of the scherzo, there is "an astounding "passage of pianissimo sul ponticello writing for all the instruments, mostly on their highest strings." [9] Joseph Kerman asks "Was this a sound Beethoven had actually heard, back in the days when he was hearing, or did he make up the sound for the first time in 1826? Beethoven deaf was quite capable of 'hearing' or imagining or inventing not only relationships between notes but also sonorities pure and simple."[10]

VI. Adagio quasi un poco andante[edit]

In G minor, this movement is in bar form with a coda, which serves as a slow, sombre introduction to the next movement.

VII. Allegro[edit]

The finale is in sonata form and returns to the home key of C minor. The first subject has two main ideas:


\relative c' {
 \key cis \minor \time 2/2
 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 2 = 132
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = "violin"

 cis4-.\ff r4 r2 |
 r4 cis8( e gis4-.) a8( cis, |
 bis4) r4 r2 |
 r4 bis8( dis gis4-.) a8( bis, |
 cis4) r4
}

\relative c'' \new Staff \with { \remove "Time_signature_engraver" } {
 \key cis \minor \time 2/2
 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 2 = 132
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = "violin"

 \partial 2 cis4 r8 dis |
 \once \override Score.BarNumber #'break-visibility = ##(#f #t #t) \set Score.currentBarNumber = #5 \bar "|"

 e4 r8 fis gis4 r8 a |
 gis4 r gis r8 fis |
 e4 r8 dis e4 r8 cis |
 dis4 r cis r8 dis |
 e4 r8 fis gis4 r8 ais |
 b4 r b r8 gis |
 ais4 r8 gis ais4 r8 fisis |
 gis4 r
}

The violent rhythm in this subject is contrasted with the soaring, lyrical second theme:


\relative a'' \new Staff \with { \remove "Time_signature_engraver" } {
 \key cis \minor \time 2/2
 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 2 = 132
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = "violin"
 \set Score.currentBarNumber = #56 \bar ""

 gis2~\p gis8( fis e dis |
 e dis cis b a gis fis e) |
 e4.(_\markup { \italic cresc.} dis8) b''2_\markup { \italic espress. }^\markup { \italic "poco riten." } |
 b b |
}

References[edit]

  1. ^ Steinberg, Michael (1994). Robert Winter; Robert Martin, eds. The Beethoven Quartet Companion. University of California Press. p. 264. ISBN 0-520-08211-7. 
  2. ^ Woolfe, Zachary (8 August 2011). "At Mozart Festival, Dvorak and Others Shine". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Robert Alexander Schumann, F.R. Ritter tr. ed. (1877). Music and musicians, essays and criticisms. Oxford University Press. ; (p. 391)
  4. ^ Joseph Kerman (2002). Beethoven's Opus 131 and the Uncanny. 19th Century Music. ; (pp. 155-164)
  5. ^ Berger, Melvin (2001). Guide to Chamber Music, p. 67, Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-41879-0
  6. ^ Kerman, J. (1966), The Beethoven Quartets. Oxford University Press
  7. ^ Sullivan, J.W.N. (1927) Beethoven. London, Jonathan Cape
  8. ^ Radcliffe, P. (1965) Beethoven's String Quartets. London, Hutchinson.
  9. ^ Kerman, J. (1967, p.339) The Beethoven Quartets. Oxford University Press.
  10. ^ Kerman, J. (1967, p.339) The Beethoven Quartets. Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]