String Quartet No. 15 (Beethoven)

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The Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, by Ludwig van Beethoven, was written in 1825, given its public premiere on November 6 of that year by the Schuppanzigh Quartet and was dedicated to Count Nikolai Galitzin, as were Opp. 127 and 130. The number traditionally assigned to it is based on the order of its publication; it is actually the thirteenth quartet in order of composition.


The five movements of the quartet are:

  1. Assai sostenuto – Allegro in A minor
  2. Allegro ma non tanto in A major
  3. Molto Adagio – Andante – Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart. Molto adagio – Neue Kraft fühlend. Andante – Molto adagio – Andante–Molto adagio. Mit innigster Empfindung in F Lydian
  4. Alla Marcia, assai vivace (attacca) in A major
  5. Allegro appassionato – Presto in A minor

Formal analysis of movements[edit]

Movement I (Allegro)[edit]

The slow introduction to the first movement, like that of the thirteenth quartet, is based on a motif that recurs throughout the late quartets and in the Große Fuge as well, the half step. The movement's unusual structure was described by composer Roger Sessions as more of a triple exposition than a normal sonata form.[1] With three statements of exposition material (including recap), it mimics the repeat seen in classical sonata form expositions, but adds the extra interest of a presentation in a different key and different registral possibilities.

This movement is in a very modified sonata form.

Exposition #1 (mm. 1–74)

1st tonal area, (A minor; mm. 1–29)


2nd tonal area, (F major; mm. 48–58)

Closing (mm. 59–74)

Note: There is no repeat.

Pseudo Development (mm. 75–102) Understanding where we will eventually arrive (not at the recap), we can call this section transitional material, even though some motives are developed.

Exposition #2 (mm. 103–192) This is almost exactly the same as the first exposition, except transposed into E minor, with C major as the second tonal area.

Recapitulation (mm. 193–231) A shorter version of the original exposition, in the tonic key.

Coda (mm. 232-end) A pedal point on E (V of A minor), using violin I's open E string, leads into the final cadence at measure 264.

Movement II (Allegro ma non tanto)[edit]

The second movement is a minuet with trio, rather than the scherzo with repeated trio that Beethoven used most often in his works starting with his Symphony No. 2 in D. The trio evokes a musette with its melodies over sustained tonic (here, A) tones.

To begin this movement (Loudspeaker.svgListen) Beethoven exposes the fourth in a three note gesture (G - A - C) four times, with the violins and viola in unison and the cello an octave below. In measure 5 this motive is combined with an inverted variation (outlining a descending fifth) in mixed rhythm.

Opening of the second movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in A-Minor Op. 132

Philip Radcliffe (1965, p.114) says that the three-note gesture shares with the opening of the first movement “the unusual feature of beginning on the leading note of the scale.”[2] Daniel Chua (1995, p.113) points out that this creates “rhythmic ambivalence”, especially when the two motives combine in bar 5: “In this way, as the two patterns interlock a gentle tension is induced by the differing rhythmic currents and admits the possibility of two contradictory metrical interpretations.”[3] [4]

Movement III (Molto Adagio; Andante)[edit]

The third movement (15 to 20 minutes in duration) is the longest in the quartet. Formally described, it alternates slow sections in a modal F with faster sections, "Neue Kraft fühlend" (feeling new strength), in D. The slow sections each have two elements, (1) a passage reminiscent of the opening of the first movement in which the instruments overlap each other with a brief motive; (2) a chorale, the actual song. In the three instances of the slow section, the overlapping motives become increasingly complex rhythmically, while the chorale is pared down, and the two elements become increasingly integrated. There is a characteristic intensification of the head-motif toward the end of the movement.

Beethoven wrote this piece after recovering from a serious illness which he had feared was fatal because he had been afflicted with intestinal disorder during the entire winter of 1824-5. He thus headed the movement with the words, "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart" (Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode).

Movement IV (Alla marcia, assai vivace)[edit]

This brief (2-minute) march in A major leads directly into the rondo-finale through a recitative-like passage.

Movement V (Allegro appassionato; Presto)[edit]

FORM: Sonata Rondo


One finds in Beethoven's sketches that the theme like that of the theme of this rondo was originally meant for an instrumental conclusion to his Ninth Symphony. This theme was abandoned, for the famous choral ending we are familiar with. This A minor rondo ends in A major.


Some credit this quartet as T. S. Eliot's impetus to write the Four Quartets; certainly he was recorded in a letter to Stephen Spender as having a copy of the A minor quartet on the gramophone: 'I find it quite inexhaustible to study. There is a sort of heavenly or at least more than human gaiety about some of his later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.'[5]

Aldous Huxley in his novel Point Counter Point makes extended reference and description of this quartet in the late chapter concerning the death/suicide of the character Maurice Spandrell.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ SESSIONS: String Quintet / String Quartet No. 1 / Canons (to the memory of Igor Stravinsky) -
  2. ^ Radcliffe, P. (1965) Beethoven's String Quartets. London, Hutchinson University Library.
  3. ^ Chua, D. (1995), The "Galitzin" Quartets of Beethoven. Princeton university Press.
  4. ^
  5. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Sessions, Roger. The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958. Paperback.

External links[edit]