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String Quartets, Op. 59 (Beethoven)

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The three Razumovsky (or Rasumovsky) string quartets, opus 59, are a set of string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven. He wrote them in 1806, as a result of a commission by the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky:

They are the first three of what are usually known as the "Middle Period" string quartets, or simply the "Middle Quartets." The other two are opus 74 and opus 95. Many quartets record all five as a set.

Beethoven uses a characteristically Russian theme in the first two quartets in honour of the prince who gave him the commission:

  • In Op. 59 No. 1, the "Thème russe" (as the score is marked) is the principal theme of the last movement.
  • In Op. 59 No. 2, the Thème russe is in the B section of the third movement. This theme is based on a Russian folk song which was also utilised by Modest Mussorgsky in the coronation scene of his opera Boris Godunov, by Pyotr Tchaikovsky in the introduction to act III of his opera Mazeppa, by Sergei Rachmaninoff in the sixth movement of his 6 Morceaux for Piano Duet, Op.11 "Glory" ("Slava"), and by Igor Stravinsky in his ballet The Firebird.[citation needed]
  • In the quartet Op. 59 No. 3, there is no Thème russe explicitly named in the score, but a secondary theme in the second movement has a passing resemblance to a traditional Russian song,[1] which may well account for the Russian flavour noted by a number of writers, including Lewis Lockwood.[2]

All three quartets were published as a set in 1808 in Vienna.


Although the quartets are now mainstream repertoire,[3] they were generally received with uncertainty, as they deviated from the established genre of string quartets in their content and emotional range. However, one review published in 1807 stated that "Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets … are attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ quoted in Alfred J Swan Russian Music and its Sources in Chant and Folk-Song, John Baker, 1973, p 157, Ex 25
  2. ^ Lewis Lockwood Beethoven. The music and the life, WW Norton, 2004, p 318
  3. ^ a b The Takács take on Beethoven's 'Razumovsky' string quartets. The Guardian (2009), citing a contemporary review in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Joseph Kerman, The Beethoven Quartets. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1966. ISBN 0-393-00909-2
  • Robert Winter and Robert Martin, ed., The Beethoven Quartet Companion. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1994. ISBN 0-520-08211-7