Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
String Quartet in E minor, Op.59, No.2 (Razumovsky)
String Quartet in E flat major, Op.74 (Lobkowitz)
In 1792 Beethoven left his native city of Bonn to seekhis fortune in the imperial capital. Vienna. Five years earlier his patron, theArchbishop of Cologne had sent him to Vienna for lessons with Mozart. His planswere frustrated by the illness and subsequent death of his mother, which madeit necessary for him to return to Bonn and before long to take charge of thewelfare of his younger brothers, a task beyond the competence of his father.
As a boy Beethoven had had an erratic but eventuallysound training as a musician. In 1792 he arrived in Vienna with introductionsto members of the nobility and with the offer of lessons with Haydn, from whomhe later claimed to have learned nothing. There were further lessons with theCourt Kapellmeister, Antonio Salieri, and with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger,an expert in counterpoint. He embarked at once on an initial career as a keyboardvirtuoso, skilled both as a performer and in the necessary art ofimprovisation. He was to establish himself in time as a figure of remarkablegenius and originality and as a social eccentric, no respecter of persons, hiseccentricity all the greater because of his increasing deafness. Thisdisability made public performance more and more difficult but encouraged thedevelopment of one particular element, the use of counterpoint, stigmatized byhostile contemporary critics as 'learned'. He died in Vienna in 1827.
In his sixteen string quartets, the first set of six publishedin 1801 and the last published in the year of his death, Beethoven was asinnovative as ever, developing and extending a form that seemed already to havereached a height of perfection in the later work of Haydn and Mozart. His firstgroup of string quartets, the six that make up Opus 18, were writtenbetween 1795 and 1800 and published in Vienna the following year, perhapsdiscouraging Haydn from further composition in this form. Apart from anarrangement of a piano sonata for string quartet, the next group of such works byBeethoven is the set of three written for the Russian ambassador in Vienna,Count Razumovsky. The latter's family owed its distinction to the favour shownto two brothers, singers in the Imperial Chapel in St Petersburg, by theEmpress Elisabeth Petrovna and by Catherine II respectively. Andreas KyrilovichRazumovsky, fourth son of the younger brother, was born in 1752 and trained asa naval officer, later serving his country as a diplomat. In Vienna he married,in 1788, Elisabeth, Countess Thun, the sister of the wife of Beethoven's patronand friend Prince Lichnowsky, and in 1792 was first appointed Russianambassador there, resuming his duties, after a brief interruption, in 1801. Hewas rich and extravagant in expenditure, building for himself a fine residence,destroyed in a fire in 1815, and distinguishing himself as a collector and as apatron of the arts. He played the second violin in quartets and seems to haveknown Beethoven from the early days of the latter's arrival in the city.
The Razumavsky Quartets, Opus 59, were first performedunder the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, with whom Beethoven may have hadlessons and with whom he was certainly on friendly terms. Schuppanzigh later, from1808, led Count Razumovsky's own quartet. The new quartets were each to havehad a Russian theme, but this provision was not completely carried out. The workswere received with amazement, even at times amusement, by those who first heardthem, finding here a further example of Beethoven's music-madness. The quartetsare certainly unexpected, in contemporary terms, and certainly very much longerand more demanding than any audience at the time might have expected, howeverfamiliar the idiom may now sound.
The Quartet in E minor, Opus 59, No.2, starts witha call to attention, followed by a dramatic pause. The opening motif is heard,followed by a further silence, to be repeated in F major. This is expanded,leading to a more lyrical element. Answering phrases between first violin andcello lead to a secondary theme and concluding chordal syncopation, before theexposition is repeated. The opening material is heard again, though modified,before the development and recapitulation are also repeated. The final codamakes use of the same ingredients. The E major slow movement, marked Moltoadagio, also carries the direction Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento
(This piece is to be treated with strong feeling). Here there is some contrast betweenthe slow sustained notes of the opening and the dotted rhythm that rises fromit, as the movement unfolds in all its intensity. The syncopations of the E minorscherzo bring an immediate change of mood, with, at last, a Russiantheme, proposed by the viola in the E major trio, followed by the celloand the first violin, with a light-hearted triplet accompaniment. The melodyitself, Slava, is well enough known from Tchaikovsky andRimsky-Korsakov, and, more particularly, from Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov,where it appears in its true colours. Here it goes on to be heard in canon. Thelast movement is in sonata-rondo form, its principal theme returrting toframe a series of episodes, stiffened by a good admixture of counterpoint.
Prince Lobkowitz, to whom the Quartet in E flat major,Opus 74, is dedicated, was a near contemporary of Beethoven. In 1809 hejoined with Archduke Rudolph and Prince Kinsky in promising Beethoven an incomefor life, provided he remained in Vienna or at least in Habsburg territories.
There were later problems with this matter, as the affairs of Prince Lobkowitz becameembarrassed and an equitable settlement was only reached in 1815, afterprotracted negotiations and expressions of considerable resentment fromBeethoven himself. The quartet was written in 1809, the year of the publicationand dedication of the fifth and sixth symphonies to Prince Lobkowitz and toCount Razumovsky and of the composition of the Emperor Concerto forArchduke Rudolph. It was published the following year. The first movement has aslow introduction of 24 bars and offers startling dynamic contrasts before the Allegro
starts, with its clear-cut principal theme at first suggesting the subdominantkey. The pizzicato figuration that soon makes its appearance has earnedthe quartet the nickname of the Harp Quartet. Chords echoing the openingof the Allegro start the exciting central development and a series of arpeggiosheralds the return of the thematic material in recapitulation. When it seemsthat all is over, a final section begins, accompanied by the rapid semiquavers ofthe first violin. The A flat major slow movement has a finely spun principaltheme of great beauty. This returns in varied form between contrastingepisodes. The sound dies away, making the opening of the C minor scherzo
the more forceful. The even rapider contrapuntal trio is heard twice and thefinal appearance of the scherzo leads, without a break, to the last movement,a set of variations. The staccato first variation leads to a second withaccompanying viola triplet figuration and a third with semiquavers from secondviolin and cello. The first violin offers a simplified version of the melody,followe