- String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 18, No. 3 - Ludwig van Beethoven
- 34 Recordings, 118 Masterworks
- Hyperion Records
This is the most obviously spacious of Beethoven's three Rasumovsky Quartets, composed in , during the richest period of his middle life. All his work at that time displays immense confidence while encompassing a great range of human expression. The Op. The first movement of this F major quartet has the kind of spaciousness we associate with the "Eroica", and its controlled tension is exemplified by the way the whole of its grand first theme keeps its feet off the ground; its harmony avoids an accented root and conveys an airborne feeling, without haste.
The exposition is expansive, the development vast, and the moment of recapitulation dramatic, after the "wrong" theme has appeared in the "right" key. The second movement is a unique scherzo — unique in tempo and form, a highly irregular sonata structure that must be analysed in the greatest detail or not at all. Its mood is at once nervous and humorous, as if the first movement's monumental tension has left an unsettling effect, to be further accentuated in the dark Adagio , a kind of private funeral march as opposed to the public one in the "Eroica"; it is in F minor and gleams of major keys are rare.
At its close the air clears and admits the Arcadian Finale , based on a Russian theme for Count Rasumovsky's benefit. The Count might have thought that Beethoven had made a mistake in treating so lightly, in so lively a tempo, a tune that is slow and sad. But near the end Beethoven gently and tenderly reveals the nature of his joke, which also reveals a wonderful absorption of the folk tune's Dorian mode into the quartet's classical F major.
The Dorian mode is D to D on the white notes of the piano, and the key of D minor is also very forcible in the development of this light-hearted but powerful finale. Allegro Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento Allegretto Finale, Presto. The second Rasumovsky quartet gives vent, perhaps, to some of the nervous tension that begins to show itself in the scherzo of the first. Like another even more tense later quartet, Op. C major has a central function in the development of the remarkable first movement, with repercussions in the finale. The C major that invaded the first movement makes to begin the wildly Slavic finale, and almost succeeds in rendering the main key of E minor unstable.
Every time the first theme returns, C major, not E minor, is prepared, and at length Beethoven, with wry humour, makes the movement seem to run away from the effect; "No-not that again! Curiously enough, the four important works of Beethoven in the key of E minor or major Op. Andante con moto — Allegro vivace Andante con moto quasi allegretto Minuetto — Grazioso Allegro molto. Would it be going too far to suppose a connection between this extraordinary work and Beethoven's advancing deafness?
Could that painfully groping introduction seem like someone trying to hear something? Could the ensuing brilliant C major Allegro be a rush of relief that the inner ear is unimpaired? Could the obsessive A minor second movement with its stabbing accents suggest the solitary imprisonment of deafness? Could the minuet not a Scherzo recall the kind of music Beethoven once heard most perfectly? Could the irresistable force of the finale be defiance of the affliction? The last question we can answer with "yes", for Beethoven wrote on its sketches: "Make no secret of your deafness, not even in art".
It is surely not impossible that the whole work is an account of his coming to terms with the specific tragedy. But even without interpretation of this kind, the work is astonishing in its coherence when its startling variety is considered; there are many subtle musical reasons for this, but they may have been generated by a deeply unified resolution of emotional stresses. Poco adagio — Allegro Adagio, ma non troppo Presto Allegretto con variazioni.
The year could be called Beethoven's E flat year, since it produced three major works in that key — the Fifth Piano Concerto, the piano sonata Les Adieux, Op. The three works are basically serene masterpieces, as if Beethoven felt himself to be on a plateau of confidence after a great outpouring in the previous six years. Other things in testify to his desire to enjoy his powers — the two short piano sonatas, Op.
The quartet which has been labelled "The Harp" on account of some arpeggiando pizzicato passages in the first movement opens with a contemplative introduction in which the key of E flat is made to have introspective tendencies, with a pull towards the sober subdominant, A flat, in which key the slow movement will fall.
String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 18, No. 3 - Ludwig van Beethoven
The Allegro, dignified and confident, immediately displays a similar tendency towards the subdominant and the celebrated pizzicati soon follow. The development contains a wonderfully exultant C major treatment of the main theme, and the coda creates one of the most original and powerful passages in quartet writing — the first violin breaks out into brilliant bravura, as if he were suddenly the soloist in a concerto, and while he lets fly the texture thrillingly deepens and solidifies beneath until the four instruments sound as if the whole world is singing.
The gentle A flat slow movement is a rondo, the beautiful main melody recurring at intervals, with episodes that tend to melancholy. This music is essentially innocent and direct, and attempts to overstress it always defeat themselves. Then comes a very strong C minor scherzo, its rhythm reminding us of the Fifth Symphony, the suggestion reinforced by a rushing C major trio.
The parallel with the symphony becomes even more striking when the scherzo recedes into a breathless pianissimo that shows signs of behaving like the famous link into the symphony's finale. The allusion is genuine, but ironic. Beethoven is clearly making affectionate fun of the earlier drama, and instead of a blazing finale as much as to say "there's no brass in a string quartet!
These variations, in their unobtrusive way, contain shrewd prophecies, as anyone who knows his Brahms will confirm. The last movement of Brahms' B flat quartet, Op. If you remember the Brahms, listen especially to Beethoven's variation with solo viola, and to the one with persistent triplets on the cello. Brahms obviously could not resist anything so Brahmsian. Allegro con brio Allegretto ma non troppo Allegro assai vivace ma serioso Larghetto espressivo — Allegretto agitato — Allegro. Is there a connection between the two works? The Overture and the Quartet have the key of F minor in common, and both have deliberately dissociative endings in the major and in new, quicker tempi.
In the Overture, the intention is to depict the blaring fanfare ordered by Alva to drown Egmont's speech on the scaffold, an intention it defeats by itself being inspiring. Could the Quartet have anything to do with the private — as opposed to the public — aspects of such a situation? Egmont's inner thoughts? If so, the lithe and delicate F major coda to the Finale could be apt enough for a fleeting sense of justification and release at the point of death, while the dissociative nature of the music itself, all new material, might have had some additional extra-musical motivation — though it is profoundly convincing in itself.
There is no doubt that Beethoven was absorbed by Goethe's "Egmont" at the time, so the idea of a link with the Quartet may not be too fanciful. Beethoven called Op. It is one of the most compact of all his works and his shortest Quartet; yet it has an astonishing variety and scope of character and material, achieved through a power of suggestion that contrives to create space where there seems not enough to contain all these things.
The amazingly terse opening has a rhythmic subtlety that causes its answer on the flat supertonic a semitone higher suddenly to withdraw — the mysterious harmonies that follow already create a sense of space, and when Beethoven comes to the second theme, he is able to allow it to expand, almost with leisure, without the slightest suggestion of diffuseness. This is composition of the very greatest order. The first movement is unusually short but gives the impression of incalculable dimensions and limitless power.
The remarkable Allegretto is in the remote key of D major and contains two main elements, a cantabile "mezza voce" main theme and a second subject treated as a highly individual and expressive fugato.
34 Recordings, 118 Masterworks
The deeply disturbed polyphony dominates the heart of the movement, and during this time there is a passage of astounding non-contrapuntal modulations followed by another fugato where the theme gets shorter and shorter, losing notes from the tail backwards — a phenomenon probably unique in classical music. This passage, seeming to lose its subject, prepares the way for the return of the first. But the fugato theme is not altogether lost — it reappears later in the lower parts, rising briefly to the surface as part of the melodic flow of the "main" theme before vanishing again.
The end is inconclusive and the Scherzo breaks in abruptly. Beethoven does not call it a scherzo — he used this term only literally, when humour or wit was intended. There is no humour in this fierce piece, nor in the wonderful Trio, unlike anything else in the quartet literature, and also unique in occurring twice in different forms, the second time with more marvellous modulations than before.
The final statement of the blunt Scherzo is sharply truncated and speeded up. The Finale opens with a short but deeply elegiac introduction, leading to a movement of extraordinary tortuous grace — a dance of despair, some might think — anticipating in some ways the last movement of the late A minor Quartet.
But despair is not an element in Beethoven's art. Profoundly disturbing as he can be, he cannot express mere depression, for the human energy of his work is irrepressible, breaking through the most terrible agonies of his life with prodigious creative effects. This is one of the works where he achieves the apparent impossibility of totally convincing dissociation — in this case the gloriously fleet and elated F major coda. What does this mean? We have already thought of a possible extra-musical explanation — but it doesn't have to "mean" anything except the miracle it performs.
The other great works in which dissociation is a positive and paradoxically unifying force on a much greater scale are the last Piano Sonata in C minor Op. The F minor Quartet and the "Egmont" Overture are the first notable examples of this phenomenon, of which Beethoven was the first and, perhaps, the only master. There is much mystery in this angelic work, the first of the late quartets.
The serenity is not unaware of problems, yet is above them. The calm expansiveness of the whole contains a paradoxical degree of thematic concentration. The unprecedented originality of the quartet texture is carried by a structure more "classical" than we find in any of the Rasumovsky quartets.
The astonishing beauty and innocence of much of the music seems to clothe a spirit more bold and exploratory than ever before. These are some of the apparent contradictions that conspire to produce an indescribably perfect work, The key is E flat, but C major is important. Take note of the dignified and rhythmically ambiguous introduction, fixing itself and E flat in the mind.
In the middle of the first movement's development it returns in a bright C major; most composers would have brought it back if at all in the tonic at the recapitulation. The fact that it comes unexpectedly, and in a bright foreign key, creates a memorable mystery; we subconsciously remember it a long time later when the coda of the Finale begins with a magical change to C major in a mysterious new tempo.
The two middle movements are among the greatest and most original of their kind. The Adagio consists of four variations and coda on a theme of vast calmness and humanity, the whole movement a triumph of quiet sustained inner strength, one of the supreme examples of decorative variation in all music. When one considers what Beethoven had suffered by this time in his life, such music as this illuminates the more his true nature. The scherzo is one of his largest and strangest, alternating solidity and disparateness of texture, all pervaded by a playful unpredictability; the trio in the minor is wild and fantastic, the more so in the context of this work, yet puzzlingly not at all out of place.
The deceptively simple finale it has no tempo indication makes as if to begin in C — and this is connected with the point made earlier by the C major intrusion in the development of the first movement. The simplest things seem continually to renew themselves. The coda, with a change of tempo, makes a magical modulation to C major before finding its way back home again. In its original form with the Grosse Fuge as finale, this was the longest of Beethoven's quartets. The fugue was found at first incomprehensible and almost unplayable and Beethoven was at length persuaded to substitute a shorter, lighter, "easier" finale; this was the last thing he ever completed.
Although it seems surprising that Beethoven agreed to this compromise, the artistic reason for it could have been deeper than a mere desire to please, or a lack of confidence in his own judgment.
Such indecisions had plagued him before, in the Fifth and Ninth symphonies, in Fidelio, or in the appalling cuts and shifts he suggested in in the Hammerklavier Sonata. Publishing the Grosse Fuge separately as Op. But if the Grosse Fuge is restored to Op. The idea that two such disparate movements are satisfying alternatives could be sustained only by ingenuity. Perhaps the answer lies further back. Listening to the first movement, notice the mysteriously disembodied effect of the whole second group in the strange key of G flat, approached abruptly, and not grounded in a tonality at all.
The same thing happens in the Grosse Fuge, even more mysteriously, when everything slips into a wonderful animated cloud of soft G flat. These two events are crucial. The work as a whole also has something in common with a Bach partita; Beethoven in his later works searches the past ever more deeply.
The first movement is followed by a very fast and short scherzo in the tonic minor; the next movement, ambling gently and delicately, with many original quartet textures, is in the related key of D flat. Then comes the simple Alla danza tedesca, but suddenly in the strange key of G major, as far as possible away from D flat — a switch to the other side of the musical universe!
This violent dissociation, expressed in the simplest language, is the secret heart of the work, psychologically connected with those in the first movement and the Grosse Fuge. From G it is an easy step to E flat, where we find the touching Cavatina, and the note G at the top of its last chord begins both the Grosse Fuge and the second finale. The Fugue is a mighty struggle stretching mind and sinews to the limit, and besides the great G flat dissociation it contains, it also makes another such rift by means of the key of A flat, the "contradictory" flat seventh of the tonic B flat. But at length, with an unmistakable sense of release, it breaks through into sunlight — the air is all at once fresh and free and the music takes flight.
Does not the extra movement say, gloriously, "Now we can play!
Is it not a felicitous appendix, in its vivid delight the most heroic of all Beethoven's utterances? His bodily condition was piteous, but his spirit found its way into this sparkling allegro, in which all tonal contradictions and dissociations are wonderfully resolved especially the A flat question, the point of which depends on our having heard the Grosse Fuge. There is a powerful case for freeing ourselves from the vexing choice. Beethoven might have welcomed this way out; perhaps he felt that Op.
Therefore, already in extremis, without time to change existing publishing arrangements, he achieved his happiest music. Shouldn't it take its natural place? Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo — Allegro molto vivace — Allegro moderato — Adagio — Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile — Presto — Adagio quasi un poco andante — Allegro.
Beethoven wrote this great work in and appears to have thought it his finest. Certainly nothing could surpass its depth, scope, originality, or organic perfection. Although it is continuous and the "movements" are numbered 1 — 7, it can be felt as a five-movement quartet if we regard No. The first movement is a wonderful slow fugue; Wagner said it floated over the sorrows of the world, but even that description is too small for it. For the reader who knows something about normal fugue practice, the answer is here on the subdominant instead of the usual dominant, so that the expressive main accent of the subject now falls on the note D.
This becomes the key of the quick, fleeting second movement, in a truncated sonata form, almost miraculously contrasted to the fugue.
The subdominant inflection in the fugue is now matched in a quite different way by the relationship between this D major piece and the next main movement, a great set of variations in A major, forming the central slow movement beginning Andante ma non troppo a molto cantabile.
The whole of this movement remains rooted in A major, and when the scherzo breaks in, its E major feels more like the dominant of the previous A than like a key in its own right. Beethoven shrewdly avoids fixing E as a tonality, always blunting its own dominant into G sharp minor; when the "trio" heard twice complete slips into A we feel this to be by the force of gravity. G sharp minor, having been active in the scherzo, next becomes the key of No. The unfathomable unity of all this makes any description merely topographical and pedestrian, the more so in the attempt to be poetical.
Musicians or no, we can be aware of it instinctively, even when we don't know why, when we are moved beyond expression. Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets. Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon.
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