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Beethoven Quartets

This week on Exploring Music, we’ll be tracing the life of Ludwig van Beethoven through his string quartets, analyzing key movements in this magnficent body of chamber music.

 
Program 1

Bill examines three of Beethoven's early string quartets and illuminates how the composer made this still relatively young musical form his own despite the imposing shadow of Haydn.

Beethoven: Op. 18, No. 3 String Quartet, I & IV
Guarneri Quartet
RCA 60456
7:56, 5:51
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Beethoven: Op. 18, No. 1 String Quartet, I & II
Emerson String Quartet
DG 447075
8:31, 8:44
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Beethoven: Op. 18, No. 2 String Quartet, I, III & IV
Alban Berg Quartet
EMI 62781
7:54, 4:26, 5:13
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Program 2

This episode features ​Beethoven's 4th, 5th and 6th string quartets, publisher mistakes, gypsy rondos, string quartet parties, and the beginning of Beethoven's hearing troubles. 

 

Beethoven: Op. 18, No. 4 String Quartet, IV
Tokyo String Quartet
RCA 61621
4:18
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Beethoven: Op. 18, No. 5 String Quartet, III & IV
Talich Quartet
Calliope 3633/9
9:00, 5:10
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Beethoven: Op. 18, No. 6 String Quartet, III & IV
Emerson String Quartet
DG 447075
2:58, 8:15
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Beethoven: Op. 59, No. 1 String Quartet, I
Julliard Quartet
Sony 87889
10:37

Beethoven: Op. 59, No. 3 String Quartet, IV
Guarneri Quartet
RCA 60457
5:25
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Program 3

Published in 1806, Op. 59 String Quartet bears the nickname The Razumovsky. Count Razumovsky, the Russian Ambassador to Austria, commissioned this work. The ambassador had a string quartet at his palace and the Count played the violin II part. Beethoven incorporated Russian musical themes into these works.

In 1809, Beethoven published Op. 59 String Quartet, which came to be nickenamed "The Harp" because of the frequent use of pizzacato.

In 1810, he published the last of his middle era quartets, Op. 95, which he called Quartetto Serioso. It was 12 years before Beethoven published another string quartet.

Beethoven: Op. 59, No. 2 String Quartet, III & IV
Fine Arts Quartet
Music & Arts 1154
7:26, 5:18
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Beethoven: Op. 59, No. 3 String Quartet, II
Emerson String Quartet
DG 447075
8:49
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Beethoven: Op. 74 String Quartet, I
Takács Quartet
Decca 470847
9:36
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Beethoven: Op. 95 String Quartet
Alban Berg Quartet
EMI 54592
19:30
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Program 4

There is 12 year gap before Beethoven wrote any more string quartets. The next he published was the Op. 127 String Quartet

Following that, he published Op. 130 which was originally intended to end with a Grosse Fuge. Though it was later revised, it is performed here in its original form.

The Op. 131 String Quartet has seven movements. Beethoven wrote a slow opening movement in c# minor, not common of his writing, but also used in his Moonlight Sonata. It is the most tragic of his quartets, and was not heard in public until 1835, after Beethoven died. However, Schubert had heard it and requested to hear it on his deathbed. Four musicians came to play it for him five days before he died in 1928. 

 

 

 

 

Beethoven: Op. 95 String Quartet (excerpt)
Alban Berg Quartet
EMI 54592
2:05
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Beethoven: Op. 127 String Quartet, I
Guarneri String Quartet
RCA 60458
7:11
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Beethoven: Op. 130 String Quartet, IV + Grosse Fuge
Emerson String Quartet
DG 447075
7:12 + :20
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Beethoven: Op. 131 String Quartet
Emerson String Quartet
DG 447075
35:43
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Program 5

Beethoven's longtime friend and violinist, Ignaz Schuppanzigh, told Beethoven the Schuppanzigh Quartett would be debuting the Op. 130 String Quartet. Beethoven got as far as the concert hall door with Schuppanzigh before turning and heading into a tavern next door.

Encore's were demanded after several of the movements, but the Grosse Fuge, was poorly received and Beethoven wrote a different finale for the quartet. Now excised from Op. 130, it bears its own opus number, Op. 133.

Perhaps Beethoven's most famous string quartet is Op. 132, known by it's German name, Heiliger Dankgesang. Before composing this, Beethoven was ill and had to stop writing for 4-5 weeks. After he recovered, the piece was composed as a song of gratitude.

His last string quartet is Op. 135, written in 1826.

 

 

 

Beethoven: Op. 130 (excerpt) Op. 133 “Grosse Fuge”
Emerson Quartet
DG 447075
3:48, 14:41
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Beethoven: Op. 132 String Quartet, II
Fine Arts Quartet
Music & Arts 1154
16:08
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Beethoven: Op. 135 String Quartet, III & IV
Alban Berg Quartet
EMI 76824
8:50, 5:44
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The Exploring Music streaming website is made possible by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and Susan & Richard Kiphart.
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