Archive for February, 2009

Beethoven, String Quartet in F, Op. 18, No. 1

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1, 1798-1800

Ludwig van BeethovenA great adage attributed to Malraux insists that an artist paints a tree not because he has seen a tree, but because he has seen a painting of a tree. A musical style is born not with its first pioneer but with the first follower. Joseph Haydn was the original string quartet pioneer, establishing the genre in a remarkable series of works that reached first maturity in 1771. Mozart was the first follower. Around the age of 28, freshly relocated to Vienna, he plunged into a multi-year study of Haydn’s quartets (along with Bach’s counterpoint) and with significant labor, produced his six masterworks dedicated lovingly to Haydn himself. There were slews of Haydn imitators, but history has winnowed our awareness down to the few of startling originality and expressive power. First Mozart. Then Beethoven. (more…)

Beethoven, String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59. No. 1, “Razumovsky”

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1, “Razumovsky”, 1806

Ludwig van BeethovenBeethoven produced his second set of string quartets, Op. 59, in 1806, just about six years after Op. 18. Without intending any injustice to Op. 18, moving to Op. 59 is like Dorothy, erstwhile inhabitant of a black-and-white Kansas, crashing down into the colorful Land of Oz. With Op. 59, we alight into the land of middle-period Beethoven and meet the crème-de-la-crème: The Op. 59 quartets stand next to the august tradition of Viennese chamber music quartets by Haydn, Mozart and earlier Beethoven like the Rocky Mountains rise above the central plains. They are longer, more technically challenging, dramatically and psychologically far more intense and they mark in more ways than one the elevation of quartet performance culture to its first plateau of daunting professionalism. The massive triptych of quartets comprising Op. 59 is the precise chamber music analog of the revolutionary Symphony No. 3 within the category of orchestral music. (more…)