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The String Quartets of Beethoven

The String Quartets of Beethoven

EDITED BY William Kinderman
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    The String Quartets of Beethoven
    Book Description:

    We do not understand music--it understands us. This aphorism by Theodor W. Adorno expresses the quandary and the fascination many listeners have felt in approaching Beethoven's late quartets. No group of compositions occupies a more central position in chamber music, yet the meaning of these works continues to stimulate debate. William Kinderman's The String Quartets of Beethoven stands as the most detailed and comprehensive exploration of the subject. It collects new work by leading international scholars who draw on a variety of historical sources and analytical approaches to offer fresh insights into the aesthetics of the quartets, probing expressive and structural features that have hitherto received little attention. This volume also includes an appendix with updated information on the chronology and sources of the quartets and a detailed bibliography.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09162-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-12)
    William Kinderman

    No group of compositions occupies a more central position in chamber music than Beethoven’s string quartets, yet the meaning of these works continues to stimulate debate. The achievements of Haydn in his op. 33 collection and Mozart in his famous “Haydn” set had already brought the string quartet to peaks of stylistic development by the 1780s. The refined cultural position of the genre was reflected in the old adage, echoed by Goethe in 1829, that in a quartet “one hears four reasonable people conversing with one another.”¹ Building on the conversational aura and integrated textures of these models, Beethoven used...

  2. CHAPTER ONE Transformational Processes in Beethoven’s Op. 18 Quartets
    (pp. 13-30)
    William Kinderman

    The six quartets of op. 18 are the magnum opus of Beethoven’s first decade at Vienna, and they stand somewhat apart from his later contributions to the quartet genre. Although less admired in writings about the composer than the “Razumovsky” Quartets or the late quartets, the op. 18 quartets are probably the most frequently performed, and they occupy a key historical position at the threshold to the nineteenth century. The very number of six pieces reminds us of the important legacy of Haydn and Mozart, and particularly of Haydn’s “Russian” Quartets, op. 33, and Mozart’s “Haydn” Quartets. Beethoven knew these...

  3. CHAPTER TWO Metrical Dissonance and Metrical Revision in Beethoven’s String Quartets
    (pp. 31-59)
    Harald Krebs

    Many writers have remarked on the prevalence of metrical conflict in Beethoven’s music. Michael Broyles has stated, for example, “Of all Classical composers, Beethoven especially exploited meter to generate tension and conflict.”¹ Barry Cooper observes that a particular kind of metrical conflict—the “violent off-beat sforzando”—is more common in Beethoven’s music than in that of any other composer.² Numerous specific examples of metrical conflict have been identified in Beethoven’s music. Broyles mentions relevant passages from a number of Beethoven’s orchestral works, including the third movement of theEroicaSymphony, the Fourth Symphony (which, he feels, “represents Beethoven’s most intense...

  4. CHAPTER THREE Peak Experience: High Register and Structure in the “Razumovsky” Quartets, Op. 59
    (pp. 60-88)
    Malcolm Miller

    One of the most astonishing exploratory aspects of the “Razumovsky” Quartets, op. 59, is their innovative treatment of register as a structural and expressive resource. Beethoven deployed different registers not only for sonorous or coloristic effect but also to create coherent large-scale structures by means of long-range linear patterns. Particularly in the linear progressions of the highest registers, the op. 59 quartets exhibit exciting narrative processes, which correlate with tonal and formal design. Although the significance of registral peaks at certain points has received some attention, there has been little detailed study of register as a structural parameter in these...

  5. CHAPTER FOUR Beethoven’s “Harp” Quartet: The Sketches in Context
    (pp. 89-108)
    Lewis Lockwood

    Eighteen hundred nine was a hard year in Vienna. In April the beleaguered Austrian regime declared war on France for the third time in seventeen years and then suffered predictable humiliation as Napoleon’s armies swept over them and marched on the city. A few weeks later, the royal family fled the city to safety in Hungary, while the ordinary citizens left behind (including Beethoven) endured siege, fierce bombardment, and a French military occupation that lasted until November. On July 26, Beethoven wrote to Breitkopf & Härtel, “[W]e have been experiencing misery in a highly concentrated form . . . [and]...

  6. CHAPTER FIVE “Haydns Geist aus Beethovens Händen”? Fantasy and Farewell in the Quartet in E♭, Op.74
    (pp. 109-131)
    Nicholas Marston

    To chart the critical reception of Beethoven’s String Quartet in E, op. 74, from its publication in 1810—some twelve months after its composition—to the present is, very broadly speaking, to observe a twofold mutation in its perception: firstly, from a “modernistic” work into one that stands as a monument to Beethoven’s classical heritage; and secondly, from a serious, even dark, work of deep personal feeling into one that is open, conventional, and unchallenging.¹ Although the author of a review of the first edition published in the LeipzigAllgemeine musikalische Zeitungin May 1811 did not yet know it...

  7. CHAPTER SIX Aspects of the Genesis of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95
    (pp. 132-167)
    Seow-Chin Ong

    This study of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor, op. 95, stems from a firsthand examination of all the known sketch sources for the work and the autograph score. My intent here, however, is not to be comprehensive, but to concentrate on the following specific topics: (a) the chronology and the contents of the sketch sources; (b) the draft of the first movement; and (c) the date of the autograph. Since the composition of the quartet was influenced to some extent by Beethoven’s work on the Incidental Music to Goethe’sEgmont,op. 84, completed just before the composer turned his...

  8. CHAPTER SEVEN “So träumte mir, ich reiste . . . nach Indien”: Temporality and Mythology in Op. 127/I
    (pp. 168-213)
    Birgit Lodes

    It has been claimed that in his late works Beethoven created passages, and sometimes whole movements, in which the sense of an acting self at the core of the conception is replaced by the expression of an ideal state or transcendental, utopian vision. Critics have usually concentrated in this context on movements expressing a utopian transcendence that follows music depicting the struggling self. Examples from the late period include the last movement of the Ninth Symphony, the twofold sequence of Adagio and transcendental Allegro fugue at the end of the Sonata op. 110, and the two-movement design of the final...

  9. CHAPTER EIGHT Plenitude as Fulfillment: The Third Movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in B♭, Op. 130
    (pp. 214-233)
    Robert Hatten

    The Andante con moto ma non troppo of Beethoven’s op. 130 is an unusual movement in an unusual quartet of six movements with an alternate finale. Its unique expressive meaning can best be understood in terms of four aspects: its relationship to the other movements of the quartet, its treatment of an original topic as premise, its tropological exploitation of a hybrid form and genre, and its many rhetorical shifts in level of discourse. Together, these four arenas of creative innovation support a coherent expressive argument for the movement, suggesting how Beethoven extended the Classical style to embody an immediacy...

  10. CHAPTER NINE The Genesis of the Countersubjects for the Grosse Fuge
    (pp. 234-261)
    William E. Caplin

    The idea that a musical work—as a whole or in part—may be seen as a “solution” to some compositional “problem” is commonplace in music analysis and criticism. So widespread is this interpretive trope that the nature of the problem itself can range from the most concrete detail of harmony, rhythm, or voice leading to highly general issues of large-scale form and aesthetic effect. In some cases, the problem can be seen as any one of numerous routine procedures occurring regularly in connection with a given genre: in every sonata exposition, for example, there arise the problems of how...

  11. CHAPTER TEN Opus 131 and the Uncanny
    (pp. 262-278)
    Joseph Kerman

    Theodor Adorno’s take on the category of Beethoven’s late style was unencumbered by chronological scruples. Adorno’s major statement on this topic, which was central for his music criticism, treats theMissa solemnisof 1822 as a “Late Work without Late Style,” to cite the lapidary chapter title inBeethoven: The Philosophy of Music,the recent anthology of his writings on the composer compiled by Rolf Tiedemann. And in the copious notes for his unfinished Beethoven book, we hear of many other “late works without late style.” They include the finale of the Quartet in C⋕ Minor, op. 131, as well...

  12. CHAPTER ELEVEN Beethoven’s Last Quartets: Threshold to a Fourth Creative Period?
    (pp. 279-322)
    William Kinderman

    The progressive and innovative, yet richly historical orientation of Beethoven’s last string quartets poses challenges to interpretation that have not yet been met. One part of this challenge is captured in Carl Dahlhaus’s claim that in these works, “the distinction between past, present, and future fades and becomes unimportant.” Dahlhaus continues, “Nothing could be more mistaken than to extract what is archaizing in Beethoven’s late quartets—[for example] the ‘Lydian mode’—and what is modern—the abstract nature of the four-note figure that roams through them, like a harbinger of the twentieth century—and set them up in mutual opposition.”¹...

  13. APPENDIX Chronology and Sources of the String Quartets
    (pp. 323-330)