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Name of Work

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)
String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1 (Razumovsky)

Movements:
Allegro
Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando
Adagio molto e mesto
Theme Russe: Allegro

Performances:


Nov 18, 2007



Jasmine Lin, Violin
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello


Nov 19, 2007



Jasmine Lin, Violin
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello

BEETHOVEN-String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1, (Razumovsky)

Composed in 1806.

Premiered in February 1807 in Vienna.

BACKGROUND
Count Andreas Kyrillovitch Razumovsky was one of the most prominent figures in Viennese society, politics and art at the turn of the 19th century. Born in 1752 to a singer at the Russian court, he ingratiated himself with a number of women of lofty station and entered the diplomatic corps at the age of 25. He was assigned to several European capitals, in which he made his reputation, according to one contemporary account, "less through his skill at diplomacy than through his lavish expenditure and his love affairs with ladies of the highest standing, not excluding the Queen of Naples." In 1788 in Vienna, he married Elizabeth, Countess of Thun and sister of Prince Lichnowsky, one of Beethoven's most devoted patrons. Four years later, Razumovsky was assigned as Russian ambassador to Vienna, whose sybaritic life style perfectly suited his personality. "Razumovsky lived in Vienna on a princely scale," wrote a contemporary named Schnitzler, "encouraging art and science, surrounded by a valuable library and other collections, and admired or envied by all; of what advantage this was to Russian interests is, however, another question." He was also an accomplished violinist who indulged his interest in music by taking lessons from Haydn, playing in chamber concerts, and sponsoring the performance of works in his residence.

In the spring of 1806, Count Razumovsky took over from Prince Lichnowsky the patronage of the string quartet headed by Ignaz Schuppanzigh, and he commissioned Beethoven to write for the ensemble three new pieces which would be played in the grand palace the Count was building on the Danube Canal near the Prater. Beethoven, who had not composed a string quartet since the six numbers of Op. 18 in 1800, gladly accepted the proposal and immediately set to work. (Beethoven, always looking for new sources of patronage, did not take lightly the fact that Razumovsky was an intimate of such powerful figures as Metternich and von Gentz.) In honor of (or, perhaps, at the request of) his Russian patron, Beethoven included in the first two quartets of the Op. 59 set traditional Russian themes. Such music was much on the mind of the Viennese at the time because many Russian soldiers had sought refuge in the hospitals, convents and schools of the imperial city following their great battles with the French at Austerlitz at the end of 1805. After receiving Razumovsky's commission, Beethoven determined, as he said, "to devote myself wholly to this work," and he wrote the three Op. 59 Quartets between May and October 1806 (a few sketches from 1804 were incorporated into the finished works) with the intention of having Schuppanzigh's quartet perform them late in the year at Razumovsky's new palace. However, the Count's wife took ill that fall and died on December 23rd, and no music was heard in the house during the period of mourning. Schuppanzigh played the Quartets for the first time in February 1807 at some now unknown site in Vienna, and several months later repeated them at the Razumovsky palace.

The Op. 59 Quartets, though they later became some of Beethoven's most popular chamber works, were greeted at first with some of the strongest antagonism that his music ever excited. His student Carl Czerny reported, "When Schuppanzigh's quartet first played the F major Quartet [No. 1], they laughed and were convinced Beethoven was playing a joke on them and that it was not the quartet he had promised." "Surely you do not consider this music?" asked the bemused violinist Felix Radicati. "Not for you," replied the confident composer, "but for a later age." When Beethoven was told that Schuppanzigh was complaining about the difficulty of the violin parts, he rumbled, "Does he really suppose that I think of his puling little fiddle when the spirit speaks to me and I compose something?" The powerful spirit of the "Eroica" of 1804 that also infused these scores, with their intense emotional expression and formal concentration, was still revolutionary and puzzling to Beethoven's contemporaries in 1806. It would soon mark him as the most visionary musical artist of his time.

BACKGROUND
The opening movement of the F major Quartet begins with a lyrical cello melody that is taken over by the first violin before leading to the other motives comprising the main theme group. After some cello scales and a few long notes in the lower strings, the first violin introduces the subsidiary theme, whose singing character derives from that of the opening cello melody. A surprising, Haydnesque passage of alternating high and low chords closes the exposition, which Beethoven, unusually, does not instruct to be repeated. The development section is initiated by a recall of the cello melody, and goes on to busy itself with unfailingly imaginative dialogues, imitations and harmonic excursions. The recapitulation emerges without fuss after a few measures of soft, staccato chords, and goes on to recall the earlier melodic material and sum up the movement with a substantial coda.

There follows not the expected Adagio, whose juxtaposition to the monumental opening movement would have been detrimental to both, but an energetic and slightly troubled scherzo. (Beethoven reversed the two inner movements of the Ninth Symphony for similar structural and expressive reasons.) The movement opens curiously, in fragments, with an ominous drum-tap of repeated notes in the cello and then the viola, and a scrap of bouncing melody from the violins. The mood of the music brightens as it proceeds, but the ghost-like specters invoked by these initial gestures hover above the entire movement. Though formally the movement could be viewed as a scherzo with two trios, its effect is rather one of continuous thematic development and expansion -- as though Beethoven were exploring, probing, twisting the melodic bits this way and that to see how they catch the light and glint upon the mind's eye. It is precisely such music as this that caused Joseph de Marliave to write in his study of Beethoven's quartets that the Op. 59 works reveal "the expressive capacity latent in the genre to an extent never dreamed of by earlier musicians."

The Adagio molto e mesto (mesto = "sad") is cited by Joseph Kerman in his study of the quartets as one of the most mournful movements in Beethoven's entire oeuvre, "profoundly tragic in intensity, an essay in misery scarcely relieved by any response of sobriety or solace." Penned above the manuscript sketches was the legend, "A Weeping Willow or Acacia Tree over my Brother's Grave," a curious hint about the music's content, since both of Beethoven's brothers were very much alive at the time. (A third brother, born a year before Beethoven, died in infancy.) The music, disposed in full sonata form, rivals in scale and profundity the Marcia funèbre with which Beethoven had commemorated the heroic spirit of tragedy in his "Eroica" Symphony just two years before. A virtuosic passage for the violin leads without pause to the finale.

In honor of the patron of these quartets, Beethoven based the closing movement on a melody that he discovered in a volume of Russian folk songs issued by Ivan Pratsch. The music that he wove from this simple, dance-like tune is the lightest in mood of any in the Quartet, though the ingenuity with which he found ever-new guises and permutations for the melody to flesh out this sonata-form structure matches the level of inspiration of the earlier movements.

Program Notes written by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Performance date: November 18 & 19, 2007



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