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Name of Work

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)
String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130 (Liebquartett - "Dear Quartet")

Adagio ma non troppo; Allegro
Andante con moto, ma non troppo
Alla danza tedesca: Allegro assai
Cavatina: Adagio molto espressivo
Finale: Allegro & Grosse Fuge: Allegro – Meno mosso e moderato


Mar 18, 2001

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello

Mar 19, 2001

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello

BEETHOVEN-String Quartet in B-Flat major, Op. 130 (Liebquartett - Dear Quartet)

Composed in 1825

Musical history is full of legends; one concerning Beethoven's late quartets is that they were totally unappreciated at the time of their first performances. To some extent this is true; even given sympathetic and knowledgeable interpretations from violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh's quartet, four players who loved and understood Beethoven's music, the works were so advanced that they sometimes produced responses of bewilderment and rejection. It should be recalled, though, that the second and fourth movements of Op. 130 were encored by audience demand at the work's first hearing. Another legend about the Late Quartets is that they continued to be problematical throughout the 19th century; an essay by Constantin Floros points out that this impression is largely false. Berlioz, Brahms, Wagner, and Mahler valued and promoted the quartets; conductor Hans von Bulow arranged the Great Fugue for orchestra, and Joseph Joachim, Henri Wieniawski, and Henri Vieux-temps were among the violinists who, in their roles as chamber musicians, programmed them for concerts.

In 1822, when Beethoven was at work on both the Missa Solemnis and Symphony No. 9, he received a commission for three string quartets from a Russian nobleman, Prince Nicholas Galitzin; because of his involvement with the scores already under way, he put the new project off for over a year. The Galitzin works were premiered in 1825 and '26; we know them as Opp. 127, 132, and 130 (they were completed in that order). The other late quartets, Opp. 131 and 135, appeared later, the result of Beethoven's by-now intense fascination with the unconventional kind of quartet writing he had developed. The Schuppanzigh Quartet's second violinist, Karl Holz, recalled that "During the composition of the three quartets ordered by Prince Galitzin, there flowed from Beethoven's inexhaustible imagination such a wealth of new quartet ideas that he was virtually compelled to write [Opp. 131 and 135]."

As for Schuppanzigh himself, he had spent some time in Russia and was the original link between prince and composer, having known Beethoven's work intimately during their many years as colleagues in Vienna.

The "new quartet ideas" to which Holz referred characterize all the late works. Several, Op. 130 included, are almost suites, going beyond the conventional four-movement structure hallowed by decades of Beethoven's quartet-writing predecessors; all of them juxtapose violent contrasts of moods and styles, creating extreme tensions and powerful resolutions through sheer diversity. The first movement of Op. 130 has a fairly routine tempo heading: an "Adagio ma non troppo" introduction leading to "Allegro." Yet the movement actually goes through a vast variety of tempo shifts; the listener is never allowed to relax and settle into hearing a predictable progression. We are constantly being shocked into new awareness.

The four relatively short movements that follow are of more standard types; Steinberg calls them "character pieces": a Scherzo, a sonata-form Andante, a German dance (not a usual string-quartet inclusion), and an instrumental aria called "Cavatina," full of heartfelt sadness. To quote Karl Holz again: "The Cavatina cost the composer tears in the writing and brought out the confession that nothing he had written had so moved him; in fact, that merely to revive it afterwards in his thoughts and feelings brought forth renewed tributes of tears."

Op. 130 has two finales. The original is the Great Fugue; the alternate is a Rondo-Allegro that was substituted after the premiere. We hear tonight the fugue, the Chicago String Quartet having chosen to follow Beethoven's original intention. The introduction, or Overtura, presents hints of the subject of the fugue itself, four virtuosic voices that progress through "Allegro molto e con brio" in alternation with "Meno mosso e moderate." It is a dazzling example of Beethoven's skill with counterpoint, a process emphasized in his late piano sonatas as well as the final quartets, but here raised to a magnificent level.

A review of Op. 130, by an unnamed critic, appeared in 1826 in the Leipzig "Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung"; it is described mostly with such words as "mystical" and "somber," and calls the Great Fugue an instance of "Babylonian confusion." This summary reveals the frequent impression the Late Quartets made; quite simply, they were far ahead of their time. Through the century and three-quarters since their creation, they have continued to exert fascination and engage the deepest interest; they are landmarks in the history of chamber music, and each hearing reveals new depths and new beauties.

Performed March 18 & 19, 2001

Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

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