Week28: beethoven, string quartet #7


Beethoven was small and insignificant, with an ugly red face covered with pock-marks. His hair was dark. His clothing was very ordinary and by no means of the elegance usual in those days particularly in our circles. He also spoke in a strong dialect and expressed himself in a rather common manner, nor did his nature show any outward signs of cultivation; instead, he was unmannerly in his entire conduct and bearing. He was very proud, and I have seen Princess Lichnowsky’s mother, Countess Thun, on her knee before him as he lounged on the sofa, begging him to play something. But Beethoven would not consent. “” frau von bernhard’s description of beethoven, c.1794

it has a symphonic density, and could even tempt veteran attendants of chamber music into forgetful bursts of applause at the end of every movement---the silence at the intervals following such climactic cadences, in the recording below for example, is otherwise thick and awkward---his Quartet No.7 is the kind of labyrinthine and cerebral landscape of musical subjects that fit the mould of inexplicable genius that any mention of beethoven anticipates:

The British saw him as somehow without nationalist allegiance or identity. This perhaps had less to do with his musical philosophy and his message of human brotherhood, that with his dishevelled figure--as portrayed in sketches of the time--striding around Vienna, hands clamped behind his back, wide-eyed, distracted, dirty and ferocious, which echoes the popular notion of the eccentric genius to be found in the poets of the day, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) “” martin geck, Beethoven

And for our purposes here, genius is merely a fact of output, which is itself a by-product of cultural breeding, of pedigree with a good conscience: whatever of mozart’s spirit was passed from Haydn’s hands stood in need of yet another worthy hand to grasp the baton in the relay of western musical tradition. (beethoven allegedly improvised one of the former’s own piece to him on the piano, fumbling at first then ultimately earning praise from mozart that ‘Someday, this boy is going to make a great noise in the world’---and was a mildly belligerent but obsessively attentive student of the latter). so great was his clasp upon the baton that it seems not one person--but an entire species of composers--was able to receive the musical spirit of beethoven.

also for our purposes, especially when the weather gets into this tedious late-february early-march ugliness, a labyrinthine and cerebral landscape is just the thing needed. as with last year, his Pastoral Symphony is what i have in mind for the first week of april, as a sort of coming up from under. until then his string quartets (#7-11 especially) and this Quartet No.7  in particular, is one such instance of ‘under’, the subdural musical iteration of the thicket it feels like we’re wading through at winter’s tail-end.


‘Beethoven’ by Jeremy Lewis @jplewisandsons

‘Beethoven’ by Jeremy Lewis @jplewisandsons

Odyssey Mono Recording. Printed in U.S.A.// Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) // Quartet No 7 in F Major, Op.59, No.1

The Budapest Quartet: Joseph Roisman and Jac Gorodetzky, Violins; Boris Kroyt, Viola; Mischa Schneider, Cello

In 1799 he entered into a competition with the pianist Joseph Wolffl, a pupil of Mozart, and the following year pitted his skill against the pianist Daniel Steibelt in the house of the wealthy banker Count Moritz von Fries (1777-1826). According to the reminiscences of the Bohemian composer Johann Tomasek, Steibelt performed a piano quintet of his own composition and then improvised on an operatic theme popular in Vienna at the time, on which Beethoven had written the variations of his Trio Op 11 shortly before. ‘This aroused the ire of Beethoven’s supporters and the composer himself. He now had to go to the piano to improvise. He went to the instrument in his usual and I might say rather ill-bred way, almost crashing down upon it, and snatching up the cello part of Steibelt’s quintet in passing, placed it on the stand upside down (on purpose?), and picked out a theme with one finger from the first bars’. “” martin geck, Beethoven

Quartet No 7 in F Major, Op.59, No.1

  • Allegro

  • Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando

  • Adagio molto e mesto

  • Allegro (Theme russe)