week30: beethoven quartet #10&11


To our present way of thinking, Beethoven’s composing ‘took off’ in the first decade of the 19th century principally in the field of what would become ‘absolute’ music, that is to say the genres of the piano sonata, the string quartet and the symphony. But when we consider that at this time Mozart was remembered chiefly for his operas and Requiem, and one of the main reasons for Haydn’s popularity lay in his two great oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons, it is evident that as a rule the general public responded more readily to stage music and church music. These genres involved action, dancing, texts, singing and ceremonial -- everything to appeal to the layperson who finds purely instrumental music, with its higher degree of abstraction, more difficult to get to grips with.  “” martin geck, Beethoven

it is this ‘higher degree of abstraction’ that is the compelling feature of orchestral music, and any alleged enjoyment of it is in proximity--real or pretentious--to that height. it seems that what other musical traditions achieve by narcotic dissonance and dionysian submersion in the spirit of music, is acquired in the western tradition by the most cerebral means; by the practise of the most exacting gymnastics of attention. music of this kind is a topographical map of the sprawl and span of a talent for attention.  in short: if you want to get better at paying attention, listen to better music. to that extent these two quartets are an étude for the attentive. (an attentive goethe, for example, described his experience of beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartets as “four rational people conversing with each other”). whatever else is meant by ‘absolute music’ must include what i’ve meant on here by music in a landscape, the topography of which acquires the details of its contours from the eyes (and ears) of its beholder.

with that said, it is not for me an easy thing to maintain the altitudes required for that higher degree of abstractions, for the length of a whole symphony. i often come down for air by way of drifting off and into momentary occupation by some elusive splinter of a thought. the Adagio section of the symphony is often where i run off track; the Adagio ma non troppo of this Quartet #10, for example, felt like a little more than a long drawn out slurp of strings. exactly the opposite is the case of the Presto that follows, to the extent that one suspects beethoven to have used that lengthy Adagio as a contradistinctive set-up to the third movement. and what a Presto it is. quick and piercing, full of that ebullient energy that characterizes the first movement of his Eroica Symphony. it’s as if the longest coil had been wound in the second movement and then sprung in the brief span of the Presto.  

‘I felt like a man who expected to take a stroll through an inviting wood with a congenial friend, but who found instead only hostile entanglements, and finally emerged from the thicket exhausted and disheartened. Undeniably Herr van B. is going his own way, but what an eccentric, tortuous, way it is! Intellect, intellect, and more intellect, but without nature, without song! Indeed, there is nothing in the music but a mass of learning, without even a good way of conveying it. It is dry and uninteresting, a forced attempt at strange modulations and aversion to the conventional key relationships, a piling up of difficulty upon difficulty until one finally becomes impatient and loses all pleasure in the task… And yet, this music cannot be dismissed altogether. It has its value, especially as an exercise for already accomplished pianists.’ review of beethoven’s Violin Sonatas Op 12, Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung

‘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 10 Op. 74 in E-Flat Major (Harp); Quartet No 11 Op.95 in F Minor (Serioso)

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

Quartet No 10 Op. 74 in E-Flat Major (Harp)

  • Poco Adagio; Allegro

  • Adagio ma non troppo

  • Presto

  • Allegretto con Variazioni

Now and then a solemn wig might still be seen, but the bodies once so rigidly tight-laced were moving with much greater flexibility and grace. In comes the young Beethoven, breathless, awkward and distracted, hair untidy, chest and forehead bared like Hamlet’s, an oddity arousing much amazement, but the ballroom was too cramped and tedious a place for him, he would rather stride out into the park through thick and thin, snorting his disdain of fashion and ceremonial, while stepping around the flower in his path lest he crush it. “” robert schumann’s description of beethoven, 1835

Quartet No 11 Op.95 in F Minor (Serioso)

  • Allegro con brio

  • (1) Allegretto ma non troppo (2) Allegro assai vivace, ma serioso

  • Larghetto espressivo; Allegretto agitato

My desire to serve poor suffering humanity in some way with my art has never, from earliest childhood, given way to any other consideration. beethoven to joseph von varena, december 1811