Week29: beethoven quartet #8&9


The art of the string quartet, raised to a very high level in the musical life of Vienna by Haydn and Mozart, acquired yet greater prestige there through the work of Beethoven. The results include three compositions known as the Razumovsky quartets Op 59 of 1805-06, works where the combination of abstraction and passion represented a new peak of the genre, which moved Goethe to describe the quartet as ‘four rational people conversing with each other’.  
“” martin geck, Beethoven

i moved into a new apartment this week: topsy-turvy, pell-mell, blue-black---and the long ecetera of alternative expressions to keep from screaming shitfuck at the top of my dust-coated lungs… i’d be perfectly alright to not set eyes on another cardboard box for all of the next decade. in the meantime, these two quartets have been near sufficient as my only proof of maintaining routine, and therefore of sanity ( the two of which are exactly the same thing). there’s something marvelously portable about them, the quartet #8 (Op.59 in E minor) especially, so much so that for once i don’t feel so cheap playing beethoven on a Crosley… keen, sprightly, erudite and studious---the E minor quartet is music for a kind of slurred radiance, more of ochre than yellow, the seriousness of a long astray truant returning to her studies with a more sombre vivacity. you can tell i started reading nietzsche again (“hide ya kids, hide ya wives..”).

‘Beethoven’ by Jeremy Lewis @jplewisandsons

‘Beethoven’ by Jeremy Lewis @jplewisandsons

---speaking of which, his lectures on the state of higher education in germany from january 1872 (compiled and edited for New York Review Books under the title Anti-Education) describes its main protagonist (yes, his lectures had a protagonist) as exactly that kind of sombre yet studious ex-truant that i’ve forcedly superimposed on the significance of these two quartets. though a less than sympathetic attitude towards formal education isn’t entirely an inappropriate association with ludwig van, who, at least for an 18th-century viennese composer, was something of an upstart, a reluctant student and yet possessed a studiousness of the kind venerated (and whose absence was lamented) in the aforementioned nietzschean lectures.  

The ‘enlightened’ nobility entertained a low opinion of commoners, and hardly a better one of the educated middle-classes, but they did value outstanding and brilliant individuals. Dreaming of a new intellectual aristocracy, they hoped to gain the necessary infusion of new blood by the adoption of great minds. Haydn’s path to success was stoney and Mozart was more marvelled at than revered as a child prodigy, but Beethoven -- though he was not spared the struggles of ordinary life -- quickly donned the ‘mantle of genius’.  “” martin geck, Beethoven

the Alan Berg Quartet, who perform the two recordings below, have been quite the fortunate discovery for my purposes here; the clarity and sound engineering is only complimented by the makeshift choir of throat-clearers and coughers that fill the gap in-between movements while the musicians fine-tune their instruments. but not even their talents could bring me to think that the quartet #9 (Op.59 in C major) is any kind of an improvement upon its immediate predecessor. the E minor quartet is more unified across movements, it’s roots go deeper into hues darker than the pale contrasts of #9. it’s livelier, and it’s brief gloominess still more compelling than that long drawn-out-ness of the 9th. much slur, and little radiance. which is really to say: much cello and not enough violin.

the finale of the C major quartet, however, is cast in an entirely different light. it is an explosion of luminous intensity, the most ‘beethoven’ piece i know, inasmuch as beethoven is synonymous with an inexplicable and seemingly inexhaustible well of musical inventions. it’s as if the music can’t get out of the instruments fast enough. the fury, the madness---topsy-turvy, pell-mell, blue-black---chaos and destiny together, as if the music is tearing out of its rustic and swollen burlap-bag in tiny bulbs of luminous pulp. and in those famous intervals of the Allegro Molto, the violins tear at the seams, the cello heaves the stitches and the viola never seizes its pistons. not a single thread is left by the time the six minutes of the most intense quartet music has elapsed.

Let us put ourselves in the position of a young student---a condition admittedly almost unimaginable in our restless, turbulent times. You must have experienced it personally to find such peace of mind, such wresting of timeless comfort from the passing moment, even possible. [...] It was one of those perfect days that, at least in our climate, only this moment of late summer can produce: heaven and earth in peaceful harmony, streaming forth in a wonderful mix of sunny warmth, autumnal freshness, and blue infinitude. Dressed in the most colorful, fantastic attire---the kind that only students can wear, amid the somber gloom of every other variety of clothing---we boarded a steamship festooned in our honor and planted our fraternity’s banners on its deck” from a lecture by Friedrich Nietzsche on january 16th 1872, Anti-Education



Odyssey Mono Recording. Printed in U.S.A.// Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) // Quartet No 8 Op. 59, No.2 in E minor (Rasumovsky); Quartet No 9 Op. 59, No.3 in C major (Rasumovsky)

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

Quartet No 8 Op. 59, No.2 in E minor

  • Allegro

  • Molto Adagio

  • Allegretto

  • Finale: Presto

The musical philosophy he expressed in many of his works was not developed in isolation: scarcely any other composer drew on the intellectual springs of his time, from youth onwards, with such eagerness and determination. Later in life he was able to tell the publishers Breitkopf & Hartel, with some justification: No treatise would be instantly too learned for me, although I make no claim at all to genuine scholarship, for I have endeavoured from childhood to understand the meaning of the better and the wise men of every age.  “” martin geck, Beethoven

Quartet No 9 Op. 59, No.3 in C major

  • Introduzione (Andante con moto); allegro vivace

  • Andante con moto quasi Allegretto

  • Menuetto: Grazioso

  • Allegro molto

It must be the aim and endeavour of every true artist to obtain for himself a situation in which he can devote himself entirely to the composition of major works, and not be kept from doing so by other business or by economic considerations. A composer can therefore have no livelier wish than to devote himself undisturbed to the composition of such major works and present them to the public himself. He must also take thought for his old age, and try to ensure himself an adequate income. “” beethoven in his contract letter to his three patrons: archduke rudolph, prince lobkowitz and prince ferdinand kinsky