We do not understand music--it understands us. This aphorism by Theodor W. Adorno expresses the quandary and the fascination many listeners have felt in approaching Beethoven's late quartets. No group of compositions occupies a more central position in chamber music, yet the meaning of these works continues to stimulate debate. William Kinderman's The String Quartets of Beethoven stands as the most detailed and comprehensive exploration of the subject. It collects new work by leading international scholars who draw on a variety of historical sources and analytical approaches to offer fresh insights into the aesthetics of the quartets, probing expressive and structural features that have hitherto received little attention. This volume also includes an appendix with updated information on the chronology and sources of the quartets and a detailed bibliography.
|Publisher:||University of Illinois Press|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.10(d)|
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About the Author
William Kinderman is Professor and Inaugural Leon M. Klein and Elaine Krown Klein Chair of Performance Studies in the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. His publications include Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Beethoven, and the three-volume Artaria 195: Beethoven's Sketchbook for the Missa solemnis and the Piano Sonata in E Major, Opus 109.
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The String Quartets of Beethoven
University of Illinois PressCopyright © 2006 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTransformational Processes in Beethoven's Op. 18 Quartets
The six quartets of op. 18 are the magnum opus of Beethoven's first decade at Vienna, and they stand somewhat apart from his later contributions to the quartet genre. Although less admired in writings about the composer than the "Razumovsky" Quartets or the late quartets, the op. 18 quartets are probably the most frequently performed, and they occupy a key historical position at the threshold to the nineteenth century. The very number of six pieces reminds us of the important legacy of Haydn and Mozart, and particularly of Haydn's "Russian" Quartets, op. 33, and Mozart's "Haydn" Quartets. Beethoven knew these works intimately, and reminiscences of both of his distinguished predecessors can be detected in his op. 18.
Beethoven produced the op. 18 quartets in two phases of three quartets each, as is confirmed by the recent discovery of receipts held in the Lobkowitz Archive in the Czech Republic. In order of composition, he first wrote the Quartet in D Major, op. 18 no. 3, followed by the F-Major and G-Major quartets, op. 18 nos. 1 and 2. The latter two pieces were originally completed in 1799, and on June 25 Beethoven presented his friend Karl Amenda with a set of parts for the work in F major that became op. 18 no. 1. In this copy, the piece is described as "Quartetto No. II," implying that at this point the D-major quartet still stood at the head of the series. More than a year later, after Beethoven had composed the following quartets in C minor, A major, and B[flat] major, he felt an urgent need to revise the quartets in F major and G major. The main work of revision took place during the summer of 1800. Writing to Amenda a year later, on July 1, 1801, Beethoven cautioned his friend not to circulate the earlier version of op. 18 no. 1, because he had "only now learned how to write quartets properly."
This chapter concerns the relation between integration and contrast in the quartets placed by Beethoven at the head of this pivotal opus, op. 18 no. 1 in F Major and no. 2 in G Major, as well as in the final quartet of the series, op. 18 no. 6. There is abundant evidence that he strove toward a tight unity of organization in crafting these pieces, at the same time pursuing heightened dramatic oppositions within and between individual movements. The surviving musical sketches and other sources cast a revealing and suggestive light on his compositional struggles and aesthetic goals. My particular concern will be how Beethoven devised transformational passages in certain movements of the quartets, wherein the strongest contrasts coexist with a high degree of integration.
Quartet in F Major, Op. 18 No. 1
The opening Allegro con brio of the F-Major Quartet is the very touchstone of motivic integration in the High Classic style. The opening pair of statements of the six-note turn figure in the four instruments, neatly profiled by rests, embodies a lucid declaration of a working principle, whereby the fundamental motivic material heard at the outset serves as a consistent foundation for the texture of an entire movement. Such structural concentration can impose limiting and almost deterministic conditions. In this Allegro con brio, one is never distant from this primary motive, which also punctuates transitions and episodes in the formal design. It is as if the unfolding music continually remembers this basic topic, resulting in the tight sense of unity.
Yet Beethoven's aim often seems to go beyond the pursuit of unity for its own sake. In the present case, one indication of this ambition may be the fact that in revising the Amenda version of the quartet, he considerably reduced the number of appearances of the main motive. In the first version of the quartet, this motive appears 130 times, whereas in the revised piece, the turn figure occurs just 109 times. This revision, made once Beethoven had "learned to write quartets properly," implies that he had come to regard his earlier reliance on the turn figure as excessive.
The existence of the Amenda version has attracted considerable commentary, including an entire book devoted to a comparison of the two versions of the first movement. Janet Levy, the book's author, perceives various problems in the first version of the development and sees the last bars of the development in this version as "among the most miscalculated in the entire movement." As Levy and, before her, Carl Waack and Hans Josef Wedig have observed, Beethoven's revamped development section generates far more momentum and intensity in its drive to the recapitulation than did the passage in the original Amenda version. In this regard, it is somewhat surprising that Levy does not reassess the recapitulatory arrival in light of its enhanced preparation. In comparing the two versions, she writes that "In each version the first eight measures of the recapitulation are the same as those of the exposition." She concludes that "decisive points in the form ... are not fundamentally revised. Nor are the other moments that most basically delineate the large structure-the very beginnings of the development, recapitulation, and coda." Actually, the outset of the recapitulation is not the same as in the Amenda version. Although the notes themselves are unchanged, there is a significant intensification in dynamics at the point of recapitulation, from forte to fortissimo (Examples 1.1a and b).
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