Quartet No.13 in B flat major Op.130/133

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (b. 1770 - d. 1827)
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Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven (b. 1770 - d. 1827)

Performance date: 03/07/2014

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1825-6

Duration: 00:44:15

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTE

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Zemlinsky Quartet (František Souček, Petr Střížek [violins], Petr Holman [viola], Vladimír Fortin [cello]) - [quartet]

In November 1822 Beethoven was asked by a
Russian noble, Prince Nicholas Galitzin, a long time admirer of Beethoven’s
music, to name his price for the composition of three string quartets. His
request coincided with the commission for the Ninth Symphony so it was two
years before Beethoven finally made a start on the Galitzin commission, which
became the E flat, A minor and B flat quartets. The B flat in its original
version, which will be played in this performance, was the third of the
Galitzin Quartets to be completed, Beethoven starting on it as soon as he
finished Op.132.

Beethoven’s notebooks tell an interesting
story about this quartet. He began it without any plan as to how he would
continue and the unusual number of movements seems to have been the result of a
creative block that led him to revive ideas discarded from the two earlier
quartets in the series. The first two movements were written very quickly, but
he got badly stuck on the third movement and eventually turned to a completely
new idea. At this stage he contemplated moving straight to the finale but
decided instead to resurrect the Alla
danza tedesca
, which had been discarded from Op.132. Now he suddenly found
himself able to complete his original third movement, which thus became the
magical Cavatina. He now thought he
was home and dry as a normal finale would only take him ten days or so to
write, but he had trouble choosing a theme, eventually landing on an idea he
had once considered for the finale of Op.127. As he began work on the movement,
it metamorphosed almost by accident into the gigantic Grosse Fuge, costing him another four months of work.

This story explains why this quartet gives
the impression of being a number of musical visions loosely strung together
instead of different acts in a musical drama moving inexorably towards its
conclusion. The six movement format harks back to the divertimentos of his
youth and Beethoven seems to have gone out of his way to make this quartet more
than usually accessible, that is, until he presents us with that stupendous
finale. The other big movement is the strange opening movement, with its
obsessive changes of tempo resulting from integrating the Adagio introduction
into the main Allegro. Indeed the first appearance of the Allegro is
immediately cut short by the Adagio, a process repeated many times as the two
tempi struggle for domination. Just once we are given a moment of peaceful
resolution in a passage of great beauty in the development.

The presto Scherzo is Beethoven at his most
laconic, treating brevity as the ultimate virtue. The Andante begins very
seriously, but, after two bars, Beethoven swerves into an amiable melody,
redolent of another era. The bittersweet themes are embedded in a graceful and
flowing accompaniment almost as if this really were an eighteenth century
divertimento. The Alla danza tedesca is
nearly as gracious, a popular German Dance in quick three-four time, refined
and developed in Beethoven’s late manner, another interlude before the emotion
of the Cavatina and the drama of the Grosse Fuge.

The Cavatina
employs another favourite device of Beethoven’s, the operatic aria, where
the first violin takes the part of the singer – a mezzo in this case – while
the other three instruments play a relatively simple and unobtrusive
accompaniment. The glorious melody seems simple but its broad, carefully arched
lines contain subtle irregularities of phrasing that contrast pleasingly with
the straightforward dance rhythms of the Alla
danza tedesca.
Beethoven himself was deeply moved by his own music, filled
as it was with intense longing, which becomes even more anguished in the
profound middle section.

maddest fugue in Western music
can be rationalised
into an introduction, three fugues and a coda. The brief introduction plays the
main subject, first of all in plain octaves and then in the form it is to have
in the succeeding fugues beginning paradoxically with the third one. The first
fugue however is based on a second subject with a driving dotted rhythm with
the first subject in the passenger seat as a pianissimo counter subject. The
relentless power of this fugue is overwhelming and stretches the musicians and
the listeners to their limit, music for the creation of a new world.

The second fugue returns to the subject
announced in the introduction. After the striving of the first fugue this
gentle music seems like glimpses of a paradise lost. Eventually this works up a
magnificent climax, which then leads quickly into the third fugue. Here both
themes are brought together along with a change to six-eight time. This fugue
is as long as the other two together but halfway there is a fortissimo return
to the second fugue and subsequently the music seems to be looking for the way
home. Finally the coda is reached with the openings of the first and second
fugues and then a full statement of the main theme. There are a few hesitant
remembrances of things past before the final blaze of light.