Quartet No.5 in A major Op.18/5

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

Performance date: 30/06/2019

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1801

Duration: 00:26:46

Recording Engineer: Gar Duffy, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Chiaroscuro Quartet (Alina Ibragimova, Pablo Hernán Benedí [violins], Emilie Hörnlund [viola], Claire Thirion [cello]) - [quartet]

Ludwig van Beethoven [1770-1827]

Quartet No.5 in A major Op.18/5 [1801]

1. Allegro

2. Menuetto

3. Andante cantabile

4. Allegro

During his preparation for writing these six early quartets, Beethoven had copied out Mozart’s A major Quartet  K.464. When he came to writing  his own A major Quartet he turned to his predecessor’s example, most strikingly in the variations slow movement. He also followed Mozart’s order of putting the Minuet second.                                                                                                                                                                    

The first movement has many notable ideas but the most distinctive is the first theme given out on the first violin – a beacon each time it appears. The second subject lies much lower but is equally striking with its dotted rhythm and virtuoso flourishes. It is a taut if simply constructed movement with none of the conscious intellectual mastery of his model.

The minuet is equally elegant, opening with a graceful duet between the two fiddles. There is an abrupt excursion into C sharp minor in the second half of the minuet, which the music gently ignores. The Trio has a gorgeous melody with strange off-beat accents. 

The Andante cantabile, following Mozart’s example, is a set of variations on an exquisite D major theme of striking beauty. The first double variation is a delightful fugetta with the cello leading the dance. The next two follow the time-honoured course of decoration with increasingly active figuration. The fourth variation is an oasis of calm, harmonised with great delicacy, quietly building the tension before the magnificent fifth variation breaks exultantly in with its rough, striding rhythm and the drum taps straight from the same variation in the same movement in Mozart’s Quartet – no greater homage than this imitation. There is even a long coda that is effectively a final variation beginning in the magically remote key of B flat. 

The lively but substantial finale is spectacularly contrapuntal with scraps of theme passing like quicksilver amongst the four instruments. Even a broad and melodious second theme cannot slow down the irresistible forward movement. Strangely, after so much action, the movement just slides to an unceremonious halt.

Francis Humphrys