String Quartet in A minor Op 132

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

Performance date: 30/06/2010

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1825

Duration: 00:48:23

Recording Engineer: Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Escher Quartet (Adam Barnett-Hart, Wu Jie [violins], Pierre LaPointe [viola], Dane Johansen [cello]) - [quartet]

String Quartet in A minor Op 132

Glimmers and nothing more..the rest is chaos was Tchaikovsky’s opinion of
Beethoven’s late quartets, a pronouncement that gives us some idea of just how
far ahead of his time Beethoven was. However this quartet was well received at
its first performances in September 1825 in Beethoven’s presence in the back
room of a tavern in Vienna and publishers were soon competing for the rights.
The key to understanding this extraordinary quartet is to know that Beethoven
fell seriously ill while writing it and on his recovery he wrote the
unsurpassed Adagio, which he originally entitled: Hymn of thanks from a sick man to
God on his recovery – feeling of new strength and reawakened feeling.
 On a more mundane level he wrote a
four-part canon for his doctor on the little ditty, Doktor sperrt das Tor dem Tod
{Doctor bars the door to Death].

The very first bar conjures up that
special world of the late quartets that, pace Tchaikovsky, makes some sense of the
chaos. The work begins with an eight bar introduction in slow, sustained half
notes. A violin flourish leads into the Allegro, whose first subject seems to
undergo continuous development, while the beautiful second theme merely
undergoes a continual exposition, which changes only in key and instrumental
layout. The movement, which fluctuates between passion and tenderness, closes
with some stunning bravura in the first violin.

The scherzo is full
of Beethoven’s curious sense of humour. He goes back to an old practice of
Haydn in his minuets, the use of canon. Beethoven’s Scherzo is not actually
canonic, but the parts delightfully imitate one another in sham canonic style,
often at ludicrous distances – the cello below its bass staff, the violin above
its treble staff. Enclosed within this curious frame is the captivating Trio,
again borrowing from Haydn using the form of a musette to aspire to a
country-dance complete with bagpipes and peasant dancing. But Beethoven somehow
manages to combine the celestial with the earthly to create a country-dance
like no other.

The slow movement – perhaps the
greatest slow movement ever written – opens the gates to another world. The
three chorales, the hymns of thanks, are separated by the two andantes, feeling new strength.The fresh
cleansing D major strength of the latter is unmistakable. The movement gathers
intensity as it progresses, the chorale can be played very slowly as each
long-breathed phrase seems to open up visions inconceivable a few moments
before. The final return of this section is marked Mit innigster Emfindung [with most
fervent feeling] 
and all
words are superfluous.

From this spiritual summit it must
have been hard to decide where to go. The short march that follows is without
complication, a very human relief for players and audience. This leads into a
vigorous recitative passage that deliberately recalls the instrumental
recitative that precedes the Ode
to Joy, 
‘deliberately’ for the main theme of the final
Allegro was an early draft for the finale of the Ninth Symphony – one of
Beethoven’s in-jokes that modern scholarship allows us to share. For this last
movement Beethoven returns to the traditional rondo form rarely used in his
last works, full of energy and drive as if to indicate his complete return to
health. For the ending, the tempo accelerates to presto, the key changes to A
major and the work concludes in triumphant affirmation.