String Quartet No.7 in F Op.59/1

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

Performance date: 27/06/2015

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1806

Duration: 00:40:39

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: vn, vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis, Keith Pascoe [violins] Simon Aspell [viola] Christopher Marwood [cello]) - [quartet]

Despite his famously cantankerous
temperament and his refusal to conform to society’s code of behaviour,
Beethoven was remarkably successful with his patrons. From his earliest days in
Vienna he was
seen as Mozart’s successor, an impression reinforced by the fact that he had
Haydn as his teacher. The list of subscribers to his Op.1 piano trios,
published in 1795, included most of the aristocratic music-lovers of Vienna. He was generously
supported for much of his life by the Archduke Rudolf, with the assistance of
Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky, and there were famous commissions by Prince
Golitzin and Count Razumovsky. Much of this patronage derived from the
civilised involvement of the Viennese aristocracy in music-making. Count
Razumovsky, the Russian Ambassador to the Emperor’s Court, played second fiddle
in his renowned in-house quartet, which was led by Ignaz Schuppanzigh, who had
the distinction of premiering quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and
Schubert. So it was natural for him to commission a set of three quartets from Vienna’s most prestigious
composer, with the stipulation that each work should have a Russian theme.

To obtain his Russian themes, Beethoven used
a collection of Russian folksongs that had been published in 1790. He borrowed
two melodies from this collection, transposing them to suitable keys. For the F
major quartet, Beethoven saves the Russian folk-tune for the last movement, and
opens the quartet with one of his most memorable themes, which dominates the
entire movement with its aura of majestic calm. First heard in the cello, it is
passed mid-theme to the first violin and held together with pulsating inner
voices of static harmony but suppressed energy. Most of the ideas heard during
the exposition, except only the short, lyrical second subject, are derived from
this powerful theme. Appropriately the vast development is devoted to it and
its associated ideas, the tension never slackening for a moment. And its full-throated
return in the recapitulation is prepared with great dramatic flair.

The B flat scherzo is unique with its
extended sonata form, no trio and unbridled wit. The opening tapping motif
pervades the movement in various guises with its hypnotic rhythm. There is a
contrasting second subject group in F minor, but as in the first movement, the
development is concerned with the staccato ideas from the opening. The mood
changes are bewildering – one minute tender, the next raucously boisterous.

The F minor Largo transports us to that passionate but
remote inner world of Beethoven’s, where the ecstatic beauty of the music both
calms and inspires us. It was in the sketches for this movement that Beethoven
makes his puzzling note about a weeping
willow or acacia on the grave of my brother.
He began the quartet just
after attending his brother Caspar Carl’s wedding, which may have brought back
thoughts of his two brothers who died in infancy. Cadenza-like runs lead
without a break to the finale with its Russian folk-tune, which was originally
a slow, sad tune, but in Beethoven’s hands is cheekily turned into a wild
dance, probably to the initial confusion of Count Razumovsky. He would,
however, have enjoyed the joke in the coda, when the tune is briefly given at
its correct tempo as if to show that the faster tempo is, of course, much more