Beethoven, String Quintet in C major, Op. 29, "Storm"

April 25, 2018

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29, “The Storm” (1801)

Ludwig van Beethoven When Beethoven composed his only full-length string quintet in 1801, he was beginning a transition between his early and middle stylistic phases, moving from Classical mastery towards a new kind of epic innovation that would define his mature artistry. The years of 1801-1802 witnessed Beethoven confronting the ironic and devastating fate of losing his hearing, eventually prevailing with heroic resolve. This transitional period finds Beethoven composing his second symphony, his third piano concerto and the marvelous Op. 29 String Quintet known by the nickname “Storm” (Der Sturm). Overshadowed by the fame of his string quartets and the string quintets of Mozart and Schubert, Beethoven’s quintet is rarely performed, a special treat to encounter. It is a large-scale work leveraging the great skills Beethoven honed writing his previous string trios and quartets and, like Mozart’s quintets, features an expansive richness due to the sonority and independence of the lower strings enhanced with a second viola.

The first movement is a full-featured sonata form with two themes (the second in an unusual key), a surging development and a recap with elegant decorations. The second movement is a characteristically lyrical and noble slow movement with a surprising depth of feeling, more poignant and intense than many commentators reveal. The scherzo is brisk and vital, famously based on a brief, single-measure leaping motif that saturates all but the contrast of the luscious trio. The finale inspired the quintet’s nickname: over the stormy tremolos in the lower strings, the first violin soars like a bird against gale force winds. Adding to the stormy complexion is a dramatic fugato (“little fugue”) and Beethoven’s famous muscularity in the lower strings. But Beethoven also displays his rough humor with some surprising musical jokes he most likely learned from Haydn.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.