Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Nationality: German
Baptized: December 17, 1770, Bonn Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna (age 56)

String Quartet No. 11 in f minor, Op. 95, Serioso

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
4:24 I. Allegro con brio
6:58 II. Allegretto ma non troppo
4:21 III. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
4:38 IV. Larghetto espressivo - Allegretto agitato
Duration: 22 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1810 (age 39-40)
Published: 1816, Vienna: Steiner (age 45-46)
10 recordings, 26 videos
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4:30
Guarneri Quartet
I. Allegro con brio
7:55
Guarneri Quartet
II. Allegretto ma non troppo
4:51
Guarneri Quartet
III. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
4:44
Guarneri Quartet
IV. Larghetto espressivo - Allegretto agitato
4:24
Takács Quartet
I. Allegro con brio
7:00
Takács Quartet
II. Allegretto ma non troppo
4:13
Takács Quartet
III. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
4:55
Takács Quartet
IV. Larghetto espressivo - Allegretto agitato
3:48
Hagen Quartet
I. Allegro con brio
6:13
Hagen Quartet
II. Allegretto ma non troppo
3:56
Hagen Quartet
III. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
4:24
Hagen Quartet
IV. Larghetto espressivo - Allegretto agitato
10:03
Tokyo String Quartet
21:41
Zemlinsky Quartet
20:24
Quatuor Sine Nomine
20:46
Pascal Quartet
20:35
Juilliard String Quartet
4:13
Juilliard String Quartet
I. Allegro con brio
7:33
Juilliard String Quartet
II. Allegretto ma non troppo
4:24
Juilliard String Quartet
III. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
4:41
Juilliard String Quartet
IV. Larghetto espressivo - Allegretto agitato
20:47
Cleveland Quartet
4:48
Amadeus Quartet
I. Allegro con brio
6:54
Amadeus Quartet
II. Allegretto ma non troppo
4:20
Amadeus Quartet
III. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
4:41
Amadeus Quartet
IV. Larghetto espressivo - Allegretto agitato
From Kai Christiansen

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

String Quartet in f minor, Op. 95, "Serioso", 1810

Beethoven's String Quartet in f minor, Op. 95 is classified as a work of his "middle" period. Unlike the towering, integrated set of three Rasumovsky quartets of the same middle period, Op. 95 stands alone, singular, even isolated. It is the last of the middle quartets, sitting on the brink, as it were, of Beethoven's "late" period where the final quartets dwell in a rarefied world of their own. Still, like all broad classifications, this is an oversimplification. Particularly in the second movement and third movements, the quartet contains many passages with the sublime qualities of the late quartets featuring transitions between the profound, difficult and elliptical on one hand and the simple, direct and exquisitely lyrical on the other. From another perspective, between the extraordinary expansion of the medium in the middle and late quartets that straddle it, Op. 95 represents a singular contraction of the form into a dense, concentrated work where everything is stripped to a drastic, but essential minimum. In addition to its predominant minor key and its frequently urgent if not violent mood, it is this relentless reduction of means that must have led Beethoven to give the quartet his own multi-faceted title, Quartet Serioso.

The compression of form and expression is most apparent in the first movement. The sonata includes three rapidly exposed and highly contrasted themes in an exposition without repeat, followed by a brief development and a varied but truncated recapitulation. The conclusion leverages our expectations of Beethoven's previous music by preparing for what appears to be a dramatic launch into a new section of great length only to rapidly fade into a fairly shocking close. The awesome potential energy remains untapped projecting a heavy weight on the movements to follow. Lasting typically between four and five minutes, this is the shortest first movement of all the Beethoven's quartets, only about one third the length of its counterpart in the first Rasumovsky quartet.

The second movement is the tender heart of the quartet, the closest thing to repose that the Serioso has to offer. Beginning as a lyrical slow movement, it promises compassionate relief from the huge kinetic (and potential) energy of the first movement. Here is the true window into Beethoven's late quartets with their liquid ecstasies amidst imponderable complexities. For along with the lyricism, Beethoven introduces a fugue with a wrinkled, chromatic subject that grows into a sustained expression of great intensity with the subject turning upside down on itself, overlapping in stretto and compressing into an emphatic climax built from its first two-note interval alone. The direct and heartfelt returns again in a final glory of song, but is unable to conclude: suddenly perturbed by a new, unresolved chord, the movement halts, then bounds headlong into the third movement scherzo restoring all the unbridled tension of the first movement.

The final two movements sustain a nearly unbroken arc of intensity from beginning to end. The scherzo offers brief respite in its contrasting trio and the finale begins with a slow, mournful introduction. But the bulk of the scherzo, itself marked serioso, and the majority of the finale, marked agitato, join with the first movement to make this the most unrelentingly intense of all the Beethoven quartets. Compact, dense, uncompromising and relentless, these are the essential qualities that join under the banner of Serioso. Yet Beethoven was keenly aware of his manipulative powers and knew that just as he transfixed his listener in the rapture of despair, he could shatter the mood by turning on a dime. And so he concludes his great Serioso quartet: at the very end of this tense, nearly continuous quartet, the final bars instantaneously shift into a bright romp, fresh and giddy as spring, oblivious to everything but unrelenting joy. The huge, unresolved weight of the entire quartet evaporates in the last thirty seconds in what might be the greatest musical punch line of all time.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1800 Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Emanuel Aloys Förster (1748-1823) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Louis Spohr (1784-1859) Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) Carl Czerny (1791-1857) Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) Franz Schubert (1797-1828) Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)