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. 13 in B-flat major, Op. 130

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
11:37 I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro
2:00 II. Presto
6:40 III. Andante con moto, ma non troppo
3:17 IV. Alla danza tedesca. Allegro Assai
7:06 V. Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo
8:36 VI. Finale: Allegro
Duration: 40 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1825-1826 (age 54-56)
Commission: Prinz Galitzin
Premiere: April 22, 1827. Vienna, Musikvereinsaal
Published: 1827, May. Vienna: Artaria (age 56-57)
Dedication: Prinz Galitzin
Note: Original version (1825), with Große Fuge, Op.133 as finale. New finale added 1825-26.
9 recordings, 29 videos
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autoplay
8:31
Amadeus Quartet
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro
1:55
Amadeus Quartet
II. Presto
6:08
Amadeus Quartet
III. Andante con moto, ma non troppo
2:41
Amadeus Quartet
IV. Alla danza tedesca. Allegro Assai
6:33
Amadeus Quartet
V. Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo
7:25
Amadeus Quartet
VI. Finale: Allegro
10:06
Guarneri Quartet
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro
1:58
Guarneri Quartet
II. Presto
7:27
Guarneri Quartet
III. Andante con moto, ma non troppo
3:58
Guarneri Quartet
IV. Alla danza tedesca. Allegro Assai
7:19
Guarneri Quartet
V. Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo
8:17
Guarneri Quartet
VI. Finale: Allegro
13:03
Emerson String Quartet
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro
1:55
Emerson String Quartet
II. Presto
6:49
Emerson String Quartet
III. Andante con moto, ma non troppo
3:35
Emerson String Quartet
IV. Alla danza tedesca. Allegro Assai
7:14
Emerson String Quartet
V. Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo
10:03
Emerson String Quartet
VI. Finale: Allegro
52:36
Quatuor Ebène
46:17
Zemlinksy Quartet
3:56
Yale Quartet (complete)
4:10
Unknown ensemble
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro (part 1)
9:40
Unknown ensemble
I. Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro (part 2)
2:00
Unknown ensemble
II. Presto
6:34
Unknown ensemble
III. Andante con moto, ma non troppo
3:26
Unknown ensemble
IV. Alla danza tedesca. Allegro Assai
7:22
Unknown ensemble
V. Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo
45:10
Pascal Quartet
79:59
Borodin Quartet
From Kai Christiansen

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827

String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130, 1825, revised, 1826

Beethoven's last string quartets were composed during the final years of his life between 1824 and 1826. The project began in 1822 with a commission from Russian Prince Nicholas Galitzin, an amateur cellist who requested "one, two or three" string quartets. Once Beethoven began work in earnest, he turned out not one, two or three, but five massive string quartets that ultimately become six separate works known simply and profoundly as "Beethoven's Late Quartets" in accordance with division of his artistry into three phases, early, middle and late. For decades, these quartets were regarded by most as strange, difficult, anomalous, quite possibly the work of a once great composer now degenerated into a deafness and insanity. (Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann thought differently). It was not until the 20th century that the late quartets became widely regarded as profound and transcendent masterworks worthy of entering and if not becoming the apex of the traditional repertoire.

The third of the late quartets in the order Beethoven composed them, the String Quartet in B-flat Major Op. 130 was completed in its first version in November of 1825 (about six months before Schubert's quartet in G). Beethoven and his publisher surprisingly came to agree that the finale did not sit well with the rest of the quartet movements. A bristling, difficult fugue of epic proportions was deemed "too much." The fugue was detached henceforth as a separate opus and Beethoven composed a fresh, much lighter finale to complete Op. 130 in its revised, final version. Beethoven completed the new finale in November, 1826 (after Schubert's quartet in G). It was the very last piece of music Beethoven wrote. He died shortly after in March, 1827.

Like nearly all of the Beethoven's late quartets, Op. 130 can be approached in many ways. Without regard to the well-established elite tradition of quartet form, style and expression, Op. 130 presents a surface beauty, technical facility and rich emotional aspect that can't fail to strike a casual listener as truly lovely music with profound tendencies. But seen within a framework of traditional works by Haydn and Mozart, Op. 130 is, like the other late quartets, a very odd and possibly incomprehensible departure. Herein lies one origin of the term "difficult" applied to these late works as in "difficult to follow" compared to the rhetorical conventions of the time. But surely another meaning behind the term "difficult" is the emotional demands they make, the deep states of feeling they induce. Throughout the late quartets, one finds extreme emotional states that can, at times, be "difficult" to endure because they are simply so intense and effective.

Op. 130, particularly in its original form, is truly an odd duck from a conventional perspective. Rather than the traditional four movements, it has six. Of the six, two of the movements are almost laughably short while the original fugal finale was outrageously long and truly "difficult" in every possible sense of the word. The fourth movement is a triple meter German dance with a trio of a rustic character but the second movement is also clearly a scherzo of ternary design. Two scherzi? Although the opening movement appears to be in a rather straightforward sonata form (it is far more), the fifth movement is a basic operatic cavatina of surprisingly simple design with an indescribably haunting character nonetheless. The musicologist Michael Steinberg suggests that to the listeners of the day, this must have seemed like a miscellany of movements, more like a divertimento or suite than a string quartet. Musicologist Leonard Ratner provides a convincing analysis that Beethoven was indeed intentionally invoking an antique form of suite complete with Renaissance canzona, a march, an aria and a gigue, a design that practically renders the Grosse Fugue an inextricable part of a grand design.

All of this only reinforces the essential fact that Beethoven was an undaunted pioneer and artistic visionary who created, particularly in the late quartets, truly complicated works of high art that speak on many levels lending themselves to multiple if not infinite interpretations and reactions. They are indescribably compelling works that have mesmerized players, composers, scholars, poets and avid listeners for nearly two hundred years. Perhaps one of their most essential traits is that they can become as "difficult" as one wishes or, miraculously, as direct, simple and obvious as one's willingness to hear and feel. It is entirely your own prerogative to "understand" them as you can and as you will. It is a project worthy of a lifetime.

© 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)