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List: Music@Menlo: 2019
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. 5 in A major, Op. 18, No. 5

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
6:50 I. Allegro
5:11 II. Menuetto
9:59 III. Andante cantabile
6:20 IV. Allegro
Duration: 29 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1798-1800 (age 27-30)
Published: 1801 (age 30-31)
9 recordings, 30 videos
autoopen autoplay
7:18
Guarneri Quartet
I. Allegro
6:38
Guarneri Quartet
II. Menuetto
10:38
Guarneri Quartet
III. Andante cantabile
6:33
Guarneri Quartet
IV. Allegro
6:45
Quartetto Italiano
I. Allegro
5:24
Quartetto Italiano
II. Menuetto
11:00
Quartetto Italiano
III. Andante cantabile
6:35
Quartetto Italiano
IV. Allegro
6:39
Juilliard String Quartet
I. Allegro
4:20
Juilliard String Quartet
II. Menuetto
10:08
Juilliard String Quartet
III. Andante cantabile
6:20
Juilliard String Quartet
IV. Allegro
6:41
Belcea Quartet
I. Allegro
4:57
Belcea Quartet
II. Menuetto
9:52
Belcea Quartet
III. Andante cantabile
6:33
Belcea Quartet
IV. Allegro
26:46
Suske Quartet
28:09
Pascal Quartet
9:21
Cleveland Quartet
I. Allegro
4:36
Cleveland Quartet
II. Menuetto
9:29
Cleveland Quartet
III. Andante cantabile
6:04
Cleveland Quartet
IV. Allegro
6:18
Barylli Quartet
I. Allegro
5:39
Barylli Quartet
II. Menuetto
9:49
Barylli Quartet
III. Andante cantabile
6:27
Barylli Quartet
IV. Allegro
6:35
Alban Berg Quartet
I. Allegro
4:35
Alban Berg Quartet
II. Menuetto
9:45
Alban Berg Quartet
III. Andante cantabile
5:32
Alban Berg Quartet
IV. Allegro
From Kai Christiansen

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5 (1798-1800)
With his first set of six string quartets published in 1801, Beethoven joined the mighty ranks of Haydn and Mozart as an "immediate" master of the classical Viennese string quartet. Clearly in the established mold of his predecessors, the Op. 18 quartets variously evoke both Haydn and Mozart while vividly demonstrating Beethoven's own emerging personality. Of the six quartets, however, it is the fifth quartet in A major that seems to draw the most attention to Beethoven's study of his forebears, specifically of Mozart. In Mozart's own set of six quartets dedicated to Haydn from 1785, the fifth is also in A major and was almost certainly a direct model for Beethoven. From a wide range of options, both quartets use the same rather atypical four-movement plan featuring a second movement scherzo and a third movement theme and variations. Yet despite these wonderful telltale correspondences, each quartet could only have come from its respective composer. With Mozart there is the suave, graceful lyricism, the classical balance and a perfection of construction. With Beethoven, there is the exuberant drive, the extended codas and a kind of imaginative brashness that nearly threatens to burst the seams of the inherited model.

The first movement Allegro is bright, bold and luxuriant. The part writing is superb with a variety of textures from the delicate single instrument imitative lines à la Mozart to the husky two-part canonic pairings of Beethoven. Strong dynamic contrasts, dense worried filigree and stabbing accents project a touch of anxious mania that might have riled the more conservative listener of the time. The Menuetto is light and lilting, a sure homage to Mozart compared with Beethoven's more muscular scherzi. The part writing is delicate and agile while the dramatic use of silence, aborted phrases and off beat accents is signature Beethoven. The trio in particular evokes a kind of rustic folk dance that could only have been Mozart if he were wearing wooden clogs.

Beethoven was undoubtedly the greatest master of the theme and variations of all time eventually leaving Haydn and Mozart far behind by comparison. What is remarkable is how he can eventually make so much out of so little. The third movement begins modestly (almost blandly) but ends with an explosion of fireworks with some rich contrasts along the way. And here the connection with Mozart is not as much the A major quartet as Mozart's sublime Divertimento for string trio, K. 563. The remarkable transformation through variation is remarkably similar and, clearly, Mozart did it first. But Beethoven adds a brilliant coda for a much more interesting conclusion than simply one final variation. Many commentators suggest that the forth movement finale is perhaps the most Mozartian of the quartet due to the musical materials, Beethoven's deft handling of counterpoint and the relatively calm and gracious ending. But it is all in how the movement is played: a performance can steer the music toward either composer, both of whom had a great ability for tensile, mercurial drama with a kind of shimmering nervousness shot through with electric synaptic responses. The choice of tempo, dynamics and how strongly contrasts are placed in relief can make the difference between gallant elegance and a nascent driving romanticism.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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